There are only 65,000 H-1B visa numbers for temporary professionals available each year, plus an additional 20,000 visa numbers for US masters degree holders. Because there is a set-aside of an additional 6,800 visa numbers for citizens of Singapore and Chile, there are actually only 58,200 visa numbers available for foreign nationals with a four-year bachelor’s degree or equivalent.
Demand for H-1B visa numbers has increased greatly since 2013. Because demand for H-1Bs is much higher than the visa numbers available, USCIS has used a lottery system to award visa numbers to H-1B petitions filed during the first five business days of April each year. In 2013, USCIS received 124,000 H-1B petitions during the first five business days in April. In 2014, USCIS received 172,000 H-1B petitions, in 2015 USCIS received 233,000 and this April 2016 USCIS received more than 236,000 H-1B petitions.
Thus, a person with a bachelor’s degree had only a one in four chance of getting a visa number this year, and a person with a US masters degree had about a one in three chance of getting an H-1B visa number.
This May 2016, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) filed a lawsuit against USCIS alleging that USCIS has kept secret the lottery selection process by which some H-1B petitions receive visa numbers and others do not. “When petitions are submitted to USCIS in April, it’s as if they disappear into a ‘black box,’” said Melissa Crow, Legal Director of the American Immigration Council. “This suit is intended to pry open that box and let the American public and those most directly affected see how the lottery system works from start to finish, and to learn whether the system is operating fairly and all the numbers are being used as the law provides.”
However, no matter the outcome of the lawsuit, the only real solution is for Congress to pass a law increasing the number of H-1B visa numbers that can be issued each fiscal year. Because of anti-immigrant sentiment and complaints about the H-1B visa program, including critical articles in the New York Times and other media, this is unlikely to happen any time soon.