H-1B Application Procedures May Be Changing in 2019
Temporary visas provide a pathway to the United States (U.S.) for certain people across the globe. While a variety of visas options exist, H-1Bs prove to be exceedingly popular year after year. This is because H-1B visas allow highly skilled foreign professionals to enter the U.S. to work and advance their careers. The H-1B program benefits myriads of companies and workers with each passing year. Additionally, when such highly skilled specialists enter the labor market, it benefits the U.S. economy as a whole.
Recently, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced some proposed procedural changes to the H-1B program. Specifically, the most drastic changes include the application and selection processes. Announced on November 30, 2018, it is not yet clear if the USCIS will implement these updates by April 2019.
This article reviews the USCIS’s proposed changes to the H-1B system. Additionally, we’ll explore reasons for the changes.
About H-1B Visas
The H-1B visa program continues to be a popular and attractive choice for both employers and workers. These temporary visas last for a total of three years, and can be extended to allow work for six. Companies often utilize the H-1B program to recruit and onboard specialized and educated staff that may be hard to find in the U.S. Most commonly, companies and firms in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – sponsor H-1B visas. In fact, nearly two-thirds of H-1B visa requests arise from STEM fields, according to the American Immigration Council (AIC).
H-1Bs are accessible to experienced and educated foreign professionals in specialized fields. You can read more about specialization specifics on the USCIS’s website. Each year, the U.S. provides a limited amount, or a “cap,” of H-1B visas. The annual cap for standard H-1B visas is 65,000.
In addition to standard visas, there are 20,000 “cap exemption” visas available to a specific class of applicants. These candidates must have advanced degrees (master’s and above) from U.S. institutions.
While 85,000 visas may seem like a large amount, it does not equal the U.S. labor market’s requirement for highly skilled workers. We know this because when demand exceeds supply, the H-1B system transforms from a first-come, first-served system into a lottery. And according to the AIC, this lottery system triggered eight times in the last 11 years (fiscal years 2008-2019). That is an impressive amount of applicants!
USCIS Announced Proposed Changes in November 2018
In late November 2018, the USCIS posted an announcement about the H-1B system. In this announcement, the department discussed proposed changes to the application and selection process. According to the USCIS, these changes should (a) increase the amount of H-1B beneficiaries who are highly-educated and (b) make the selection process “more meritorious.”
The Trump administration has long sought changes to the H-1B system. In April 2017, the president released an executive order titled “Buy American Hire American.” The order specifically mentioned H-1Bs in Section 5. The president requested that administration leaders find ways to ensure that H-1B visas are “awarded to the most-skilled and highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”
New Procedures Proposed
The new procedures proposed by the USCIS affect both the application process for H-1Bs and candidate selection procedures. We discuss both in detail below.
Currently, the application process requires companies to complete full applications for every candidate. Because of the high demand for H-1Bs and subsequent lottery process, this can lead to significant overhead for employers with little payoff. The new process would ease upfront burden on companies, allowing them to simply register any potential H-1B applicants online. The full application and sponsorship petition to the USCIS would only be due should a company’s applicant be chosen during the lottery. In theory, this change could simplify the process for employers.
The second major change to the H-1B process involves candidate selection. Currently, when the lottery is activated (as it has been most years), the highly-educated, highly-skilled “cap exemption” professionals are selected first. Once the 20,000 “cap exemption” visas are allotted, any remaining candidates move to the standard H-1B applicant pool. Then, the lottery chooses candidates to fill its annual 65,000 cap.
Under the new system, this process would proceed in reverse order. First, the lottery chooses the 65,000 available standard H-1B visas. The applicant pool would include all “cap exemption” candidates. After the standard lottery, any “cap exemption” candidates who did not receive a visa would then qualify for the additional 20,000 special H-1B visas. According to the USCIS, this process should lead to a “more meritorious” selection process. The department also suggests the changes may increase highly-educated H-1B beneficiaries by up to 16%, or 5,340 individuals.
Will Changes Happen in 2019?
Often, proposed reforms or updates to government processes can take months or even years to fully enact. Though according to The San Francisco Chronicle, the amount of time that the USCIS provided for public comment (December 3, 2018 – January 2, 2019) suggests that the department may wish to roll out changes this year. It’s half the amount of time usually provided.
While it is impossible to know exactly what will happen, we suggest clients prepare to file their H-1B sponsorships, petitions, and applications as usual but be prepared for sudden changes. The best way to do this is to work with an experienced lawyer who can keep you updated and knowledgeable.
Worried? Contact a Skilled Immigration Attorney
When the government announces changes to a familiar system, it can be frustrating and cause panic. Countless companies and individuals rely on the H-1B system. The best way to prepare for the April 2019 application season is to work with an immigration attorney. Working with an attorney means that you don’t have to worry about the minutiae and details released by the government and the USCIS. Your lawyer will know exactly what to do for you. Only an expert immigration lawyer certified by your state’s bar association has the skills necessary to guide you through the process.
The experienced and passionate attorneys at Davis & Associates serve clients in Houston and across Texas. We look forward to helping you with your H-1B sponsorship or application in 2019. Contact us today for a free initial consultation – we’d love to help you!