It’s that time of year again: the lottery window for the filing of H-1B petitions is right around the corner. The H-1B (the nonimmigrant work visa intended for professionals in specialty occupations) visa petition process includes a lottery system which allows for a total of 65,000 petition spots to fulfill the “regular cap”, and an additional 20,000 petition spots for workers with an advanced degree. 

This year the Department of Homeland Security has implemented some changes which affect the lottery process and filing regulations. Based on knowledge from previous years, the visa petition spots are likely to be filled very quickly, as USCIS notes that they receive far more petitions than available visas every year, usually within the first week of the filing window.
What are the changes?
Reversal of selection process
A final rule issued by DHS with the aim of making the process more effective and lowering “overall costs for employers and increasing government efficiency” includes a reversal in the lottery procedure. These changes go into effect on April 1st, 2019, the first day of the filing window for the year.
In the past, a petitioner with an advanced degree (from an accredited, not-for-profit, U. S. based institution) would have the chance to be selected for one of the 20,000 slots reserved for those with a master’s degree. Those petitions not selected in this lottery would then be entered into the regular cap (the 65,000 petition spots for all H-1B applicants). Starting April 1st, however, the process will be reversed: “all petitions – including masters quota eligible petitions – will be up for selection in the regular cap. Those petitions with advanced degree designations that were not selected in the regular cap will be put into the master’s cap afterward.”
Electronic registration
A new rule will require petitioners to first electronically register with USCIS during a designated registration period. Only those whose registrations are selected will be eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition. However, after recognizing the need for further testing of the online registration system, USCIS will suspend the electronic registration requirement for the FY 2020 cap season. USCIS expects this system (once implemented) “to reduce overall costs for petitioners and create a more efficient and cost-effective H-1B cap petition process for USCIS and petitioners.”
Premium processing service
Employers should take note that the optional service of premium processing is subject to some changes as well. USCIS reports that premium processing resumed in January 2019 only for fiscal year 2019 H-1B cap petitions, however, for fiscal year 2020 petitions it remains unclear as to the start date for the expedited service for new petitions. “Immigration officials announced they would expand the suspension of premium processing for H-1B petitions” which remains in effect until February 19th, 2019, after which USCIS will notify the public via https://www.uscis.gov/ before resuming premium processing.
Why are these changes important?
These changes will have the overall effect of offering those with qualifying advanced degrees a better chance at selection since some master’s petitions will be selected in the process of fulfilling the regular cap. Only then will the unselected master’s petitions be entered into the subsequent lottery process in which there may be less competition since some will have already been withdrawn during the first lottery.
USCIS projects that this change will result in an increase of up to 16% in the number of selected petitions for those holding a master’s degree (or higher) from a U.S. institution. All of this stems from an executive order issued by President Trump in 2017, the Buy American and Hire American Executive Order, which directed agencies to “suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”
We can help. 

The team at MJ Law can take care of getting your petition and evidence ready: since there are very stringent requirements (and such a short window of time in which to file), it is important to work with an experienced immigration attorney to carefully assemble the necessary documents to show that the petitioner’s advanced degree and issuing institution will qualify for the master’s cap selection. 

For more information, see our past posts on H1-B or contact our office for a consultation: (408) 293-2026.

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