The Department of Homeland Security published a new rule governing some H-1B visa petitions. Portions of the new, final rule are slated to go into effect on April 1, 2019. Other changes have been delayed. April 1 is the first date on which USCIS usually begins accepting H-1B petitions for fiscal year.

One key change implemented this year involves the H-1B visa “lottery” system. The law limits the total number of H-1B visas each year to 85,000. Of that number, 20,000 are reserved specifically for those with advanced degrees. In the past, USCIS would first draw the 20,000 individuals with advanced degrees from the pool of candidates and then go back to the pool to select the remaining 65,000 recipients. Starting with fiscal year 2020, USCIS will reverse this order and draw the 65,000 recipients from the general pool first and then draw the additional 20,000 from the advanced degree pool. Because advanced degree holders have an opportunity to be selected as a component of either the 65,000 pulled first or the subsequent 20,000, USCIS estimates that this change will result in a 16% increase in the number of H-1B visas that go to individuals with advanced degrees.

Another change is the use of an electronic registration system in the H-1B process which will allow employers to know if they have been selected in the lottery before incurring all the costs associated with submitting a complete H-1B petition package to USCIS. The new registration system will allow employers to submit much more limited, general information in the first filing, rather than having to prepare and submit the complete H-1B application packet in the first instance. The USCIS would then complete the lottery based on the summary registrations submitted. Only those employers who “win” the lottery and whose registrations are selected for processing will be required to complete and submit full petitions. The goal of this change is to reduce the costs that thousands of U.S. employers incur each year preparing H-1B petitions which fail to get selected in the lottery process and are never even reviewed by USCIS. After considering a large volume of public feedback regarding this change, USCIS has decided to suspend the rollout of this electronic registration requirement for this fiscal year 2020 in order to provide more time for system implementation.