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Uncle Sam sounds like it may actually do something about rampant visa H-1B fraud

Gee, you mean that surge to 800,000 applications in one year isn't entirely legit? Shocking

The US has seen a surge in employers making multiple H-1B visa registrations to bring skilled foreign workers into the country, a trend that authorities fear reflects rising immigration fraud.

The H-1B program is popular among technology companies as a way to bring foreign workers into America. For those aliens, the H-1B provides a pathway to permanent residency, freedom, and citizenship; it's dubbed the golden ticket, if you can get one.

The number of H-1B visas available annually is capped at 65,000, with an additional allowance of 20,000 for those with advanced degrees.

With other exemptions, an estimated 130,000 temporary migrant workers receive H-1B visas annually, and the total population of H-1B workers in the US was about 600,000 as of 2019, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) [PDF].

Competition for those visas, among prospective employees and employers, tends to be fierce because the work visa supply is limited.

When there are multiple registrations for a particular employee, it may be the result of different companies competing to bring over a relatively talented individual. Or it may be the result of abuse – companies independently or collectively trying to get visas for workers through misrepresentation in order to place those individuals for a fee. Applicants are selected by a lottery process run by USCIS, so the more entries a person has, the more chance of being picked.

USCIS ... is in the process of initiating law enforcement referrals for criminal prosecution

In an update late last week, USCIS expressed concern about the large number of H-1B prospects listed on multiple registrations.

"The large number of eligible registrations for beneficiaries with multiple eligible registrations – much larger than in previous years – has 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 US immigration service said.

"This may have unfairly increased their chances of selection."

According to USCIS, the number of multiple registrations jumped from 165,180 in FY 2023 to 408,891 in FY 2024, an increase of 148 percent. And the immigration agency says it has taken legal action to address abuse of the system.

"Based on evidence from the FY 2023 and FY 2024 H-1B cap seasons, USCIS has already undertaken extensive fraud investigations, denied and revoked petitions accordingly, and is in the process of initiating law enforcement referrals for criminal prosecution," the agency said.

In all, 780,884 H-1B applications were filed for FY 2024, of which 758,994 were eligible registrations, and 110,791 were selected. There were 483,927 applications in FY 2023, of which 127,600 were picked.

Lawsuits against companies that abuse the H-1B process have been fairly common in recent years.

In February 2022, for example, the CEO and human resources manager of PerfectVIPs in San Jose, California, were indicted for allegedly submitting 85 fraudulent H-1B visa applications and laundering $1 million in proceeds. A similar case was filed in April against the CEO and another employee of Santa Clara, California-based Innovate Solutions, for allegedly submitting 54 fraudulent H-1B applications.

The alleged scheme in both instances involves obtaining visas to create a pool of available workers that can be hired out for profit rather than placing identified individuals at specific companies.

Reform needed now

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a liberal think tank, argues the H-1B program is exploitive and needs to be reformed because employers use it to trade highly paid US workers for lower paid foreign workers. The group said the top 30 H-1B employers hired about 34,000 H-1B workers in 2022 while laying off about 85,000 workers in 2022 and early 2023.

"Rather than turning to the H-1B program as a last resort when US workers cannot be found, most employers hire H-1B workers because they can be underpaid and are de facto indentured to the employer," EPI said in a blog post recently. "This is evidenced by government data showing that technology companies continue to hire H-1B workers in large numbers while significantly reducing the sizes of their workforces."

Most employers hire H-1B workers because they can be underpaid and are de facto indentured

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a conservative think tank advocating low immigration, traces the current situation to the adoption of an electronic registration system for the FY 2021 visa allocation. The group last week said, as it noted previously, "this problem was partly 'self-imposed' because this fiscal year the government made it much easier and less expensive to file for H-1Bs and has now, to use a Shakespearean term, been hoist with its own petard."

"The new system for H-1B applications was designed to make the process easier and less expensive than the old one for employers," explained David North, a CIS Fellow, in an email to The Register.

"They used to have to file a multi-page document and pay a several thousand dollars fee up front before the lottery; now they file a simple form and pay $10 before the lottery. If they win, only if they win, do they pay the several thousand dollar fee.

"So the process is cheaper and faster and there are lots more applications." ®

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