Recently, the American Immigration Council (Council) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) teamed up on a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) seeking to “obtain the information needed to provide the public with an understanding of the operating procedures and Defendant USCIS follows when administering the H-1B lottery. AILA seeks declaratory, injunctive and other appropriate relief under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, to compel the release of records …”

As stated in the complaint, with an annual limit of 65,000 visas for new hires, and 20,000 additional visas for professionals with an advanced degree from a U.S. university, employer’s demand for H-1B visas has exceeded the statutory cap for more than ten years. As a result, U.S. employers seeking highly skilled foreign professionals have to submit petitions to USCIS on the first five business day of April for the limited pool of H-1B nonimmigrant visa numbers that are available for the coming fiscal year. If USCIS determines at any time during the first five business days of the filing period that it has received more than enough petitions to meet the numerical limits, the agency will use a computer-generated random selection process (or “lottery”) to choose those petitions that will be accepted for processing according to the statutory limits, taking into account a percentage of the petitions selected which will be denied, withdrawn, or otherwise rejected. Petitions not selected will be returned to the petitioning employers.

“When petitions are submitted to USCIS in April, it’s as if they disappear into a ‘black box,’” said Melissa Crow, Legal Director of the American Immigration Council. “This suit is intended to pry open that box and let the American public and those most directly affected see how the lottery system works from start to finish, and to learn whether the system is operating fairly and all the numbers are being used as the law provides.” As stated by Benjamin Johnson, AILA Executive Director, “Despite the Obama Administration’s public commitment to the values of transparency and accountability, frankly, our attempts to see into this process have been resisted. Instead of responding to our requests for information about how the lottery is conducted, how cap-subject petitions are processed, and how the numbers are estimated and tracked, USCIS has kept the process entirely opaque. This litigation is intended to shine a necessary light on an important process in America’s business immigration system. ”