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Government floats idea to streamline H-1B visa process, increase workers with advanced degrees

November 30, 2018

A proposed rule aims to streamline the H-1B visa process via a new electronic registration system. It also puts forward a new methodology that aims to increase the number of such visas going to workers with a master’s degree or higher.

The US Department of Homeland Security announced the proposed rule today, and aims to publish it for public comment on Monday.

H-1B visas are available to highly skilled workers, such as technology professionals, with a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, demand for H-1Bs in recent years has exceeded a congressionally set cap of 65,000, as well as another cap of 20,000 set aside for those with a master’s degree or higher. 

A lottery is used to determine who gets and H-1B when there is more demand than visas available under the cap.

The proposed rule calls for a registration program to streamline the process by having petitioners for visas register electronically first. The government would then perform the lottery, and only those chosen in the lottery would need to fill out a full petition.

“DHS proposes this new process to reduce costs for petitioners who currently spend significant time and resources preparing petitions and supporting documentation for each intended beneficiary without knowing whether such petitions will be accepted for processing by USCIS due to the statutory allocations,” according to the proposed rule.

It would also lighten the administrative burden on the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency as it would not need to handle hundreds of thousands of H-1B petitions before conducting the lottery.

The proposed rule noted that between federal years 2013 and 2017, an average of 192,918 petitions were filed for the 65,000 visas available under the cap and the additional 20,000 for those with advanced degrees. (Of those requests received, an average of 137,017 were submitted under the regular cap, and an average of 55,900 qualified under the advanced degree exemption.)

In the second part of the proposed rule, in times where there is more demand for H-1Bs than available under the caps, the government would randomly select the 65,000 H-1B requests under the first part of the cap and then those that qualify with a master’s degree or higher would go through a second selection for the 20,000-visa cap.

Presently, the government selects those that qualify under the 20,000 cap first. Those who aren’t chosen then go into a second lottery with the other H-1B requests under the 65,000 cap.

Reversing the order could increase the number of workers with master’s degrees or higher chosen, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

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