Significant Changes to H-1B Lottery Process in 2020

By Elizabeth Chatham

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on December 6, 2019 that employers seeking to file H-1B petitions for the 2021 fiscal year cap will be required to first electronically register and pay a $10 fee. This electronic registration process will be mandatory before an employer may be allowed to file an H-1B cap petition. The electronic registration program has been undergoing a pilot and testing program for the past year in an attempt to streamline processes, reduce employers' costs and better manage the large influx of lottery filings which occurs every April. 

Key steps with the new H-1B registration process include:

  • Employers must provide basic information about the company and each individual beneficiary.
  • The registration period will be open March 1 through March 20, 2020 for employers and their authorized representatives.
  • Assuming a sufficient number of registrations are received, USCIS will conduct the “registration lottery” randomly selecting the number of registrations needed to reach the H-1B numerical limit (20,000 U.S. masters cap and 65,000 general cap).
  • USCIS expects to select all lottery winners by March 31, 2020.
  • Employers whose registrations are selected will be eligible to file the H-1B cap subject petitions within a 90-day prescribed timeframe.

USCIS will not consider a cap-subject petition properly filed unless it is based on a valid registration selection for the same beneficiary and the appropriate fiscal year. Duplicate registrations for the same beneficiary in the same fiscal year will be discarded. USCIS will conduct outreach and provide guidance on how to use the registration system before the opening of the registration system.

Historically, "cap season" starts in January with U.S. employers preparing thousands of H-1B petitions for filing in the annual lottery. H-1B status is considered one of the most desirable and coveted options for U.S. employers who want to hire professional employees to perform services in a specialty occupation requiring at minimum a bachelor's degree. Beneficiaries selected and approved through the highly competitive lottery may commence working for U.S. employers as early as October 1, the beginning of the government’s new fiscal year. Foreign nationals who commonly benefit from H-1B sponsorship include: F-1 students, professionals abroad, foreign nationals in the U.S. holding temporary status (L-1, H-2B, TN, E, O, etc.) for whom H-1B status can offer additional benefit, and employees holding dependent status with temporary work authorization such as H-4 EAD or L-2 EAD.

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