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Tweak to H-1B lottery rule could further benefit advanced degrees

H-1B visas are nonimmigrant visas that allow people from three categories to live and work in the U.S. for between three and six years:

Specialty occupations: Immigrants with a U.S. bachelor's degree, its equivalent, or a higher degree working in jobs requiring such a degree that cannot be filled by U.S. personnel. This category is commonly used for engineers and other STEM professionals who are in high demand.

Certain Department of Defense workers: Immigrants with a U.S. bachelor's degree, its equivalent, or a higher degree working in jobs that qualify as DOD cooperative research and development projects and which require such degrees.

Prominent fashion models: Available to models who can demonstrate distinguished merit and ability.

All three types of H-1B visas require a job offer by a U.S. employer willing to obtain an approved Labor Condition Application. Furthermore, there is a numerical cap of 85,000 H-1B visas that can be issued each year, and there are typically far more H-1B applicants than there are visas available. Therefore, H-1B visas are issued by lottery.

The H-1B visa lottery favors immigrants with master's degrees, Ph.D.'s and their foreign equivalents. This is because the visas are awarded in two rounds. The first round, in which 20,000 visas are issued, is open only to those with master's degrees or higher. The second round, in which the other 65,000 visas are passed out, is open to all those who qualify for an H-1B visa, which includes people with bachelor's degrees. In other words, there are 20,000 H-1B visas that only people with advanced degrees are eligible for.

USCIS has proposed a change to further advantage advanced degree holders

Recently, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has proposed a small tweak to the H-1B lottery process: reversing the order of the two rounds. The agency says this would "increase the probability of the total number of petitions selected under the cap filed for H-1B beneficiaries who possess a master's or higher degree from a US institution of higher education each fiscal year."

Would changing the order of the rounds actually result in more advanced degree holders being selected? Quartz magazine ran the numbers by essentially re-running the lotteries for the last five years under the new rule. It found that, for each year between 2014 and 2018, the chance that an H-1B applicant with an advanced degree would be selected for a visa would have increased by between 2 and 11 percent.

If you are interested in an H-1B visa, contact Yew Immigration Law Group for assistance. We have years of experience helping people of all skill levels live and work in the U.S.

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