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Tech companies accused of gaming the H-1B lottery system

A group of U.S. tech companies have been accused of trying to game the immigration system by colluding to file multiple applications for individuals in the H-1B visa program that allows companies to hire skilled foreign workers. 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it saw a large increase in the number of duplicate applications submitted on behalf of the same applicants, raising the possibility that companies colluded to submit multiple entries for the same workers, thus raising their chances of getting chosen in the lottery. 

Duplicate applications were a big reason for the surge in H-1B visa petitions this year, which saw a record 780,000 applications to a lottery that awards 85,000 visas annually to skilled immigrants. According to USCIS, more than half the applications, nearly 409,000, were for potential foreign workers whose names were submitted multiple times. 

The increase in applications this year from people whose names were submitted only once was much smaller — 350,000, up from 309,000 last year.

H-1B visas are designed for high-skilled foreign professionals, and are popular in many tech companies. However, critics of the program have charged that companies exploit it as a way to hire foreign workers for cheaper pay than American employees would command, thus profiting at the expense of both groups.

This surge in multiple entries “has raised serious concerns that some may have tried to gain an unfair advantage by working together to submit multiple registrations on behalf of the same beneficiary,” the agency said. “This may have unfairly increased their chances of selection.”

The agency is investigating the possibility of fraud and has “denied and revoked petitions accordingly, and is in the process of initiating law enforcement referrals for criminal prosecution,” the USCIS said.

While it’s legal for multiple companies to extend H-1B visa applications to the same prospective hire, they are not allowed to coordinate with other companies about the worker. An employer attests, under penalty of perjury, that an application represents a real job offer to the worker, and that they have not “worked with, or agreed to work with, another registrant, petitioner, agent or other individual or entity to submit a registration to unfairly increase chances of selection for the beneficiary or beneficiaries in this submission.”

USCIS did not name the companies alleged to have operated the scheme. According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the story, the companies are small and little-known companies “in the tech and information technology sectors.” The Journal noted that some of them “were potentially set up with the express purpose of submitting duplicate visa lottery entries.”

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