U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has moved up the date for the annual H-1B lottery by one month.
For years, the annual H-1B lottery has kicked off on April 1, with employers submitting H-1B petitions for current or prospective employees. The lottery ended once USCIS received enough H-1B petitions to meet the annual 85,000 cap.
This year, the H-1B lottery will effectively start on March 1st when USCIS opens the new electronic H-1B registration process. USCIS will use the new electronic H-1B registration process as a lottery. It intends to keep the registration period open until March 20.
USCIS will notify employers by March 31, 2020, that their H-1B candidates have been selected in the lottery. After that, employers will have 90 days to file an H-1B petition.
USCIS provided the new timeline in a recent announcement (January 9, 2020) about the new registration process. The new process makes it easier—and decreases the investment—for employers to enter employees or prospective employees in the annual H-1B lottery.
I’ll discuss the latest changes to this year’s H-1B registration and online random selection process at a webinar on February 14, at noon PST. The Alcorn Immigration Law team is accepting clients for H-1B cap-subject filings now through March 20.
New Registration Process
The new registration process benefits all employers, particularly early-stage startups and small businesses. Previously, employers had to expend time and money to prepare and submit a complete H-1B petition for every candidate they entered in the annual lottery.
Now, employers only have to register and pay a non-refundable $10 fee for each H-1B candidate. Employers will only have to prepare and submit a complete H-1B petition when a registered candidate has been selected in the lottery.
I recommend contacting an immigration attorney for guidance well before the registration window opens. H-1B visa petitions have been under strict scrutiny, particularly for positions in tech.
Employers or their representatives can start setting up their registration accounts before the registration period opens. USCIS will post that start date shortly on its website.
Under the new registration system, employers or their representatives can register as many H-1B candidates as they wish at one time. However, employers cannot register the same candidate for different positions.
USCIS intends to close the registration period on March 20. However, it will announce the actual registration end date on its website. USCIS stated it may reopen the registration period after March 20, if it fails to receive enough registrations to meet the annual 85,000 H-1B cap. If that happens, USCIS will post information on its website.
What to Do to Prepare
If USCIS selects an employer’s registered H-1B candidate, the employer will have 90 days to complete and submit an H-1B petition along with the applicable filing fees. Filing fees can run from $1,500 to $3,000 for small companies and up to $6,500 for larger ones. Premium processing is currently available for $1,440. Premium processing requires USCIS to take action on a petition within 15 calendar days if available.
Taking action as soon as possible will allow your company to strategize and present a successful H-1B petition on behalf of a current or prospective employee. I recommend that employers take the following steps to prepare:
- Talk to an immigration attorney to determine if the company needs to evaluate the H-1B candidate’s education or work experience.
- Ask H-1B candidates to gather documents, such as resume, transcripts, diplomas, past immigration documents.
- Make sure that the company’s Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) is registered and validated by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification.
- With your immigration attorney, choose a proper job title for the H-1B candidate and determine the job description and duties.
- Gather the necessary supporting documents for the H-1B petition from your company.
- Take screenshots of your company’s website.
- Put together a portfolio of your company’s marketing materials.
- Have the company’s latest pitch deck ready to share.
- Make sure the company is current on its taxes and its tax returns are available.
Who Should I Consider for the H-1B Lottery?
The H-1B visa enables American companies to hire foreign professionals with bachelor’s degrees or equivalent work experiences in specialized fields, such as science, engineering, accounting, medicine, law, or IT. Employers can also petition for an H-1B visa for a current employee on another visa. Existing H-1B holders who need to renew their H-1B or transfer it to a new employer do not need to go through the lottery process again.
Besides new hires, employers should consider registering current employees who are:
- Recent graduates working under OPT (Optional Practical Training) or STEM OPT
- H-4 EAD (Employment Authorization Document) holders
- L-1 visa holders whose visas cannot be extended
- Holders of a TN or other nonimmigrant visa that you plan to sponsor for permanent residence.
USCIS has used an online lottery due to the H-1B demand far outstripping the available annual supply of 85,000. Of the 85,000 new H-1Bs available each year for jobs starting October 1 of that year or later, 20,000 are reserved for professionals with a master’s or higher degree.
Reach out to the Alcorn Immigration Law team if we can help you with registering your H-1B candidates or completing an H-1B petition. We can help strategize a back-up plan if your current or prospective employee’s H-1B petition is not selected in the lottery.