The US government has reportedly proposed massive changes to the H-1B visa system, in 2019. A key highlight of these likely changes – which is bound to see a drastic reduction of skilled workers coming in directly from overseas to take up jobs in the US – will benefit greatly foreign students who are either enrolled or have an advanced degree from accredited US educational institutions, especially in the STEM fields of study.
The changes to the H-1B visa system are listed in the Unified Fall Agenda by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), released on October 17, 2018. The Agenda is published twice a year by the US government, and lists all the short-term regulatory changes they are likely to put into effect. The changes do not require the approval of Congress.
On September 11, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) suspended premium processing for H-1B visas until February 19, 2019. H-1B visas are granted to highly skilled foreign workers and–more often than not–requested by Silicon Valley tech companies. Formerly, premium processing allowed companies to pay an additional fee to expedite their H-1B visa requests and receive a resolution within two weeks. While processing times vary between facilities, now you can expect to wait anywhere from three to nearly eight months to hear back about a case, according to USCIS.
“People have already been waiting close to six months and now it looks like the wait will have to be much longer than that,” says Jennifer Y. Lee, an immigration lawyer based in the Bay Area. “Some of these cases could continue until early next year,” she warns.
The DHS states: “Consistent with the Buy American and Hire American, EO 13788’s direction to suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries, this regulation would help to streamline the process for administering the H-1B cap and increase the probability of the total number of petitions selected under the cap filed for H-1B beneficiaries who possess a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education each fiscal year.”
Every year, a total of 85,000 H-1B visas are allocated to foreign workers, of which 20,000 are guaranteed for those who have a post graduate degree from the US, with the other 65,000 going to workers who come directly from overseas. Last year, skilled workers from India got 70% of those 65,000 visas. If applications for the master’s cap exceed the 20,000 quota, then they are pooled with other lottery applicants, in the general category.
According to a Politico report, quoting an unidentified DHS official, the United States Customs and Immigrations Services (USCIS) would in the next lottery put all the master’s cap applicants in the general 65,000-visa pool. If that cap were reached, any additional advanced degree holders would be redirected to the 20,000-visa pool. The administration expects the change could lead to a 15 percent increase in H-1B visa holders with US advanced degrees, said the Politico report.