Applications for H-1B visas allowing foreign nationals to work in the U.S. are expected to keep rising in 2014, according to one analyst.
At least 160,000 applications are expected for the 85,000 available visas when the filing season opens on April 1, said Marc Klein, an immigration attorney with Thompson & Knight.
Klein's estimate would top 2012's 134,000 petitions and last year's 124,000. The highest ever number of applications was more than 201,000 in 2001, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"It just shows the U.S. still lags behind other countries when it comes to an emphasis on educating American-born students in computer science, math and other areas," said Klein, who handles visa requests.
(Read more: )
Klein explained what's become a cycle for foreign nationals seeking jobs in the U.S.
"So many get advanced degrees at American universities that natural-born citizens don't receive, and (which) are needed for the hard-to-fill jobs," he said. "They go home, and yet so many of them make up the number of applications to work here."
It's not just the areas of technology and science that are seeing a need for foreign-born workers in the U.S., Klein added. He said he's processing applications for jobs in accounting, advertising and architecture.
To get an H-1B visa, the applications are placed into one of two computerized lotteries. Those with a masters degree are listed for the first 20,000 openings out of the total 85,000. If they are not selected, they fall into the main lottery for 65,000 spots—with a second chance for a job.
Application and lawyer fees, which must be paid by the company and not the applicant, can run from as low as $1.500 to more than a total of $5,000 each, according to analysts.
The firm with the most applications in 2013 was technology company Infosys, at more than 15,000. But in October of last year, the India-based company was hit with a $35 million fine by the U.S. government for bringing a number of its employees to the U.S. for long-term stays by using B-1 visas instead of H-1B visas—which are more expensive to file and more difficult to get.
"Not every company plays by the rules, and that includes paying a certain wage," said Thompson & Knight's Klein. H-1B workers are supposed to receive fair compensation at the going rate for the job in the region of the work, but it doesn't always happen, explained Klein.
Calls to end H-1B quota
H-1B visas have been part of immigration reform talks that have stalled in Congress, with many on Capitol Hill and the business community— especially those in high-tech industries—urging the government to raise the 85,000 limit or remove it completely. With reform stalled in Congress, the quota will remain for now.
Some U.S. business leaders say they have no problem finding American-born workers for the high-tech jobs that often go to foreign nationals. However, Klein said the economics indicate otherwise.
"It's not cheap to try and get H-1B visas," he said. "Companies don't really want the expense if they can avoid it. But they're having trouble avoiding it."
—By CNBC's Mark Koba. Follow him on Twitter @MarkKobaCNBC.