Trump administration proposes changes to streamline H-1B process

H-1B visa application approved

DHS proposes new electronic registration and increase in number of visas for petitioners with US master’s degree.

The Trump administration on Friday proposed two major changes to the H-1B visa program. The Department of Homeland Security said the new proposal, which it termed “merit-based rule,” will make the program “more effective and efficient.”

One of the news proposals is a requirement for H-1B hopefuls to register electronically with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The second one will give more weightage to applicants with a master’s or higher degree from US educational institutions.

Once the new electronic registration system is implemented — and DHS says it intends to do it before the next H-1B season in April 2019 — petitioners will have to first register with the USCIS. The agency will then conduct a lottery to select the approximately 85,000 eligible candidates. The eligible candidates will have 60 days to file their H-1B petitions with USCIS.

Under the current system, the lottery is conducted after all the petitions are received, and the agency returns the application fee and the petitions of all those who are not selected. For instance, last year, USCIS received 199,000 petitions during the filing period and only 85,000 — 65,000 in general quota and 20,000 under master’s degree exemption — were selected.

The DHS said in a news release that the USCIS expects the new electronic registration system to “reduce overall costs for petitioners and create a more efficient and cost-effective H-1B cap petition process for USCIS.”

At least one immigration lawyer welcomed the new electronic registration.

“This is actually not a bad thing,” Aparna Dave, an immigration lawyer based in Gaithersburg, MD, told The American Bazaar. “The current system causes a lot of a lot of anxieties. They receive more than 150,000 petitions in four or five days. Employers also have to file a lot of cases. It puts a lot of pressure on everyone. The number of petitions, we have to shred — all of them that are not selected — it is a lot of work for us.”

Dave said the electronic system will make the process “more scattered” unlike the current one, which is more front-loaded.

The DHS said the new rule would reduce “massive administrative burdens” as the agency will not be physically receiving and handling “hundreds of thousands of H-1B petitions and supporting documentation before conducting the cap selection process.”

It would also “help reduce wait times for cap selection notifications,” the DHS said.

The department said the new rule will limit “the filing of H-1B cap-subject petitions to the beneficiary named on the original selected registration,” thus protecting the integrity of the registration system.

The second major change proposed by the DHS Friday is in the order of selecting the H-1B cap and the advanced degree exemption.

Until now, the advanced degree exemption is selected before selecting the H-1B cap candidates. The new rule would reverse the order and count all applicants toward the H-1B cap. Once cap number is reached, candidates with the advanced degree exemption will be selected first.

“This proposed change would increase the chances that beneficiaries with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education would be selected under the H-1B cap and that H-1B visas would be awarded to the most-skilled and highest-paid beneficiaries,” DHS said.

Calling the proposal “a more meritorious selection of beneficiaries,” the agency said it will likely result in increase of “up to 16 percent (or 5,340 workers)” in the number H-1B visas granted to petitioners with US degrees.

Dave said the intention of the administration is to bring those “who are already here for master’s degree” into the workforce “rather than bringing people from abroad.”

The DHS said USCIS has been developing and testing the new electronic registration system for implementation in the next fiscal year, if the rule is finalized as proposed, but if “there is insufficient time to implement the registration system for the FY 2020 cap selection process,” the agency will not implement it next year.

The new changes are part of President Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American Executive Order,” issued on April 18, 2017, which instructed the department to “propose new rules and issue new guidance, to supersede or revise previous rules and guidance if appropriate, to protect the interests of U.S. workers in the administration of our immigration system.”

The DHS has made additional information on the proposed rule available in the Federal Register. Public can start submitting comments beginning December 3. The last day for submitting the comments is January 2, 2019.


Trump signs H-1B visa executive order ‘Buy American and Hire American’ (April 19, 2017)

Trump to sign executive order to overhaul H-1B visa program on Tuesday (April 18, 2017)

Anti-H-1B group sues the federal government to seek data from USCIS (April 20, 2018)

Trump administration may soon end H-4 Visa Rule: report (February 1, 2018)

Stronger economy may lead to more H-1B petitions (January 22, 2018)

Tech industry urges USCIS not to cancel H-4 spouses’ work permits (January 19, 2018)

Chuck Grassley again denounces H-1B visa program (January 18, 2018)

USCIS says it’s not ending H-1B visa extensions (January 9, 2018)

Proposed move to end H-1B extensions may affect up to 400,000 Indians in US (January 2, 2018)

DHS mulling major change to H-1B visa program (January 2, 2018)

H-1B visa changes in 2018: Employer preregistration, redefining the high specialty occupation, and withdrawal of work-permits of H-1B spouses (December 26, 2017)

Trump to end H-4 EAD program for spouses of H-1B workers (December 15, 2017)

H-1B visa petitioners will witness an increase in the number of denials this year, according to experts (December 11, 2017)

Indian IT companies are top recipients of L-1 visas, says USCIS report (October 13, 2017)

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