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USCIS proposes increasing H-1B visas for advanced degree holders

The H-1B visa allows degree-holding professionals in certain specialty occupations, along with a couple of other categories of workers, to live and work in the U.S. for between three and six years. This visa is commonly used to bring in people with certain credentials to fill jobs that are not easily filled by U.S. workers. An H-1B requires a job offer from a U.S. employer who is willing to petition for the worker and submit a Labor Condition Application.

The main group of H-1B visas is for specialty occupation workers with at least a bachelor's degree or its foreign equivalent. These visa holders typically work in fields like engineering, science and information technology. H-1B visas can also be issued to researchers and development project workers employed by the Department of Defense and to fashion models of distinguished merit and ability.

The H-1B visa lottery puts advanced degree holders at an advantage

Only 65,000 H-1B visas are issued each year, and they are awarded in a two-round lottery. In the first round, 20,000 visas are awarded to applicants who hold a master's degree or higher. All qualifying applicants are then sent to the second round. In other words, 20,000 of the 65,000 total H-1B visas are reserved for people with advanced degrees, and those not chosen are still eligible for the second round of the lottery.

Small rule change could have a big effect

Recently, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proposed a small change to the lottery rules that the agency believes will "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."

That change would simply be to reverse the order of the two rounds. If Congress agrees to the rule, the first round would involve the selection of 45,000 visa recipients from the entire pool of applicants. Awarding the 20,000 visas reserved for advanced-degree professionals would occur second.

Quartz magazine decided to find out whether the proposal would actually increase the chances that an advanced-degree holder would be selected for an H-1B visa. Using data from the USCIS where available and extrapolating data where it was not, Quartz essentially re-ran the last five H-1B visa lotteries using the proposed rule.

The result? If the proposal had been in place since 2014, advanced-degree holders would have an increased advantage of between 2 and 11 percent. Swapping the order of the two lottery rounds would appear to work as the USCIS indicated it would.

If you have questions about the H-1B visa or any form of employment immigration, contact an experienced immigration law attorney.

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