The US Citizenship and Immigration Services has detected fraud in, on average, 15 to 16 per cent of H-1B visa applications, according to Don Crocetti, chief of the USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security Office.
Speaking at a media roundtable in New York, he said many of these applicants used fraudulent documents to claim educational qualifications or work experience beyond what they actually had. The USCIS is now preparing to accept H-1B visa petitions starting April 1.
According to Don Neufeld, acting associate director for domestic operations, last year, the agency received 107,686 applications, about twice the number of the annual cap of 65,000.
"We don't know how many applications we will get this year, considering the economic situation. But we have made all the necessary arrangements," Neufeld said.
Like last year, the agency will receive applications between April 1 and April 5. If the cap is not reached, it will continue to accept applications for five more days. If more than 65,000 applications come in, the agency will randomly select 65,000. In addition to the 65,000 standard H1-B visas, another 20,000 visas are reserved for advanced degree holders from US universities.
This year, the application form tries to verify if the hiring institution has received any money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which prohibits hiring employees under the H-1B programme, he said.
Asked about the backlog of Green Cards yet to be issued, he pointed out that it was the State Department, not the agency, which dealt with the issue.
The backlog of Green Card applications in the employment-based categories has forced many people to return to their native countries without getting them. The popular EB-3 category remains backlogged to 2001 for Indians. That is, only those who applied before 2001 are eligible to get a Green Card now.
Crocetti said the fraud rate in the religious worker visa category has come down after the USCIS took strong action. Earlier, 33 per cent of the applications were found to be fraudulent, he said.
Earlier, one needed to apply at the consulate get an R-1 visa with necessary documents. Now religious institutions in the US have to get an application approved, after which the USCIS would conduct an on-site inspection to verify the institution's claims.
"The number of (religious visa) applications has come down now. The USCIS action was very effective," Crocetti said.
The backlog for naturalisation and associated applications has almost been wiped out, he added.
According to Andrea Quarantillo, the USCIS New York district director, "We expect to process a naturalisation application in five months soon."
In 2007, the USCIS received 5.3 million applications nationally. Most of these had been processed by the end of 2008, Neufeld said. There is no backlog in the Federal Bureau of Investigations' background checks, too.
The agency is also revamping its IT system with help from IBM, making it more user friendly, allowing customers to create their own accounts, he added.