Businesses wanting high-skilled foreign workers wary of new visa registration process

Companies use the H-1B visa lottery to hire highly skilled workers

U.S. businesses looking to hire foreign workers through the H-1B visa program are waiting to see how the new online registration process will shake out when it debuts in March as part of an "agency-wide modernization effort."

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Firms of all sizes, including major tech companies like Google and Apple, use the H-1B visa lottery to hire high-skilled workers, including those who earned their degrees in the U.S.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversees the lottery, says moving the process online will save time and money for both petitioners and the agency. The program has a cap of 85,000 visas.

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"USCIS is confident that the technical evaluations conducted on the system, and public-engagement sessions held by the agency, will result in an effective H-1B registration period that will decrease overall costs, alleviate administrative resources and streamline the cap-subject selection process for both USCIS and petitioners," USCIS Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow said in a statement.

The online switch could have a wide range of consequences, William Stock of Klasko Immigration Law Partners told FOX Business.

USCIS said in December that it had successfully tested the new online process, but Stock said he's recommending his clients be ready to submit paper filings in case the system crashes.

"The record of successful government launches of IT projects on very short notice to the public is not great," he said. "We all remember Healthcare.gov."

The change will mean that it's easier for firms to submit big batches of applications, which could mean the number of applications skyrockets, Klasko said.

Since registering online and actually filing an H-1B petition are different processes, USCIS hopes to cut down on frivolous filings and fraud by requiring companies to attest they intend to file H-1B petitions for the beneficiaries connected to the position in the registration. USCIS also charges $10 per registration.

The agency expects the change will give a slight edge to workers who earned their master's degrees at a U.S. university.

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Taking the registration process online is an idea that's been around since the 2000s, but the Trump administration pushed it through on a short timeframe, Stock said. And there are questions about whether the agency has authority to change the process in this way, he said.

"Much like other actions this administration has taken, it has been taken without worrying too much about whether the government has the authority to do it," Stock said.

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