The Department of Labor’s (DOL) iCERT website crashed early on January 1, 2019, preventing employers from e-filing their application packets for the 33,000 H-2B visas with an April 1, 2019, start date for temporary nonagricultural H-2B workers. Employers and their attorneys reported working late on New Year’s Eve to be able to submit their applications at midnight ET, only to be thwarted repeatedly while hitting “submit.”
DOL subsequently posted the following iCERT announcement:
We sincerely apologize for the major service interruption in the iCERT System early in the morning of January 1, 2019. Due to overwhelming filing demand, the Department’s technology staff is working diligently to investigate the cause of the system outage and has temporarily taken the iCERT System down for the remainder of January 1st and until further notice. The Department will provide another update on the status of the iCERT System around 12:00PM EST, January 2nd, and separate advance public notice regarding when the iCERT System will be operational once again.
DOL’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) announced on January 7, 2019, that the system was back up as of 2 p.m. ET that day.
OFLC announced on January 8, 2019, that it had received approximately 5,276 H-2B applications covering more than 96,400 worker positions, which was nearly three times greater than the 33,000 semiannual visa allotment for fiscal year 2019. To process this “significant surge,” OFLC said it would sequentially assign H-2B applications to analysts based on the calendar date and time on which the applications were received, measured to the millisecond.
On January 11, 2019, OFLC posted the following additional announcements:
The Department has received questions about the difference between timestamps displayed in iCERT and timestamps contained in emails confirming the submission of applications. When an applicant submits an application, the system generates a courtesy email to the applicant which confirms the submission. The date and time in the courtesy email, however, does not represent the official date and time of the applicant’s submission. Rather, it indicates the time at which the email was generated. To reiterate, the official date and time of each application may be viewed in the applicant’s H-2B Portfolio Screen through the applicant’s iCERT system account.
The Department undertook an after-action analysis of the iCERT system’s January 7, 2019 performance. Through a review of the data logs, the Department has determined that 186 applicants submitted the same application more than once in the iCERT system. Because the iCERT database overwrites the previous date and time stamp when a new submission is made, the official date and time saved in the iCERT database is the date and time of the final submission. For these 186 applications, the Department was able to determine the time of the first submission down to the second. For the 152 applicants with multiple submissions within the same second, the final time stamp to the millisecond is reflected in the official date and time. In the remaining 34 cases, the submissions were made outside of the same second. Those applications are now at the first submission’s second. These time stamps are reflected in the official receipt date and time that may be viewed on the H-2B Portfolio Screen through an iCERT system account.
Some users received an outage banner which delayed or blocked access to the H-2B page in the iCERT system. To increase processing capacity on January 7, 2019, the Department scaled up iCERT infrastructure to 50 load-balanced servers. One of the pathways to these servers did not allow access to the iCERT’s H-2B module system at the 2:00 p.m. EST opening of the system, and for approximately two and [a] half hours thereafter. All iCERT users were randomly assigned to a server at log-on as per a standard load-balancing algorithm. As a result, users assigned to this particular pathway experienced the outage banner and may have been delayed from getting into iCERT’s H-2B module.
In addition, the Department received questions regarding whether there was a restoration of data due to data corruption. There was no restoration of data from back-up and no data corruption found connected to the system disruption of January 1, 2019.
The Department was notified that some applicants were missing certain required data or attachments from their applications. As per standard practice, applicants are encouraged to log into their iCERT accounts and verify that their applications are complete and accurate. If any attachments are missing, applicants may upload them at any time. If any required data fields on the ETA-9142B are missing or inaccurate, applicants may contact the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) help desk and provide the relevant H-2B case number and explain the necessary corrections.
In light of the unprecedented demand for H-2B labor certifications, the Department is considering rulemaking changing the process by which applications are ordered for processing, including randomization and other methods. In the interim, the Department welcomes comments and suggestions from the public on these matters. Comments and suggestions should be directed to … H2BReform.Comments@dol.gov.
Some attorneys said the agency had been warned in advance about the capacity issue, and that lawsuits were pending.