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What is an H-1B Visa?

H-1B visas are for “specialty occupations.” The H-1B program allows businesses, from small to large, in the United States to temporarily employ workers from abroad in occupations requiring highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in their fields.

H-1B specialty occupations may include fields such as architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts, among others.

Visa Availability

In 1990, Congress set a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas to be issued annually. Historically, this number has proven insufficient to meet the needs of U.S. employers. Due to this fact, from 1999 to 2003, Congress temporarily increased the cap, allowing up to 195,000 visas annually. However, since 2004, the regular visa cap has been set back to 65,000.

In 2005, Congress established an exemption of 20,000 visas from the H-1B cap for those individuals who earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher.

Each year the cap has been met, in most instances in the first five days of the filing season.

Filing Process

Prior to 2020, U.S. employers seeking to employ an H-1B worker would have to prepare a complete petition, mail it to USCIS and then the lottery would be run based on the received petitions. Each year USCIS would receive many more H-1B petitions than visas available, often in the first five days of the H-1B filing season.

In 2020, an electronic registration process was established by USCIS that allowed a U.S. employer to submit an electronic application with limited information and a fee. Based on the electronic registrations received, USCIS then ran the lottery to select registrations so that only those selected could submit complete H-1B petitions.

Recent H-1B Demand

From FY2014-2020, USCIS received between 124,000–236,000 petitions in the first five days of the H-1B filing season.

In 2020, the process changed to the electronic registration process.

In FY2021, USCIS received 275,000 registrations.

In FY2022,  USCIS received 308,613 registrations, selecting 131,970 registrations in three lottery rounds.

In FY2023, 483,927 H-1B registrations were received, and 127,600 registrations were selected to meet the cap.

The data for FY2024 released by USCIS showed 780,884 registrations were submitted.

Why is Demand Increasing?

There are several reasons for the increasing demand for H-1B visas, including:

  1. Reopening of U.S. universities and consular operations post-pandemic has increased the number of foreign students graduating from U.S. institutions looking to use their education in the United States.
  2. Increasing need for foreign workers to fill jobs due to a low unemployment rate, as well as to fill employment needs created by recent legislation such as the CHIPS Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
  3. Multiple employers making bona fide job offers to the same employee resulting in multiple registrations for the same individual.
  4. Registrants that were not selected in prior years continue to reapply.
  5. Due to the electronic registration system, there are now reduced administrative barriers to enter the H-1B lottery.
  6. Companies have allegedly been set up to take advantage of the low barriers to enter the H-1B lottery and are submitting multiple registrations for the same individual.

How Congress Can Improve the H-1B Lottery

  • Pass H-1B reform legislation that ensures that the supply of H-1B visas aligns with the needs of U.S. employers and the U.S. economy.
  • Urge the Administration to modernize the H-1B registration system to ensure the lottery is based on individual applicants rather than by individual registrations. Therefore, even if a foreign national has multiple legitimate job offers, they will each have exactly the same chance of selection.
  • Minimize the need for the usage of H-1B visas by creating a pathway to permanent residency for foreign nationals that graduate from U.S. institutions of higher education so that they may use their U.S. earned knowledge and skills in the United States.
  • Address green card backlogs to ensure that individuals with H-1B visas can more efficiently become lawful permanent residents, regardless of their nationality. This can be accomplished by:
    • Exempt individuals serving U.S. national interest and spouses and minor children of primary applicants from the immigrant visa quotas
    • Enable individuals to get the benefits of filing adjustment of status applications earlier
    • Increase the annual allocation of green cards/protect minor children from aging out/eliminate the per country caps

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