As published in the Immigration Daily on November 14, 2023

This is the first of four articles on the notice of proposed rulemaking, “Modernizing H-1B Requirements, Providing Flexibility in the F-1 Program, and Program Improvements Affecting Other Nonimmigrant Workers,” published in the Federal Register on 10/23/23. Written comments are due on or before 12/22/23.

USCIS is proposing a beneficiary centric registration system to replace its disastrous sponsoring organization registration system which has spawned unheard-of levels of abuse. In the proposal, it will not matter how many times an individual is registered by multiple organizations as that will only result in one registration, with USCIS seemingly sarcastic logic being that this proposed registration system will then allow the beneficiary if selected to pick from among sponsoring organizations to obtain the best terms of employment. In answer to concerns like ours that USCIS should go back to its old system which produced between 190,000-200,000 petitions in pre-registration days as opposed to780,844 registrations most recently (See “H-1B Selection Process a Travesty-Time to Go ‘Back to the Future’”, 5/1/23 Immigration Daily, and “Another Call For “Back To The Future” Change of Policy for H-1B Cap Selections by January 2024”, 9/14/23 Immigration Daily), it said that “[W]hen DHS considered the immense cost savings that registration provides to both USCIS and stakeholders and the significant resources the agency would incur to revert back to a paper-based filing system for all cap-subject cases, the benefits of having a registration system still outweigh the costs and any potential problems caused by frivolous filings.”

We imagine the weighing of costs and benefits depends upon whose perspective – the cost-cutting agency or those whose dreams of staying in the US legally are cheated. Without a feasible solution, the situation becomes intolerable. In the recent FY-2024 registration, over half of the 780,844 registrations were from beneficiaries with multiple submissions – 350,103 of people with one application and 408,891 of people with more than one. USCIS statistics from the previous year even showed one beneficiary with 83 registrations.

Fortunately, the solution of the beneficiary centric registration system seems a feasible solution as it takes away the chief incentive of multiple registrations – the increasing of odds in being selected. However, the change must be done now and certainly in time for the next H-1B registration period. Such would appear to be a simple fix to the system, but there appears to be doubt expressed in the proposed rule that the system change will be done on time. While saying that DHS may seek to finalize the provisions relating to the registration system before moving to finalize other proposed revisions of the rule, it adds that DHS and USCIS cannot predict with certainty agency resources for the next few years or even when the final rule would publish and therefore, there is also the possibility that DHS would need to delay the effective date of the registration system change. Further that the delayed date might only apply to the proposed changes of the beneficiary centric selection process, and in explaining why, says that it may delay the effective date if it determines that USCIS does not have sufficient time to ensure proper functionality of the selection process, including completing all requisite user testing – and DHS might need to delay the effective date for other reasons such as to avoid confusion that could result if the final rule took effect too close to the start of the registration period for the upcoming cap season or to avoid disparate treatment of registrations if the final rule took effect in the middle of the initial registration period or during a subsequent registration and selection period, particularly if USCIS needed to open a subsequent registration period later that year.

It is clear that no one will stand for another year of an inept and outrageous H-1B cap registration system like we have been seeing since its inception regardless of what USCIS says about its weighing of costs and benefits. Even if USCIS has to pour more personnel and capital than planned into fixing the system either by implementing the beneficiary centric system or going back to the old system of petition filings, it must ensure that a clear change is made in time for the next registration period in Spring 2024.