US proposes changes in H-1B visa rules 

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The Trump administration wants to reform a popular American work visa program.

The Department of Homeland Security released a proposal that would increase the number of H-1B visa recipients who have master’s degrees or higher level degrees and would move the registration process online.

The government has been working to crack down on the H-1B program — a result of President Donald Trump’s direction that agencies implement a “Buy American, Hire American” strategy.

The H-1B visa is a work visa that’s valid for three years and can be renewed for another three years. Many companies use H-1B visas to help fill their workforces. But tech is the sector most commonly associated with H-1Bs. Tech firms big and small say they need the H-1B program to hire trained talent that they can’t find at home.

It is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

Under the new proposed merit-based rule, companies employing foreign workers on the H-1B visa – under the Congressional mandated annual caps – would first have to electronically register with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) during a designated registration period.

65,000 H-1B visas are granted annually, with another 20,000 reserved just for people who hold advanced degrees from US higher education institutions. Demand for the visa often exceeds the supply, triggering a lottery system.

The proposed rule would change the selection process so that all registrations — including those from people who are eligible for the advanced degree exemption — are applied to the regular cap of 65,000 first. After that, US Citizenship and Immigration Services would select from the remaining to fill the degree cap.

This is likely to increase the number of foreign workers with a master’s or higher degree from a US institution of higher education to be selected for an H-1B cap number. As such the proposed rule will introduce a more meritorious selection of beneficiaries, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement. The DHS said public comments on the proposed rule may be submitted starting December 3, when the proposed rule publishes in the Federal Register, and must be received on or before January 2.

Currently, in years when the H-1B cap and the advanced degree exemption are both reached within the first five days that H-1B cap petitions may be filed, the advanced degree exemption is selected prior to the H-1B cap. “The proposed rule would reverse the selection order and count all registrations or petitions towards the number projected as needed to reach the H-1B cap first,” the DHS said.

Once a sufficient number of registrations or petitions have been selected for the H-1B cap, the USCIS would then select registrations or petitions towards the advanced degree exemption. “This proposed change would increase the chances that beneficiaries with a master’s or higher degree from a US institution of higher education would be selected under the H-1B cap and that H-1B visas would be awarded to the most-skilled and highest-paid beneficiaries,” it said.

The proposed process would result in an estimated increase of up to 16 per cent (or 5,340 workers) in the number of selected H-1B beneficiaries with a master’s degree or higher from a US institution of higher education, the DHS said. The USCIS said it expects that shifting to electronic registration would reduce overall costs for petitioners and create a more efficient and cost-effective H-1B cap petition process for the agency.

The proposed rule would help alleviate massive administrative burdens on the USCIS since the agency would no longer need to physically receive and handle hundreds of thousands of H-1B petitions and supporting documentation before conducting the cap selection process, it said. “This would help reduce wait times for cap selection notifications. The proposed rule also limits the filing of H-1B cap-subject petitions to the beneficiary named on the original selected registration, which would protect the integrity of this registration system,” it added.

 

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