On Friday, February 5, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced that it will implement last year’s new pre-registration process for the upcoming H-1B lottery. Employers who want to sponsor an employee or candidate for an H-1B petition subject to the annual cap must first register electronically and pay a $10 fee. This registration process first implemented in March 2020 replaces the process in previous years, in which employers had to prepare an entire petition with all fees attached in order to be entered into the lottery.
- Pre-registration: Employers will register electronically and enter basic information about the organization and each H-1B candidate between March 9 and March 25 of 2021. There is no requirement to register on the initial day the registration period opens. The process is not currently open and is not expected to open prior to March 9, 2021. However, USCIS may alter the dates of the registration process.
- Lottery: USCIS will conduct its computer-generated random selection processes (lotteries) as it has in past years. The lotteries will be based on the electronic registration instead of a fully-prepared petition with full government filing fees. The first lottery will be the “regular lottery,” for the 65,000 H-1B spots available to candidates without U.S. master’s degrees. Candidates with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. educational institution will be included in the regular lottery. The second lottery is the “master’s cap lottery” for the 20,000 H-1B visas set aside for candidates with U.S. master’s degrees or higher. Thus, U.S. master’s degree candidates will have two attempts at being selected.
- Selection in the Cap Lottery: USCIS intends to notify employers electronically if a candidate was selected in the lottery by March 31, 2021.
- H-1B Petition Filing: Once notified that a candidate was selected in the lottery, employers will have 90 days to file an H-1B petition consistent with normal case preparation. Remember that being selected in the lottery does not guarantee approval of the H-1B petition. USCIS will provide additional guidance and details as the registration date approaches.
The H-1B program was created in 1990 and today is one of the most popular ways for U.S. employers to hire highly-skilled foreign-born workers. Companies may submit an application to USCIS for a candidate to assume a position that requires at least a bachelor’s degree. Though many employers rely on the H-1B, it has become renowned for its uncertainty. There are 85,000 new H-1B spots available each year, but in recent years USCIS has received 200,000 — 300,000 H-1B petitions during the first week of the application period. The new pre-registration process requires employers to spend fewer resources to enter a candidate into the lottery.
USCIS posted its final rule creating this new H-1B registration process in 2019, and implemented it for the first time in March 2020. Last week, USCIS announced the registration dates listed above for FY2021. USCIS also announced on February 4 that it would delay its new rule, which prioritizes cap petitions with higher salaries. That rule is delayed until December 31, 2021 and will not affect this year’s cap registration or selection processes.