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US to revamp annual H-1B visa lottery system to reduce fraud risks

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The US has revealed plans for a significant revamp of its annual H-1B speciality occupation visa lottery, widely utilised by Indian IT professionals. This overhaul aims to reduce the likelihood of fraud and enhance the efficiency of the registration process.

Separately, the US on January 29 has formally launched a pilot programme to renew the much sought-after H-1B visas domestically, a move that is likely to benefit thousands of Indian tech professionals.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise.

Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

The new overhauled system, among other things, includes the provision of a beneficiary-centric selection process for registrations by employers.

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As a result, unlike in the past when multiple applications by an individual often resulted in abuse in fraud of the system, the H-1B visa applications would now be counted and accepted based on individual applicants.

Even if one individual files multiple applications for various companies they would be counted as one application based on their personal credentials like passport numbers.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also announced a set of new rules which are aimed at strengthening the integrity of and reducing the potential for fraud in the H-1B registration process.

This includes reducing the potential for gaming the registration system and ensuring each beneficiary would have the same chance of being selected, regardless of the number of registrations submitted on their behalf, the federal agency said on Tuesday (30).

“We’re always looking for ways to bolster integrity and curtail the potential for fraud while improving and streamlining our application processes,” said USCIS Director Ur M Jaddou.

“The improvements in these areas should make H-1B selections more equitable for petitioners and beneficiaries and will allow for the H-1B process to be fully electronic from registration, if applicable, until final decision and transmission of approved petitions to the Department of State,” he said.

USCIS also said the initial registration period for the fiscal 2025 H-1B cap will open at noon on March 6 and run through March 22.

During this period, prospective petitioners, and their representatives, if applicable, must use a USCIS online account to register each beneficiary electronically for the selection process and pay the associated registration fee for each beneficiary.

Starting February 28, companies will be allowed to open their account which can be used to start and complete the registration process.

USCIS said this final rule contains provisions that will create a beneficiary-centric selection process for registrations by employers, codify start date flexibility for certain petitions subject to the congressionally mandated H-1B cap, and add more integrity measures related to the registration process.

According to USCIS, under the beneficiary-centric process, registrations will be selected by a unique beneficiary rather than by registration.

This new process is designed to reduce the potential for fraud and ensure each beneficiary would have the same chance of being selected, regardless of the number of registrations submitted on their behalf by an employer, it said.

Starting with fiscal 2025, which begins on October 1, 2024, initial registration period, USCIS will require registrants to provide valid passport information or valid travel document information for each beneficiary.

The passport or travel document provided must be the one the beneficiary, if or when abroad, intends to use to enter the United States if issued an H-1B visa. Each beneficiary must only be registered under one passport or travel document, it said.

USCIS is also clarifying requirements regarding the requested employment start date on certain petitions subject to the congressionally mandated H-1B cap to permit filing with requested start dates that are after October 1 of the relevant fiscal year, consistent with current policy.

Also, the H-1B final rule codifies USCIS’ ability to deny or revoke H-1B petitions where the underlying registration contained a false attestation or was otherwise invalid.

Also under the new rule, USCIS may deny or revoke the approval of an H-1B petition if it determines that the fee associated with the registration is declined, not reconciled, disputed, or otherwise invalid after submission, it said.

In a statement, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Director of Government Relations Sharvari Dalal-Dheini said the new H-1B registration process will revise how lottery registration is run and create a more equitable system.

“After last year’s registration period, when more than 750,000 registrations were submitted for 85,000 visas, it was clear that the existing system was unworkable. AILA and our partners advocated for exactly the sort of changes announced in this rule; changes that will ensure a beneficiary-centric lottery process to level the playing field,” she said.

“It is commendable that DHS took steps to shift from a flawed model to one that will create a fairer system in time for this year’s registration period,” Dalal-Dheini said.

Meanwhile, the pilot programme to renew the much sought-after H-1B foreign work visas domestically will allow H-1B visa holders who are currently in status to renew their visas in the US before a temporary trip abroad.

An announcement in this regard was made during the historic State visit of prime minister Narendra Modi in June last year.

In a statement on Monday (29), the State Department said the pilot programme will accept applications from January 29, 2024, through April 1, 2024, or when all application slots are filled, whichever comes first.

This is the first time in nearly two decades that a limited number of H-1B non-immigrants will be able to renew their visas from within the US.

The State Department said the pilot programme is voluntary and it will allow approximately 4,000 applications each week, with 2,000 for applicants whose prior H-1B visas were issued by its diplomatic missions in Canada, and another 2,000 for applicants whose prior H-1B visas were issued by US embassies and consulates in India.

Application slots will be released on January 29, February 5, February 12, February 19, and February 26.

Applicants will only be able to apply through the portal linked below during the specified dates above, it said, adding that applications will be handled on a first-received, first-processed basis until the weekly limit is reached.

“Applicants who are unable to apply on one application date may reattempt application on any of the remaining application dates during the entry period. The application period will close when all application slots are filled or on April 1, 2024, whichever comes first,” it said.

The estimated processing time will take six to eight weeks from the date the applicant’s passport and other required documents are received by the State Department.

The State Department said all applications will be handled on a strict first-received, first-processed basis, it said.

“Individuals who do not meet the requirements for participation in the pilot programme, or those who choose not to participate in the pilot programme, may continue to apply for visa renewal at a US embassy or consulate overseas,” the State Department said.

(PTI)

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