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In a surprise move, the U.S. State Department announced yesterday that it expects to fill its quota of visas in the Employment Based Third Preference (EB3) Immigrant Visa Category by next month.

The visas are allotted to professionals with a B.A. degree

The development is expected to immediately impact citizens of China, India, Mexico and the Philippines. At a later stage, it will affect additional countries such as Israel.

Starting in October, priority for handling cases will be given to those applicants submitting their requests from March 1, 2001, according to the bulletin. Anyone submitting their application after September 30 is liable to wait several years to receive a visa.

Israeli companies are already reeling from the U.S. Defense Department's announcement last month that all temporary H1B visas had been used up. Employment sources estimate that some 1,000 Israeli engineers are placed in U.S. jobs annually under H1B status.

Attorney Liam Schwartz of the Kan-Tor & Schwartz law firm said a real possibility exists for additional restrictions in issuing employment visas for workers and foreign specialists in the U.S.

"Therefore, our government should immediately increase pressure on the U.S. to approve a special country quota intended strictly for Israeli companies, similar to the quotas it has provided for Australia, Chile and Singapore," he said.