US Government makes changes to H1B visa applications; Advanced degree holders get top priority

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a final rule for H1B visa applicants that will raise the probability of more US advanced degree holders filling the first wave of total available slots. This recalibration will filter out those with just bachelor’s degrees, making it harder for them to get an H1 Visa approval.

The DHS summary states:

This final rule amends Department of Homeland Security (“DHS” or “the Department”) regulations governing petitions filed on behalf of H-1B beneficiaries who may be counted toward the 65,000 visa cap established under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“H1B regular cap”) or beneficiaries with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education who are eligible for an exemption from the regular cap (“advanced degree exemption”).

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The Trump administrations’s rule goes into effect 1 April. In the current system, 65,000 visas are available in addition to 20,000 for those with advanced degrees from a U.S. institution. The annual lottery is scheduled for April generally starts with lottery for the advanced-degree holders first. The change is estimated to increase the number of advanced-degree holders selected in the lottery by 16 percent, or 5,340 workers each year, the USCIS said

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) chief L. Francis Cissna was quoted saying “these simple and smart changes are a positive benefit for employers, the foreign workers they seek to employ, and the agency’s adjudicators, helping the H-1B visa program work better”.

“The new registration system, once implemented, will lower overall costs for employers and increase government efficiency. We are also furthering President Trump’s goal of improving our immigration system by making a simple adjustment to the H-1B cap selection process. As a result, U.S. employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a U.S. master’s or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery in years of excess demand for new H-1B visas.”

There are several experts voicing concerns about this move. Cyrus D Mehta, founding partner of a New York based law firm told TOI,

“The skewing of H-1B visas towards those with master’s degrees from US institutions under the new selection methodology is in some senses counter to the H-1B law, which was to permit those with foreign degrees, and equivalent work experience, to qualify for H-1B classification. Hence, a foreign physician with a master’s degree in medicine from a foreign university who intends to provide critical medical services in a shortage area in the United States may have less chances of nabbing an H-1B visa under the new proposal.”
“Even a highly skilled IT worker with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from a reputed Indian institution such as the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), will have less chance of getting an H-1B in the new proposal. Both the physician and the IT worker with foreign degrees have the potential of making contributions to the US in the same way, or even greater, as one who has recently graduated with an MBA from a US.

Others like feel that the move is a step in the right direction. Mohan K, an Enterprise Architect and a technology consultant says

“Foreign students pursuing advanced degrees in American Universities are likely to benefit from this move. Graduates of such programs are more likely get their H1 Visas approved and will stay back and contribute to the US economy.

While there will be some short term confusion, the move is likely to attract more students to American Universities.

However, students planning to pursue advanced degrees and PhDs in the US, should  will have to keep in mind that a rule like this is not ‘law,’ but a policy decision by the Trump administration. As a recent WSJ article indicates, the move may be challenged in the court or rolled-back by future administrations.

About H1B: The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa category in the United States under the Immigration & Nationality Act, section 101(a)(15)(H). It allows U.S. employers to seek temporary help from skilled foreigners who have the equivalent U.S. Bachelor’s Degree education. Link to a list of The list of Top 100 H-1B Employers in 2017

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Indians flock to Canadian Business Schools and not to the US

Indian and foreign students aspiring to study in the US do so with a clear goal – to eventually land a job in Corporate America. Graduates who complete an advanced degree need to seek out an employer that will sponsor their H1B work visa. However, recent trends indicate that such sponsorship are harder to come by.

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President Trump has promised tightening of H1-B work visas, a topic we have reviewed a few times in recent times.

Now comes news that an increasing number of Indians are flocking to Canadian Business Schools in Canada and not the US.

Canada, which has been courting international students aggressively for about a decade now, seems to be gaining from Trump administration’s protectionist rhetoric in the US.  Canada has been able to attract 20-30% more MBA students from India this year in Business Schools alone.

At the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, 56 of the 350 MBA students in the class of 2019 are Indian. At Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business in Montreal, applications from India rose by about 30% in fall 2017 while 51% of the applications to the full-time MBA offered at the Alberta School of Business in Edmonton came from India. The University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business told Economic Times that 60-70% of its international MBA students are Indian.

Wonder if this is a one-off or a long term trend?

What does President Trump’s executive order mean to H1 Visa aspirants around the world?

Here are the remarks by President Trump on Buy American, Hire American Executive Order | Kenosha, WI

“We are going to enforce the Hire American rules that are designed to protect jobs and wages of workers in the United States.  We believe jobs must be offered to American workers first.  Does that make sense?   Right now, widespread abuse in our immigration system is allowing American workers of all backgrounds to be replaced by workers brought in from other countries to fill the same job for sometimes less pay.  This will stop.  American workers have long called for reforms to end these visa abuses.  And today, their calls are being answered for the first time.  That includes taking the first steps to set in motion a long-overdue reform of H1B visas.

Right now, H1B visas are awarded in a totally random lottery — and that’s wrong.  Instead, they should be given to the most-skilled and highest-paid applicants, and they should never, ever be used to replace Americans.  No one can compete with American workers when they’re given a fair and level playing field, which has not happened for decades.”

The order by itself was not very prescriptive. This seems to be one of the executive actions that signals more changes coming down. So what does this mean to H1 Visa aspirants around the world?

After Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” order, “there could be an issue even getting fresh H-1B visas. The order is also likely to hit visa renewals.

  • It is unclear if the order will be applicable to visa applications for the financial year starting October 2017.
  • There are over half-a-dozen bills in the US Congress introduced since January 2017 that call for higher minimum wage of $1,30,000, nearly double from the current levels.
  • Government agencies are to suggest reforms that ensure H-1B visas go to the “most-skilled or highest-paid.”

What does this mean to most H1 Visa aspirants?

  • This is one way to interpret this. Those who are the “most-skilled or highest-paid”  will be selected for Visas.
  • Master’s degree holders would probably be “most-skilled” but not all of them would be “highest-paid.” One could only guess if all those with Master’s would be eligible for visas.

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