The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) stated that the computerised drawing of lots devised to select successful H-1B applicants every year has resulted in abuse of the system and a sharp increase in fraudulent efforts, even as an official said that it is on track to issue over a million visas to Indians this year.
USCIS said it is in the process of initiating law enforcement referrals for criminal prosecution.
"The H-1B programme is an essential part of our nation's immigration system and our economy, and the USCIS is committed to implementing the law and helping meet the ever-changing needs of the US labour market," it said.
"We are working on an upcoming H-1B modernisation rule that will propose, among other improvements, bolstering the H-1B registration process to reduce the possibility of misuse and fraud in the H-1B registration system," it added.
USCIS had last month announced that it received enough electronic registrations during the initial registration period to reach the FY 2024 H-1B numerical allocations (H-1B cap), including the advanced degree exemption also known as the master’s cap.
The agency said during the registration period for the FY 2024 H-1B cap, it saw a significant increase in the number of registrations submitted compared to prior years.
It said there were 780,884 applications for H-1B visas in this year's computer-generated lottery, against 483,927 in 2023 and 301,447 in 2022 and 274,237 in 2021.
The number of registrations tied to people who applied more than once rose to 408,891 this year from 165,180 last year and 90,143 the year before, it said.
The federal agency warned that if the information provided by an applicant or a company was not correct, it will find the registration to not be properly submitted and the prospective petitioner would not be eligible to file a petition based on that registration.
A group of US tech workers, who are campaigning against the H-1B visas, said it has spoken about such a fraud for the past several years.
"The Trump administration had proposed a fix to the H-1B lottery by prioritising selection based on highest wages. You sued the administration so now you have to deal with the fraud that you are complaining about," it said in a statement.
According to the USCIS, some of the most common types of H-1B fraud indicators include:
- The H-1B worker is not or will not be paid the wage certified on the Labor Condition Application (LCA).
- There is a wage disparity between H-1B workers and other workers performing the same or similar duties, particularly to the detriment of US workers.
- The H-1B worker is not performing the duties specified in the H-1B petition, including when the duties are at a higher level than the position description.
- The H-1B worker has less experience than US workers in similar positions in the same company.
- The H-1B worker is not working in the intended location as certified on the LCA.
The US government has been prosecuting cases of H-1B visa fraud aggressively. In 2021, Texas-based tech firm Cloudgen LLC had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit H-1B visa fraud aftter an investigation found that in their 'bench and switch' scheme, they would file false employment papers for overseas workers to acquire the visas. This resulted in Cloudgen maintaining a 'bench' of H-1B visa holders who would be employed by firms other than the ones stated in the applications, depending on the fee paid to Cloudgen.
Another frequent type of fraud involves companies under different names but the same ownership submitting entries on behalf of the same person to increase the odds in the lottery.
In 2020, Indian national Ashish Sawhney was arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit visa fraud and for inducing foreign nationals to come to the US using fraudulently obtained H-1B visas. Sawhney allegedly used four corporations to orchestrate the improper submission of fraudulent applications for H-1B specialty-occupation work visas, the US government said.
A million visas for Indians in 2024
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu assured that the Biden administration is committed this summer to make sure it processes all of the student visas for Indians whose school starts this fall.
He also told Press Trust of India in an interview this week that they are also prioritising work visas: H-1B's and L visas, the most sought-after by IT professionals from India.
"We are on track to issue more than a million visas this year. This is a record for us along with a record number of student visas and immigrant visas," Lu said.
There were growing concerns in India over the long waiting period for first-time visa applicants, especially for those applying under B1 (business) and B2 (tourist) categories. India is now number two in the world in terms of international students coming to the United States.
The statement followed a move by a group of influential US lawmakers who introduced a bipartisan legislation in the Senate to comprehensively overhaul the H-1B and L-1 visa programmes and usher in more transparency in the recruitment of foreign workers.