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12.03.2020 US & Canada

Changes to the H1B Work Visa Process for Professionals with Degrees

By Jonelle Ocloo, Immigration Lawyer
Changes to the H1B Work Visa Process for Professionals with Degrees
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The H1B is a specific type of work visa reserved for individuals in professional occupations. Typically, H1B specialty visas are for doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, teachers, professors, software developers and other professions where a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree is required to perform the work. In FY 2018, over 4000 H1B petitions were filed on behalf of African professionals allowing them to work in the United States. Now is the short window of opportunity in which to apply for the H1B professional work visas. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced some important changes to the H1B processes which go into effect March 2020. The charges are explained here.

New Electronic Registration Process to Enter H1B Lottery

USCIS has announced a new registration process for employers seeking to sponsor a prospective employee for the H1B visa. Between March 1, 2020 and March 20, 2020, employers must electronically register basic information about the company and each requested employee and pay a $10 fee for each employee. Of the submitted registrations, USCIS will hold a lottery to randomly select which will be eligible to file H1B petitions.

A company or organization may submit registrations for as many different (prospective) employees as they want. However, if an employer submits more than one entry for the same employee, that employee will be disqualified from the H1B lottery due to submitting a duplicate entry. Only those registrants who are selected in the H1B lottery may file H1B petitions this year. (There is an exemption for professors and other employees of colleges and universities, or organizations affiliated with an institution of higher education. They are exempt from the H1B lottery.)

[*Note: Please do not confuse the H1B lottery for professional work visas with the Diversity Visa Lottery for green cards. These are two completely different programs with different requirements.]

H1B Quotas and NEW H1B Lottery Process
The maximum number of available H1B visas subject to the yearly cap is 85,000. The big change this year is that the selection (i.e. H1B lottery) will take place BEFORE employers may file an H1B petition. The process will work as follows:

  1. All H1B registrants (who have at least a Bachelors degree) will be placed in the same pool.
  2. From this common pool, 65,000 registrants will be chosen.
  3. Then another 20,000 visas will be available to ONLY those registrants that have an advanced degree (i.e. Masters degree or higher from the U.S.) and that did not get selected in the first round.

The 85,000 selected registrations will be notified by March 31, 2020. USCIS will then announce the 90-day period to submit petitions, which is likely to be from April 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020.

Who is affected by this new lottery process and how?

If you are in the United States on a F-1 student visa and you want to continue to work legally in the United States beyond the expiration of your Optional Practical Training (OPT) this will affect you as you need to get your employer to enter you in the H1B lottery by March 20. If you are a company or organization who wants to sponsor someone for the professional work visa, then you need to enter that person into the H1B lottery by March 20, 2020. If you are a foreign medical graduate who is studying in the US or completing a residency program in the US, you need to get your prospective employer to enter you in the H1B lottery by March 20. This is early than the H1B filing period in previous years.

Travel Ban
President Donald Trump passed new restrictions on immigration from certain countries. This includes four African countries - Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, and Tanzania - which face varying levels of restriction. However, nonimmigrant visas, including F-1 student and H1B professional work visas are NOT affected by this change. Therefore, nationals of restricted countries may still obtain H1B visas despite the travel ban.

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