Our Dysfunctional H-1B Lottery

April 1 marks the beginning of the H-1B visa application process, when U.S. companies apply for non-immigrant visas to hire high-skilled foreign workers in specialized fields. For the fourth year in a row, the cap for visa petitions was reached in just a few days’ time, with the window for FY17 applications reaching capacity on April 7.

Each year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) limits H-1B acceptances to 65,000 for skilled foreign workers who hold at least a bachelor’s degree and 20,000 for workers with a master’s degree or higher. Once the combined 85,000 cap is reached, the applications are put into a computerized lottery, their fate completely out of applicants’ hands.

In 2016, nearly 236,000 H-1B applications were submitted — 3,000 more than 2015 and significantly more than the 72,500 in 2014. This push shows the demand for foreign workers is continually increasing, with the growing tech industry generating some of the highest demand.

Contrary to popular belief, employing foreign-born workers alongside native workers could actually increase the total number of jobs in the U.S., with job creation steadily rising as more foreign workers are allowed in the country. This, in turn, may increase the GDP significantly over the next two decades.

To fully reap the projected economic benefits, the process must be changed. The current H-1B application process is grossly outdated, relatively unchanged for nearly 20 years. Without a green card, foreign workers can find it difficult to accept a promotion or change employers.

Updated regulations and a higher cap for applications are just a few ways the H-1B visa program can begin to improve the lives of the foreign workers hoping to find specialized jobs in the U.S. However, comprehensive immigration reform helps the U.S. benefit from these workers — and fuel greater economic growth beyond the H-1B program

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