Applications for H-1B visas allowing US businesses to hire foreign workers in science, engineering and computer programming totalled a record 233,000 for the 2016 financial year, according to government figures released on Monday.
A maximum of 85,000 of the work visas, including 20,000 for holders of master's degrees, are available each year under limits set by Congress, despite years of heavy lobbying by tech companies to raise the cap.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services on Monday used a computer-generated lottery process to dole out the visas, and will start processing them by May 11, the agency said on its website.
"Year after year, the government falls back on a lottery system to determine which US employers will 'win' the ability to hire top world talent," Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the Council for Global Immigration, an industry lobby group, said in an email on Monday in response to the figures.
"This year, employers had a mere 36 percent chance of being granted an H-1B visa. US economic growth should not be left up to this gamble," Shotwell said, adding US employers were frustrated.
The United States loses about 5,00,000 jobs a year because of those limits, according to estimates from Compete America, a coalition representing tech giants including Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft.
But some labour organisations have criticised the programme, saying it keeps down wages in the tech sector.
US President Barack Obama's move in November 2014 to ease immigration rules using his executive authority largely disappointed tech industry leaders.
They made it easier for entrepreneurs to work in the North American country and extended a programme letting foreign students who graduate with advanced degrees from US universities to work here temporarily.
But major changes require congressional action, and there appears to be little promise for such legislation in the current political atmosphere.
(Additional reproting by Roberta Rampton) - Reuters