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Silicon Valley faces visa scramble for foreign workers

Tech companies in booming Silicon Valley, where engineers are in high demand but short supply, are facing the most competitive rush ever to secure US work visas for their foreign hires.

Starting in April, the US will accept applications for this year's quota of 85,000 H-1B visas, which are allotted for skilled workers and one of the main avenues for foreigners wishing to work legally in the US.

(Read more: SiliconValley boom eludes many, drives income gap)

Joe Sohm | Photodisc | Getty Images

Last year, that allotment went in the first few days after applications opened. This year, immigration attorneys and company executives say, the race will be as tough, if not tougher, as rising tech valuations have fuelled demand for coders.

That is pushing some companies to think more strategically than before about immigration, said John Bautista, a partner with Orrick, a law firm in Silicon Valley.

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In the past few months, he says, some companies with US-only operations have started asking whether they could open a new office abroad in order to hire people and then bring them into the US on a type of visa allocated to existing employees for internal transfers.

"Before [corporate boards said], 'We've got someone we want to hire, what's the best way to bring him over?'", said Mr Bautista. "Now it's, 'We have a hiring problem, let's use the immigration laws to come up with an overall strategy to bring teams of people on board.'"

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