U.S. gets 233,000 H-1B petitions, a new record

Odds of winning visa lottery drop to 36%

The U.S. received 233,000 H-1B petitions this year, believed to the highest number ever, and almost three times the number of available visas.

The government issues 85,000 H-1B visas each year, 20,000 of which were set aside for people who had earned advanced degrees.

Because the number of H-1B visas exceeded the cap, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is distributing the visas via a lottery, which was held today.

The more visa petitions in the lottery pool, the lower the odds of winning a visa. Based on these numbers, only about 36% of the visa petitions will be approved.

The USCIS first conducted the lottery selection process for the advanced degree exemption. All unselected advanced degree petitions then became part of the random selection process for the 65,000 limit, the agency said.

The high number of visa petitions received by the government will likely be cited by supporters of an H-1B increase. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), along with some industry groups, planned a press conference Tuesday to urge passage of the I-Squared Act. That bill, which has 11 Senate co-sponsors, would increase the base H-1B cap from 65,000 to 195,000, and would eliminate the cap on people who earn an advanced degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field.

But the push for the increase in the H-1B cap comes at the same time that 10 senators, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Judiciary Committee chairman, have asked the U.S. Department of Justice, and other agencies, to investigate the H-1B program.

Specifically, these lawmakers want federal authorities to investigate reports of the “unacceptable replacement of American workers by H-1B workers.”

In the past two years, the U.S. received 172,500 and 124,000 H-1B visa petitions, respectively.

The largest users of H-1B visas are IT services companies that specialize in shifting work overseas.

Neil Ruiz, a senior policy analyst at Brookings Institution, said this is the third year in a row that a lottery was used to distribute visas, and it underscores the need for lawmakers to address the visa issue. “It’s the same story but it’s getting worse,” he said.

The visas will be issued at the start of the 2016 federal fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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