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US investigates for “potential fraud” in H-1Bs

The number of multiple registrations for single beneficiaries in the H-1B visa lottery system has skyrocketed from previous years, raising red flags at US Citizenship and Immigration Services, as indicated in a letter published on April 28.

The H-1B visas are the principal way in which employers are able to hire international college graduates. Photo: Unsplash

For 2024, the number of registrations of people who applied more than once ballooned to 408,891

USCIS, the federal agency responsible for awarding H-1B visas, stated that submission patterns have “raised serious concerns that some may have tried to gain an unfair advantage by working together to submit multiple registrations on behalf of the same beneficiary”.

The agency said this practice may have “unfairly increased their chances of selection”.

USCIS uses a computer-generated lottery system for eligible visa applicants. Last year there were 483,927 registrations. This year, that number rose to 780,884, an increase of 61%.

Two years ago, the number of registrations of people who applied more than once was 90,143. Last year the number rose to 165,180; this year, ballooning to 408,891.

“H1B visas play a critical role in the US workforce and economy as a path”

Although specific organisations were not named in the USCIS report, individuals with information about the investigation noted it involved small companies in the tech industry, some of which may be shell companies, established to market services to employers seeking to hire staff who require visas.

Although the tech industry has implemented unprecedented lay-offs in the past year, there are many international students who currently work in the industry whose student visas are set to expire and who need an H-1B visa to keep their position.

These visas are the principal way in which employers are able to hire foreign college graduates. Many of these employees are international students educated at US institutions. For most of these students, it the only visa that allows them a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship.

“H1B visas play a critical role in the US workforce and economy as a path, not just for foreign workers recruited from abroad, but also as an essential tool for retaining international students or US-educated talent that will otherwise take their knowledge and know-how to other competing countries,” Rajika Bhandari, principal of Rajika Bhandari Advisors, told The PIE.

Bhandari, also a senior advisor to the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, said groups such as the Presidents’ Alliance, support the government’s efforts to prevent fraud.

She suggested the report indicates a much deeper issue.

“The root cause is an outmoded immigration system where the overall supply of H-1B visas, capped at just 85,000, is far below the demand and far below what is needed for an economy and workforce which is facing demographic declines and needs to increasingly tap global talent,” she proffered.

Jill Welch, a consultant and senior policy advisor for The Presidents’ Alliance, asserted that congress should expand the availability of green cards, “so that there isn’t such a heavy reliance on H-1Bs, which were always meant to be temporary work visas”.

Parisa Karaahmet, a partner at Fragomen, a firm specializing in immigration services, spoke with The PIE about the recent report as well as the larger implications of the issues.

“The hope is that the Agency will work to rectify the situation, create a more equitable registration process for US employers, and a deterrent for future bad actors.

Nonetheless, the dramatically low selection rate may have a chilling effect on the willingness of high-skilled talented foreign workers to invest in the US, which in turn will be detrimental to employers, who historically have sought the best talent on a global basis.”

She added that it’s not just US employers who will lose out. “Universities and other academic institutions who typically enjoy the benefit of applications from the most talented and brightest students in the world may see a corresponding decrease in applications.”

Karaahmet concluded that some students may be more reluctant to invest time and resources in a US education if it seems it is unlikely to lead to employment. 

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