USCIS Sees Dip in H-1B Visa Applicants after Program Overhaul

Applications for H-1B visas through the lottery system have plummeted by nearly 40% this year, marking a significant decline, authorities revealed on Tuesday. This decline is attributed to efforts to curb what was perceived as exploitation of the system, where individuals submitted multiple, and at times questionable, applications to unfairly boost their chances of selection.

Tech giants reliant on H-1B visas for their workforce had pushed for changes after a surge in applications made it increasingly challenging for their employees and potential hires to secure spots through the random lottery. In response to concerns about potential fraud and misuse, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) implemented a policy where each individual would only be allowed one entry into the lottery, regardless of the number of job offers they held.

This year’s lottery received 470,342 entries, a stark decrease from the 758,994 entries received the previous year. Interestingly, the number of workers applying remained relatively stable, indicating a significant reduction in the practice of multiple applications per individual.

The surge in applications over recent years was partly fueled by a change in the application process. Previously, applicants were required to submit cumbersome paperwork by mail. However, since 2021, the process shifted to an electronic registration with a nominal fee of $10. While this change aimed to make participation more accessible, it inadvertently opened the door for companies and individuals to inundate USCIS with numerous applications. One individual famously submitted bids for 83 job offers in 2022.

The decline in applications this year suggests a decrease in attempts to exploit the system for unfair advantages, according to USCIS. This is a positive sign for the integrity of the H-1B visa program.

H-1B visas were established in 1990 to fill positions in fields requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher, particularly in STEM fields. However, critics argue that these visas can be exploited by companies to pay lower wages and offer fewer labor protections.

Infosys, an Indian technology outsourcing firm, topped the list of H-1B employers in 2023, with other major tech players like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google also featuring prominently.

While U.S. college graduates have the option to work under an Optional Practical Training visa while awaiting an H-1B visa, this left them disadvantaged compared to those submitting multiple bids. Some chose to seek opportunities in Canada or Europe instead.

USCIS Director Ur Jaddou emphasized the urgency of the changes made to the lottery system, stating that waiting another year was not an option. Instances of companies collaborating to submit bids for the same applicants were also uncovered, prompting the need for tighter regulations.

While many tech companies and business groups welcomed the changes, critics argue that they fall short of comprehensive reform. Calls for visas to be awarded based on factors like wage levels rather than through a random lottery persist, echoing sentiments expressed during the previous administration.

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