April 7, 2016
By Michael Oleaga

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), one of the three federal immigration agencies of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), announced it has reached its cap for the foreign workers visa program known as H-1B.

The Congressional Mandate & What's Next for Immigrant Workers?

In a statement released on Thursday, the USCIS said it has reached its cap, as set by the U.S. Congress, of the tens of thousands of H-1B filings for the 2017 fiscal year. The federal immigration agency also revealed it has received more than the limit of 20,000 advanced degree exemption H-1B petitions. As the USCIS states, the H-1B program employs foreign workers to have jobs "that require highly specialized knowledge in fields such as science, engineering and computer programming."

What will happen next?

"USCIS will use a computer-generated process, also known as the lottery, to randomly select the petitions needed to meet the caps of 65,000 visas for the general category and 20,000 for the advanced degree exemption," read a statement from the USCIS.

In regards to the advanced degree exemptions, the USCIS will randomly pick petitions, while all other unselected petitions will join the random selection process as part of the 65,000 general cap -- as mandated by Congress. The USCIS will return filing fees but only after rejecting and identifying "unselected cap-subject petitions" that aren't duplicate filings.

Due to the large number of application, the USCIS has yet to determine the lottery date, and the agency will first complete its initial H-1B applications intake received by April 7.

But the USCIS will still select some H-1B applications that are exempt from the congressional mandate, such as petitions filed on behalf of current H-1B immigrant workers who were already previously counted against the cap, also, requests to extend an immigrant worker's time in the U.S., change the employment terms with the current employer, allow change of employers and potentially grant immigrant workers to simultaneously work a second H-1B position.

H-1B in the Presidential Campaign

The H-1B visa program has had a prominent role in the immigration debate during the presidential campaign trail.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has acknowledged he utilized the foreign workers program for his business but said the program is "very bad" for workers and shouldn't exist.

"It's very bad for business in terms of -- it's very bad for our workers and it's unfair for our workers, and we should end it," Trump said during the March 10 CNN debate. "Very importantly, the Disney workers endorsed me, as you probably read, and I got a full endorsement because they are the ones that said, and they had a news conference, and they said, he's the only one that's going to be able to fix it because it is a mess."

Trump said it's likely necessary to investigate at least the last two years to determine if a temporary pause on the visa problem is necessary.

Fellow Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said the too many low-skilled immigrant workers are coming to the U.S., which have allowed wages to lower for Americans.

"Our system isn't working. And then on top of that, we've got a system that's allowing in millions of people to be here illegally," Cruz also said during the March 10 debate.

Cruz's platform includes the issuance suspension of all H-1B visas for 180-day for the purpose to complete a "comprehensive investigation and audit of pervasive allegations of abuse of the program." Cruz wants only individuals with advanced degrees in select fields to come to the U.S. via the H-1B visa -- with preference to immigrants who obtained degrees from American universities.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders seeks to reform the visa system in order to halt abuse and exploitation of H-1B workers.

"We must substantially increase prevailing wages that employers pay temporary guest workers. To build on Senator Sanders' previous legislation, Senator Sanders will ensure that if there is a true labor shortage, employers must offer higher, not lower wages," Sanders campaign website states.

Fellow Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, over the years, has not had firm stance on the foreign workers program but, during the campaign trail, favors increasing the congressional cap.