For the 4th consecutive year, an avalanche of petitions for the H1B visa have precipitously reached the cap of 85000 within the first 5 days after the initial filing date. USCIS will now go through the lottery system for selection of lucky winners of the much coveted H1B visa.
The USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) had started receiving petitions on April 1st for the fiscal year 2017 beginning October.
The USCIS reports that all of this year’s 65,000 H-1B visa applications have now been applied for, as well as 20,000 extra applications for skilled workers, less than a week into the process.
“USCIS will use a computer-generated process, also known as the lottery, to randomly select the petitions needed to meet the caps of 65,000 visas for the general category and 20,000 for the advanced degree exemption,” US said. The ‘advanced degree exemption’ applies to foreign nationals who have obtained a U.S. master’s degree or higher in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
USCIS says it will perform the advanced degree H-1B visa lottery first. Those advanced degree petitioners who are not selected will then be placed in the general H-1B pool for a chance at one of the additional 65,000 H-1B slots.
USCIS will first randomly select petitions for the advanced degree exemption. All unselected advanced degree petitions will then become part of the lottery process for the 65,000 general cap. The agency will reject and return filing fees for all unselected cap-subject petitions that are not duplicate filings.
Due to the high number of petitions, USCIS is not yet able to announce the date it will conduct the random selection process, the statement said adding that it will continue to accept and process petitions that are otherwise exempt from the cap.
The US government is believed to have received a whopping 250,000 petitions for H-1B visas till now. Bill Stock, incoming president of American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and a founding partner of Klasko Immigration Law Partners had earlier told in an interview, “We had 230,000 H-1B visa petitions last year. I think, this year it is going to be higher. We think 250,000 H-1B petitions were filed this year.”
The recent increase in fees for certain category of H-1B visas, he said, “it may have had a little impact” on Indian companies. “I think their business so much depends on H-1B and being able to send people on projects, they (Indian companies) are going to pay fees on those petitions,” Stock said.
Every year strong demand for foreign workers, like scientists, engineers and computer programmers, and also for workers in advertisement, architecture and other fields drives companies and employers to file such large number of petitions for the H1B visas that they quickly exceed the cap mandated by congress.
The majority of visas requested are from IT companies that use H1B workers to provide services. Companies that have Indian owners like TCS, Wipro, Infosys, or companies that have development and operational centres in India like IBM are the major applicants. American giants such as Microsoft and Google also recruit workers from India.
President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Victor Nieblas Pradis said that each petition not selected is a business need unfulfilled and a growth opportunity that is delayed or thwarted. “However, artificial limits established more than a generation ago are again hobbling the economic potential of this great nation,” Pradis said, calling for lifting this visa cap.
“Why do we continue to artificially limit this program? In a reasonable system, market demand should factor into how many business visas are granted, and indeed, demand for H-1B visas slowed when the economy took a downturn. But each year that we cap these visas when demand outweighs supply, all we’re doing is creating obstacles to economic growth. We’re losing out on shared prosperity for no good reason,” he said in a statement.
“We live in a wireless world, but our visa system is a relic from the days of the dial-up modem. It’s long past time for Congress to lead on this issue and reform the H-1B program in a way that addresses the needs of American businesses, US workers and our economy. Congress must bring our immigration system out of the last century and into this one,” Pradis added.
US companies are avid fans of the H-1B process, which allows them to bring in overseas workers to fill up skills gaps in the local labor market. Critics say it’s a ploy to bring in cheap workers for exploitation.
The USCIS allows H-1B applications for four skill levels – four being the highest rating for foreign rocket scientists and the like, down to level one recruits, described as “employees who have only a basic understanding of the occupation.”
In congressional testimony last week Ron Hira, associate professor of public policy at Howard University and a child of Indian immigrants, told the government that the H-1B system is being widely abused by companies, particularly IT outsourcing firms – to save wage costs and get a compliant workforce.
“Every CEO in every company sees the business opportunity: Will I earn higher profits by replacing my American staff with cheaper H-1B workers? The answer is an obvious yes,” he said.
“So we shouldn’t be surprised when CEOs everywhere are replacing their American staff with cheaper H-1B workers. The CEOs are not villains. They are simply acting rationally to the opportunities that government is handing them,” he added.
Last year, level one staff accounted for 41 per cent of approved H-1B visa recipients, and another 40 per cent were barely more-skilled level two staff. Level one staff wages are typically 40 per cent lower than US workers’ wages, and level two 20 per cent lower.