One of the first steps that must be completed for an employer to file for an H-2B visa is the submission of a labor certification application with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Filers utilize the online iCert system and are generally able to file at midnight on January 1. The H-2B program is statutorily limited to 66,000 visas annually with 33,000 allocated to each half of the fiscal year. H-2B applications are date and time stamped to establish the order of submission because of the demand for the program.
However, this year, when filers attempted to submit their applications, they received error or timed out messages and were unable to complete the application process.
DOL initially announced that it was experiencing a “major service interruption” and was taking down the iCert system altogether. Apparently, it received so many applications that the system crashed. The iCert takedown impacted other programs, as well, such as H-2A and PERM.
On January 2, 2019, DOL provided an update, noting that it had received requests for certification for over 97,800 workers, while only 33,000 visas are statutorily available. The huge uptick in applications crashed the system, which was not reopened until Monday, January 7. DOL stated that there were 22,900 server login attempts on January 1, 2019, versus 721 attempts in the same period on January 1, 2018.
Interestingly, as part of its fix, DOL instituted a “CAPTCHA” to avoid software programs from filing applications at a rate faster than iCert could manage.
The iCert system was reopened on January 7 at 1 pm CST.