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H-1B Visa Lottery Gets Last-Minute Overhaul in New Regulation

30 Jan

The lottery for H-1B skilled guestworker visas will be getting an overhaul a mere two months before it takes place.

A final rule released Jan. 30 by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services switches the order that the lottery is run to maximize the number of visas awarded to workers with advanced degrees from U.S. colleges and universities.

This year’s lottery, which likely will take place during the first week in April, will be run first on all H-1B petitions, followed by a lottery for however many remaining slots there are for advanced-degree holders. Historically, the USCIS has run the lottery for the advanced-degree holder slots first.

The proposal was released at the end of November.

The finalization of the rule a little over a week after public comments were due raised some eyebrows, calling into question the seriousness with which the agency considered the 814 comments received.

The USCIS sent the final rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review Jan. 11. Comments were due Jan. 2.

The final rule delays the centerpiece of the regulatory change: a new requirement that employers seeking the visas preregister ahead of the lottery. That requirement won’t go into effect until the USCIS can set up the process. Another notice will announce when the preregistration will be required.

USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna had wanted the preregistration system in place by the 2019 lottery, but that was a tall order considering the timing.

The agency had put this and other regulations on the back burner to prioritize publication of its “public charge” rule, a proposal to limit green cards based on immigrants’ likelihood of becoming dependent on public assistance.

Cissna views the new H-1B lottery process as a time and money saver both for employers and the agency. Employers won’t have to file petitions and supporting paperwork unless they’re actually selected in the lottery, and the USCIS won’t have to sort through hundreds of thousands of paper petitions just to run the lottery.