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H-1B Visa Lottery is Rigged by Tech Companies

April 28, 2023
minute read

Biden's administration claims that it has found evidence of collusion between several dozen small technology companies in order to increase the chances that their prospective foreign hires will win coveted H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers in the upcoming H-1B visa lottery.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency responsible for the awarding of H-1B visas, has found that a small number of companies are artificially boosting the chances of a candidate winning a visa by entering the same applicant multiple times into the lottery, with the alleged goal being to artificially boost their chances of winning. Earlier this week, Trade Algo obtained a copy of the notice that was outlined in the report and was scheduled to be released on Friday. 

As a result of this practice, the U.S. Department of State has reported that demand for visas has risen to a record high this year, with 781,000 people entering a lottery for 85,000 visa spots, a record high.

There is evidence that some of the increase in demand is organic, according to government data. An estimated 350,000 applicants for H-1B visas have submitted one entry into the lottery this year as compared to about 307,000 applicants last year.

Detailed analysis of the data indicates that the increase in applicant numbers can be attributed, in large part, to the applicants whose names have been submitted by more than one company. Several of the same companies are said to have submitted a large proportion of the duplicate entries, the immigration agency said. For a total of approximately 408,000 visa applications, more than 96,000 people submitted multiple applications for multiple visas.

Although it is technically not against the law for an employee of a foreign country to have multiple companies submit visa applications on their behalf, companies that submit applications must attest to the fact that they have a job in place for the employee if the visa is granted. This could potentially amount to fraud if companies that win a visa are quick to contract out their employees to third parties, or if they terminate the employment of an employee on a visa so that the employee can switch companies.

Despite being under investigation, the government declined to identify the companies in question, stating that they were under investigation at the moment. Those familiar with the situation said that these are small companies in the tech and information-technology sectors that aren't household names, some of which may have been created specifically to submit duplicate visa lottery entries into the system.

USCIS has referred the two companies to federal law-enforcement agencies for possible criminal prosecution, a USCIS official has confirmed. It is possible that some of the duplicate entries were picked when the government ran its lottery late last month, but officials are hoping that the government can disqualify visa applicants if they committed fraud to boost their chances. There is a possibility that the government will run a second lottery if there are enough rejected applications, the official said, to meet the congressionally mandated limit of 85,000 visas if enough of those applications are rejected.

The H-1B visa has served as the primary way companies can hire foreign employees with college degrees, since its creation in 1990. Particularly international students educated in the United States. There are a few, and for international students, sometimes the only, temporary visas that allow foreign workers to become permanent residents of the U.S. and citizens of the country, even though it is a temporary visa.

There has been a dramatic increase in the demand for the visa in recent years, which has far outpaced supply. The number of people who competed for visas last year was estimated at about 478,000, which at that time was a record. 

There has been a strong interest in visas even in spite of the historic layoffs in the tech sector, in which tens of thousands of jobs have been lost by numerous companies that rely heavily on the H-1B program for their recruitment needs over the past few years. There has been a report from companies who are looking for H-1B visa sponsors that the applicants they are looking to sponsor are not replacements for laid-off employees, but rather are primarily current employees whose student visas are about to expire and who need an H-1B visa to continue working.

It has been alleged that the H-1B visa system has been abused following a recent change, adopted by the Trump administration and kept by President Biden, to how H-1B visas are awarded under the program. There was a time before 2020 when in order to enter the lottery, companies had to submit voluminous applications and pay thousands of dollars in fees attesting to the jobs they had on offer and the qualifications of the employees.

There is a new registration system that will be implemented in 2020, which will allow prospective applicants for visas to simply register their names and pay a $10 fee to register. Upon being selected for a slot, the applicant would be required to pay all the associated visa fees to be able to have their application reviewed in full.

During the revision of the system, the intent was to make it easier for companies and their employees to enter the lottery by cutting down on the amount of work and money they have to put in.

Business groups and policy advocates have warned that the new system would likely result in the emergence of duplicate applications due to its lowered barriers to entry. Officials and some companies say that the concern about foreign workers having more than one legitimate job offer to choose from needs to be balanced with the legitimate cases in which a sought-after foreign worker has multiple legitimate job opportunities.

The government has proposed a fee increase to $215, a change that will likely take effect by the lottery of next year, and the agency has said it plans to draft regulations in order to prevent any further fraud from occurring.

However, the inflated number of entries into the lottery has resulted in only one out of every ten entries being selected as a winner.

There are 32 applications she submitted this year, and four of them were approved, according to Heather Prendergast, an immigration attorney in Cleveland who represents a hotel chain and several small companies. Compared to last year, nine out of 30 applications were picked, which is a significant difference.

"This is not the kind of talent we want to lose, it is the kind of talent we do not want to lose," she said. "In my opinion, this cannot be the outcome they were hoping for when they designed this system in the first place."

John Liu
Eric Ng
John Liu
Editorial Board
Bryan Curtis
Adan Harris
Managing Editor
Cathy Hills
Associate Editor

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