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LOS ANGELES � Lawyers at some of the nation’s largest firms are scrambling this month to file papers before that dreaded April deadline. No, not the one for tax forms. Attorneys who represent corporations looking to hire skilled foreign national workers for specialized job positions are rushing to file petitions for H-1B visas before April 1, the first day on which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services begins accepting the papers for approval. H-1B visas allow foreign nationals with bachelor’s degrees, or equivalent degrees, to work in the United States if sponsored by a corporation. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approves up to 65,000 H-1B petitions each year. Last year, more than 130,000 petitions were filed in two days. That means lawyers are hiring more help, working long hours and advising their clients to decide more quickly about whom they want to hire. “It’s kind of a nightmare,” said Lynda Zengerle, head of the immigration practice at Washington’s Steptoe & Johnson LLP. “Every year, it’s been getting worse, and the attorneys get more and more concerned about getting something filed on time.” Earlier this month, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates told a congressional committee that U.S. companies need more H-1Bs. Several bills have been introduced to increase the H-1B cap. This year’s H-1Bs become effective for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1, 2007. Another 20,000 H-1Bs are available for foreign nationals with a master’s degree, or higher, from a U.S. institution. In response to the overwhelming number of petitions filed last year, Citizenship and Immigration Services instituted a lottery system to determine which approvable H-1B petitions to accept. “Last year, there was a 50% chance of being selected because there were twice as many petitions,” said Paul Virtue, a partner at Washington’s Hogan & Hartson and former general counsel of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), who, along with five associates and five paralegals, is handling about 100 petitions this year. “I’m estimating a 25% to 30% chance of being selected in the regular lottery.” Small firms, big problems H-1B needs go beyond high-tech companies. Leigh Ganchan, a partner and head of immigration in the Houston office of Dallas-based Haynes and Boone, said several of her clients are in engineering, oil and gas, and financial services. For small firms, not getting an H-1B for a particular employee “could sink a whole project,” she said. To manage the workload, Zengerle said her firm began sending out notices to clients in January. Still, a bunch arrived this month, prompting her to work longer hours and weekends. Andrew Greenfield, managing partner of the Washington office of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, an immigration boutique in New York, said he has hired an additional lawyer and three additional paralegals to handle the workload in his office. Firmwide, teams of lawyers are handling thousands of petitions.

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