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