United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced that registrants skyrocketed by over 60 percent for the FY2024 H-1B cap registration lottery, noting that they suspect substantial fraud. While USCIS works to root out H-1B fraud and abuse, many valuable foreign-born college graduates will lose their opportunity to remain in the U.S. this year. A temporary, one-year extension of optional practical training (OPT) would  restore faith in the immigration process and preserve our economic interests.

Employers submitted over 750,000 eligible registrations this year, compared to just 474,000 last year. The staggering increase is at least partially attributable to rampant fraud and abuse of H-1B applications. Many companies and their subsidiaries likely attempted to increase the chance of selection by submitting multiple registrations on behalf of a single beneficiary, even if only one legitimate job offer existed.

As some unscrupulous employers aimed to stack the odds in their favor, the rule-abiding registrants saw their chances of selection deteriorate markedly. In FY2021, just under half of eligible registrations were selected, meaning that about 46 percent could submit a full petition for adjudication. For FY2024, over 85 percent of eligible registrations were out of the running before USCIS even considered their qualifications.

The blame, in this case, falls squarely on employers petitioning for these visas. The petitioner signs an attestation, under penalty of perjury, that they have not attempted to unfairly increase the chance of selection. H-1B fraud and abuse by employers erodes credibility and undermines public perceptions of this crucial program. And the program’s reputation is only one aspect of what is at stake. 

In FY2022, approximately 44 percent of initial employment beneficiaries were already in the U.S. and were changing from F-1 or F-2 student status to H-1B. The H-1B is one of the most common mechanisms for graduates of our universities to apply their training and education to  benefit our economy. However, this population faced a 46 percent lower overall selection rate  than the previous year. As a result, many valuable graduates likely fell through the cracks. 

When the lottery registration began in FY2021, about 10 percent of eligible registrations were on behalf of beneficiaries with other registrations in the lottery. These registrations are not immediately indicative of fraud if an individual has received multiple legitimate job offers from unrelated companies not conspiring together. However, in the last lottery, more than half of eligible registrations were submitted on behalf of beneficiaries with other registrations.

In their circumvention of the rules, employers have jeopardized our ability to capitalize on the investments made in U.S. international students. Many such graduates may turn to the far more welcoming arms of the Canadian immigration system, therefore utilizing the knowledge and skills they honed in the U.S. to benefit a competing economy. 

To mitigate this brain drain, the Department of Homeland Security should issue a one-time extension of OPT work authorization to graduates for whom an FY2024 H-1B registration was submitted. American employers have already expressed interest in retaining these graduates’ skills, and an OPT extension will permit them to re-submit a legitimate registration next year after USCIS has completed its investigations and created mechanisms to prevent this level of fraud from happening again. 

An extension of OPT work authorization would not reward employers because OPT is independent of specific companies. Rather, it would temporarily remedy fraud’s impacts on U.S. university graduates who  joined the metaphorical line but ultimately suffered due to companies that did not play by the rules. Once we lose our graduates to competitor nations, it will be challenging to get them back, as crucial talent that we cultivate settles into more welcoming economies.

Moreover, negative perceptions of our immigration system hurt U.S. universities’ ability to attract foreign talent because their attractiveness is directly linked to our capacity to operate a functioning immigration system that can retain graduates. As international students are largely ineligible for federal aid and make substantial economic contributions while studying here, recruiting them is also indisputably within our economic interests.

The fraud and abuse in the latest H-1B lottery is an affront to the legitimacy of our immigration system that we must immediately rectify. In the meantime, extending OPT work authorization for H-1Bs is a straightforward tactic that will reinforce students’ trust in the U.S., justify our economic investments, and preserve our legitimacy as a hub for international talent.