For many companies, the H-1B visa program has been a valuable source for IT talent. The program, which awards 85,000 visas to foreign workers each spring based on a lottery system, has also been met with controversy, not just as a perceived means for replacing American workers but also for the administrative burden of its process, which has had a limiting effect on which companies apply.
But in 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) overhauled the H-1B visa lottery process, promising an easier-to-use, streamlined application process including an online portal. That electronic registration tool, however, was delayed for testing. The pilot program finally wrapped up in December 2019, and the electronic system is now ready for the FY 2021 lottery.
The new process and electronic portal have the potential to greatly impact the level and breadth of sponsorship for H-1B visas, experts say.
“If this works as advertised, I’m all for it,” says Punam Singh Rogers, a business immigration attorney with Constngy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete. Rogers, who works with U.S. employers to design and implement immigration strategies, believes the new process and portal will increase the number of employers submitting petitions to sponsor talent, because of the low fee and ease of application.
“I think we’re going to see a very high number this year. At $10 a pop and the fact that you don’t have to gather all the information up front — some of our clients are already saying they’ll be taking advantage of that,” she says.
An increased number of applications could impact the percentage of H-1B workers who hold master’s degrees from U.S. schools, Rogers adds. In 2019, USCIS changed the selection process for H-1B visa applicants to increase the number of selected workers who hold master’s degrees from U.S. schools.
Rather than split H-1B applications into two pools, with applicants with undergraduate degrees vying for 65,000 visas and those with advanced degrees vying for the 20,000 remaining, applicants will be combined into a single pool, from which 65,000 visas will be drawn by lottery, with the USCIS selecting 20,000 workers for the advanced degree exemption from the applications left over.
“There could be an influx of applications that could impact the percentage of those applicants with master’s degrees. That could be an unintended consequence,” she says.
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