Representational image of a U.S. visa applicant. Getty Images

Applications for the H-1B work visa have reportedly seen a 61% increase in 2023 from the year prior, going nearly 700,000 above the annual cap of 85,000 applicants.

The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) logged 780,884 applications for the H-1B temporary work visa in 2023, marking a record high in applications, as per a new report by immigration research company Boundless. The report also found that H-1B denial rates hit a record low of 2% in 2022.

The H-1B visa program, which is targeted at highly-skilled workers, saw a majority of approved applications from India at 73%, followed by Chinese applicants at 12.5%. The majority of the approved petitions were among male workers at 70.8%, while only 29% of the approved were female applicants.

Boundless expects the demand for highly-skilled workers in the U.S. to continue rising in the coming years, considering the increasing number of H-1B applications yearly. However, "the fate of the program rests largely on the political climate and who is in power."

During the Trump administration, H-1B applications were denied more than during any other period since the program was first signed into law in 1990, as per Boundless. The research company expects that if Trump gets reelected in 2024, a similar trend of denials will likely occur.

President Joe Biden, on the other hand, has said he would support calls to increase the H-1B visa cap and ease up on H-1B holders' transition to green cards. But a divided Congress is likely to stunt chances that such reforms will be implemented.

Another issue that Washington is faced with regarding H-1B visas is visa fraud. Fraudulent activities include abusing the program to displace American workers already employed by a company, paying H-1B visa holders less than what's expected and making false claims about where exactly the H-1B employee will be working.

There are also concerns that U.S. companies may be exploiting the H-1B program. According to the latest data, the biggest companies using the program implemented thousands of layoffs in 2022 and the first quarter of this year. Skilled immigrants are allegedly hired but underpaid to fill in the labor shortage after job cuts, while U.S. jobs are off-shored.

Despite flaws in the popular visa program, H-1B workers still prove crucial in the American jobs market.

Nonprofit and advocacy group the American Immigration Council said research has shown the importance of H-1B workers. They "complement U.S. workers, fill employment gaps in many STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) occupations and expand job opportunities for all."

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