This year’s H-1B lottery registrations saw a 38.6% reduction from last year for the statutory maximum of 85,000 visas for “specialty occupation” workers. The H-1B visa is for professional jobs, for which a specific bachelor’s degree or higher is required. Each federal fiscal year, which runs October 1 to September 30 of the following year, there are 65,000 visas available for individuals with bachelor’s degrees and 20,000 additional visas for individuals with master’s or higher degrees from non-profit, accredited U.S. universities.

This year there were 442,000 eligible lottery entries. In 2023 and 2022, there were 758,994 and 474,421, respectively. Last year, USCIS selected 110,791 in March and then another batch of 77,609 in July to reach the 85,000 quota. In the first round this year, USCIS selected 120,603 entries. We won’t know until July whether there will be a second round. USCIS uses data from prior years and current year H-1B petition submissions and approvals to determine how many lottery entries it needs to allocate the 85,000 visa slots.

The reason for the major decrease from last year is the shift this year to a “beneficiary-centric” model, which prevents multiple potential employers from submitting a lottery entry for the same person. USCIS specifically wanted to stop organizations from gaming the system by using subsidiary and affiliate companies in the same corporate group to enter the same person in the lottery. Under this new model, 2023 and 2024 were quite similar. In 2023, there were 758,9994 entries for 470,342 eligible registrations. This year’s 442,000 entries thus demonstrated that USCIS achieved its goal of making the lottery more fair for all.

Aside from the new selection model, my observation from last year is worth repeating. These numbers beg the obvious question: Does Congress understand that 85,000 visas simply are not enough to meet the needs of U.S. employers for highly skilled workers? Immigration reform always has been a political third rail, but the numbers make it patently obvious that our current immigration laws are not keeping pace with employers’ needs. Call your representative and senators and urge bold action on immigration reform.