Lawsuit Seeks Transparency in H-1B Lottery Process


The American Immigration Council, together with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) have jointly filed a lawsuit against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), seeking more information and transparency regarding the selection process and administration of the H-1B temporary work visa.

June 1, 2016

The H-1B nonimmigrant is a highly competitive visa among recent college graduates that permits temporary work for up to six years in certain “specialized jobs.” What makes it so coveted among foreign students is that the annual H-1B visa quota only allows 85,000 visas to be given out. Of the 85,000, 20,000 visas are reserved for applicants holding a master’s or higher degree, while the remaining 65,000 are given to regular applicants.

USCIS begins receiving and adjudicating H-1B visa applications starting on April 1st of each year. In recent years, the number of applications submitted (over 270,000 in 2016) greatly exceeds the annual quota, so USCIS only accepts H-1B applications submitted during the first five business days. If the number of applications received exceeds the visa quota, USCIS conducts a random lottery to select up to 85,000 applications for review, although 85,000 visas will almost never be allocated because of dual submissions and application denials. Unselected petitions are returned to employers along with the associated filing fee.

Given the competition to be selected and resulting angst that hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals experience each year, it is no surprise that many are curious about the lottery process. AILA Executive Director Benjamin Johnson had the following to say regarding the lawsuit: "Despite the Obama Administration’s public commitment to the values of transparency and accountability, frankly, our attempts to see into this process have been resisted." He continued, "Instead of responding to our requests for information about how the lottery is conducted, how cap-subject petitions are processed, and how the numbers are estimated and tracked, USCIS has kept the process entirely opaque. This litigation is intended to shine a necessary light on an important process in America’s business immigration system."

Source: American Immigration Lawyers Association