The application period for H-1B temporary skilled worker visas came and went last week, with US Citizenship and Immigration Services reaching its petition cap this year within five days of the application period opening on April 2, CNet reported on Friday. In a process that has become commonplace in recent years, demand for the 85,000 highly-coveted visas issued each year quickly surpassed the number available, prompting USCIS to stop accepting applications. The visas will be awarded by lottery and the recipients will be eligible to come to the US and start working in October.
Nobody is particularly in favor of the H-1B lottery system. Advocates of a more liberal immigration policy consider the annual limit arbitrary and far too low, as in this statement reported by CNet:
“That’s it for the entire year for our nation’s ability to bring in the best and brightest individuals through the H-1B program to come create American jobs,” Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a US lobby in favor of immigration reform, said in a statement. “In addition to forcing us to miss out on the creation of American jobs, these arbitrary limits will stifle medical innovation and wage growth, and will hurt our economy.”
At the other end of the spectrum, however, are critics who say the US issues too many of these visas and is insufficiently selective in how it awards them, such as President Donald Trump, who rode into Washington last year vowing to reform the H-1B system as part of a broader effort to reduce both legal and illegal immigration to the US. In his “Buy American, Hire American” executive order issued a year ago, Trump called for changes to the program to crack down on what he described as fraud and abuse, and advocated awarding the visas based on merit rather than by a random lottery.
Nonetheless, the Wall Street Journal reports, this round of H-1B applications visas is being distributed without the major changes Trump has requested.
USCIS spokesman Jonathan Withington told the Journal that the agency supports the changes ordered by Trump last year, has provided policy guidance in that regard, and is working on regulatory reforms. However, a lobbyist close to the agency said USCIS officials are unsure whether they have the legal authority to make those changes without Congress and fears being sued if they try.
This is the second year H-1Bs are being distributed without the sweeping rule changes anticipated from the Trump administration. The administration has, however, taken smaller, quieter steps to discourage the use of H-1Bs and make them more difficult to obtain. It has tightened standards for H-1B renewals, for example, while USCIS is challenging more applications than usual.
In advance of this application round, the agency announced that petitions would be subjected to greater scrutiny and that applicants might have to provide “detailed documentation to ensure a legitimate employer-employee relationship is maintained.” It also suspended premium processing, which allows applicants to have their petitions handled faster for an extra fee, for the second year in a row.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, has threatened to aggressively prosecute companies that it suspects of abusing the program and overlooking qualified US citizens, while the Department of Homeland Security has proposed ending work eligibility for residents on H-4 visas, which are granted to the spouses of H-1B workers. If enacted, this rule change would reduce incomes in these households and make H-4 holders (the majority of whom are Indian women) entirely financially dependent on their spouses during their time in the US.