Main image of article H-1B Pre-Registration System Sees Flood of Applicants

Recent pressure from the Trump administration—including a rising rate of denials—hasn’t slowed attempts to land an H-1B visa, according to new data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

There were 275,000 individual entries to the new electronic pre-registration system for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, a 25 percent increase in H-1B filings year-over-year. Some 43 percent of this year’s pre-registrants had advanced degrees. 

This is the first year that USCIS has adopted this electronic pre-registration process, and the agency is claiming success. “As a result of this modernized process, the amount of paper and data exchanged between USCIS and petitioners will dramatically decrease this year,” USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow wrote in a statement. “The positive feedback received by users of the H-1B registration system, the limited amount of technical issues experienced during the registration period, and the ability to immediately respond to questions from registrants was the result of a comprehensive effort developed over the course of more than a year.”

USCIS first announced plans for electronic pre-registration in early 2019. Online registration costs $10 per application, and only those companies whose registrations are selected via the subsequent lottery will complete the (much lengthier) visa petitions. “By streamlining the H-1B cap selection process with a new electronic registration system, (the government) is creating cost savings and efficiencies for petitioners and the agency, as only those selected will now be required to submit a full petition,” Mark Koumans, deputy director of USCIS, was quoted as saying when the system was first announced.

Ever since that announcement, H-1B critics have claimed that easy pre-registration will encourage firms to flood the system with applicants, which in turn could thwart any attempts to truly make the H-1B a visa for “specialized talent.” Many of these critics point to consulting and business-services firms as the most likely to abuse this new system. As predicted, this new data from USCIS suggests the pre-registration platform was flooded with applicants, and less than half had the advanced degrees that usually delineate specialized talent—however, that doesn’t mean all those applications will make it through to the visa stage.

Indeed, the rest of the H-1B visa process has seen its share of crackdowns. The National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), which digests and analyzes data from USCIS, offers up regular breakdowns of H-1B data. Its most recent one shows that, for all four quarters of fiscal year 2019, denial rates rose for H-1B petitions for initial employment. Will that situation continue? Dice’s separate analysis of USCIS data shows that the rate of initial H-1B approvals (as well as approvals post-RFE) has crept up slightly, but denials are still way up over the pre-Trump years.