Global Mobility Managers Look Forward to H1-B Visa Reform for Tech Companies  

Global mobility managers are relying on the federal government to make some necessary changes in its H-1B visa policy to help tech companies fill up many vacant positions in tech. Compete America, an industry group that includes Amazon, Google, and Facebook, has reportedly argued that the changes to visa policy lack clarity. It also complained against what it called a “dramatic increase” in the percentage of denied or delayed H-1B applications.

According to the Seattle Times, Compete America wants the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review current practices and communicate better with “the regulated community,” i.e., all the tech firms that leverage the H-1B visa for their businesses.

In the letter on the group’s website, the group said, “These reported shifts in agency action have been perplexing to our coalition’s members, especially because the agency’s changes in approach were unannounced and unexplained and are not previewed in the regulations governing a qualifying H-1B specialty occupation that have been in effect since 1991.”

While this is going on, the current administration is said to be working on reforms to the H-1B lottery system. According to qz.com, these reforms would see all H-1B applicants entering the same batch of 65,000 visas. Once that batch is filled, the remaining applicants with advanced degrees would be diverted to a 20,000-visa “master’s cap” pool. This would increase the number of H-1B visa holders with advanced degrees, giving them more advantage at a successful application.

Bloomberg reports that the USCIS has something else in mind. It hopes to put together a proposal that would change the way the H-1B lottery works; it randomly selects 85,000 out of a much larger pool of H-1B applicants every year, to stay under the annual cap set by Congress.

Since the 2009 financial crisis, demand for H-1B visas has been increasing. In 2014, the number of petitions exceeded the annual limit for the first time in years, and USCIS instituted the lottery system that has been in place since.

The lottery currently involves two rounds: In the first round, 20,000 visas are awarded to randomly chosen applicants from a pool made up of only those applicants with advanced degrees—a master’s degree or higher.

Then applicants with advanced degrees who were not chosen in the first round are put back into the larger pool of applicants that includes those without advanced degrees. In the lottery’s second round, 65,000 visas are randomly awarded to applicants from this larger pool. By design, the lottery favors advanced-degree holders. But as the overall number of H-1B applicants has increased, both those with advanced degrees and those without have seen their chance of getting selected diminish.

USCIS has proposed reversing the order of the two rounds to “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 US institution of higher education each fiscal year.”

Can this minor change win legislative approval? If so, how much more of an advantage would they have compared to previous years?

USCIS reported the exact numbers of advanced-degree applicants for fiscal year 2018; for fiscal years 2014-2017, USCIS didn’t disclose how many advanced-degree applicants there were, so qz estimated those numbers were based on how many petitions for initial employment under an H-1B visa filed in those years were filed on behalf of potential employees with advanced degrees.

For 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, the share of advanced-degree H-1B applicants were 51 percent, 50 percent, 51 percent, and 55 percent, respectively.

qz’s calculations show that the proposed system would have further disadvantaged H-1B applicants without an advanced degree every year from 2014 to 2018, whose chance of passing the lottery would have decreased by a range of two percentage points (in 2017) to 11 percentage points (in 2014).