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Last April, the U.S. government was overwhelmed by the record volume of H-1B visa petitions it received, propelling immigration officials to stop accepting any more visa applications after only two days. This year, a new record could be set.
Tomorrow -- April 1 -- when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services begins accepting H-1B visa petitions for employers to hire temporary foreign technology workers for fiscal 2009 (which starts Oct. 1, 2008), those companies will have until April 7th to get those applications in, even if USCIS receives enough petitions before April 7th to hit the total 85,000 visa cap.
So, with USCIS saying in advance that it will accept H-1B visa petitions for five days (instead of only two days like last year,) the U.S. government could hit a new record for the largest number of H-1B visas received for one fiscal year.
Last year, USCIS received about 133,000 H-1B visa petitions in two days, more than double the annual 65,000 cap. By April 30, USCIS also hit the cap on the additional 20,000 H-1B visas that are exempt for foreign workers who receive advanced degrees from U.S. schools.
USCIS decided to extend its acceptance of H-1B visas for five days this year "to level the playing field," giving all companies a bit more time to get their applications in, said a USCIS spokesman. "This takes off some of the pressure to compete," he said. Regardless of the number of visas petitions USCIS receives by April 7, all applications will be randomly selected toward the annual caps.
USCIS isn't making any public predictions about the volume of H-1B visa petitions it expects to receive. However, "we expect there will be substantial interest," said the USCIS spokesman.
The tech industry and many educators in recent years have been lobbying Congress to raise the H-1B visa cap to allow more foreign tech professionals -- and foreign students with U.S. master and doctorate degrees -- into the U.S. to work. Critics of the H-1B visa program also contend that anti-fraud and anti-abuse reforms need to be made to the H-1B system.
In addition to USCIS extending the time that it will accept H-1B visa petitions, USCIS also recently issued an interim rule prohibiting employers from submitting multiple visa petitions for the same individual.
Last year, there were about 500 incidents in which employers submitted duplicate H-1B visa petitions for the same job candidate in hopes of increasing the odds for those petitions to be randomly selected by USCIS. This year, duplicate petitions will be voided by USCIS, and employers will forfeit their applications fees for those bogus applications.