The Great American Flub: The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Lottery for H-1B Visas

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The Untied States exists as a symbol of opportunity in the international community, yet we still create limits on the amount of people allowed into the country each year. More specifically, the U.S. government limits highly skilled workers who come to the country on H-1B visas to a cap of 65,000 per year. However, in the filing period for fiscal year 2014, U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services received nearly 124,000 H-1B petitions. As a result, the USCIS needed to come up with a sensible solution to decide which immigrants promised the largest economic gain.  In all their wisdom, the USCIS decided that carefully reviewing the profiles of H-1B filers was illogical, and that the most sensible solution lay in a method as old as time itself. To stay within the cap they created a computer generated “lottery,” randomly selecting 65,000 of those who filed. But, U.S. Immigration policy can and should advance towards a more effective system beyond picking names out of a hat.

Their comical solution reflects a broader immigration issue; the United States still clings onto the idea that it does not need foreign skilled workers.  The U.S. designs immigration caps to “protect” U.S. native workers from being pushed out of skilled jobs by immigrants. This idea rests on the false assumption that the United States generates enough highly skilled workers for its global labor market. California proves that the assumption does not reflect reality. For example, current trends demonstrate that the gap between jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree and California adults with a bachelor’s degree continues to widen. Thus, the need for capping skilled workers does not make any sense when you contextualize the reality of the American labor market.

Although floor debates in Congress continue annually on whether we should raise the cap on H-1B visas, rarely do we ever consider why we might need them in the first place. The requirement of obtaining a bachelor’s degree already creates a restriction on those who apply for H-1B visas in the first place. Economists do not contend that these skilled immigrants pose a threat to the economy, in fact they point to the opposite. Critics of eliminating the H-1B visa cap rely solely on the xenophobic notion that immigrants will harm the “average American.” But when we consider the fact that the U.S. does not do enough internally to fulfill its labor market needs, xenophobic arguments become as hollow as the assumptions they base themselves upon. If we eliminated the H-1B visa cap we could instead focus more on revitalizing the economy, rather than generating a meaningless lottery.


  1. United States Immigration and Citizenship Services. “H-1B Fiscal Year 2014 Cap Season.”
  2. Hans Johnson and Ria Sengupta. California Public Policy Institute. “Closing the Gap: Meeting California’s Need For College Graduates.”
  3. Neil Ruiz and Jill Wilson. Brookings Institution. “A Balancing Act for H-1B Visas.”
  4. Charles Hirschman. Department of Sociology and Studies in Demography and Ecology, University of Washington. “Immigration and the American Century”.

6 responses to “The Great American Flub: The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Lottery for H-1B Visas

  1. This is very enlightening! It is interesting to learn that the USCIS does not have a way of choosing skilled laborers. Really mocks the idea of equality.

  2. It is interesting that the U.S. would allow for a random selection of people who can come into our country without caring much about who they are and what they are willing to do for our country. Especially because of all the terrorist fear going on in the U.S. right now. the U.S. should monitor more closely to whom they give an opportunity to be a part of this country, not just come up with the list randomly.

  3. While I do agree with raising or eliminating the cap on highly skilled immigrant workers, I do question if that should be the long term goal. I suppose that every country in the long term wants to be self-sufficient, but in this global era where people and goods move from country to country every minute, my point seems moot. I would support allowing more highly skilled workers, but ultimately I’d want to address the problems that are causing an American skilled labor deficit in the first place.

  4. What I thought was intriguing about your article is the requirement that the immigrants who want visas must have a bachelors degree. It is interesting that they are required to have this, yet native born citizens aren’t. Although certain levels are education are required to get good jobs, we don’t force citizens to get degrees in order to live in the U.S. It makes me think that we are doing everything in our power to keep people out.

  5. I find it humorous that the government would propose such a preposterous solution to this issue. Why would we allow our future to be placed into a lottery? You provide compelling points as to why we should raise the visa cap in order to decrease the skilled labor gap. Exceptional post.

  6. It is interesting that the U.S. government would suggest a solution to an issue that is a quasi representation of reality. The fact that they think that we have enough skilled workers to compete in the global labor market is unfortunate because it is then portrayed in the media for society to consume. Your evidence is great because it allows for questions to arise and engage in academic conversations. Great job.

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