How is the Trump administration affecting the H1B Visa Lottery? Updated November 28, 2017

Posted by Harry Tapias on December 1, 2017


The H1B Visa Lottery process is a system of selection which is used to reach an imposed annual quota on the number of foreign nationals which will be allowed to enter the U.S. each year. The Lottery is run by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for the purpose of providing a fair chance to all applicants, since there is usually a much higher number of applicants than the quota can accept.

How the lottery works

The term 'lottery' is a bit of a misnomer, or at least it has no relationship to the kind of lotteries conducted within individual states, these generating revenue and rewarding one big winner with a cash prize. The process actually depends on a computer-generated algorithm in order to select which applications will be accepted for the coming year. For 2018, the cap limit on the number of accepted applications is set at 85,000 (20,000 in the Masters group, 65,000 in the regular grouping), while the number of applications is in the neighborhood of 200,000. Each application is chosen using the method outlined here.

Trump administration changes

The premium processing service had been suspended for six months until it was re-instated on October 3 of 2017 by the Trump administration. This service is made available by the USCIS at a cost of $1,225, so as to expedite processing of H1B applications, coming with a guarantee that an application will be processed by the agency within 15 days of receipt. This fee must be paid by an applicant's employer, and in return they get a special phone number or email which will allow them to check on the status of their application at any time. This fee is in addition to the normal H1B processing fee, and is not intended to replace it.

Far more sweeping changes than that may be coming however. It is alledged that there have been abuses of this Lottery system, for instance Some opponents of the program accuse U.S. companies of bringing in cheap labor to replace more costly domestic workers. Other allege that companies flood the system with applications in the hopes of increasing their statistical chances of being selected. If so this would defeat the original intent of the program, which is to allow domestic employers to fill gaps in their workforce with skilled foreign nationals.

The planned executive order

President Trump and his administration are known to be considering an Executive Order which could radically change the landscape of the H1B Lottery system, because the President is unhappy with the systemic abuses of the current process, and wishes above all to prioritize the American workforce over that of incoming foreign nationals. That being the case, there has been widespread speculation about what form these changes might take.

Contrary to some predictions, it does not appear that President Trump favors eliminating the present system altogether, but instead wants to lower the cap limit on how many applications will be selected for entry. It is also very likely that the vetting process will be much more stringent, taking a close look at each application and trying to determine the legitimacy of the request. One of the aims for this increased vetting is to reduce or eliminate the 'flooding of the market' strategy which some U.S. companies have adopted.

Some of the President's advisors have also been urging him to implement a change to the system which would give preference to higher-salaried applicants, the thinking being that these elite professionals would be much more likely to bring in special skillsets with them, and would thus be more deserving. If adopted, this change would tend to favor giant corporations like Apple and Google, which typically pay their incoming foreign nationals a much higher salary than do the huge outsourcing firms which have dominated the landscape in the past.

One group which would be negatively impacted if such changes were to be implemented, would be foreign students, who would be left without a means of obtaining work under their student visas. This of course, could jeopardize their ability to economically remain viable in the U.S. At present, there is a bipartisan bill making its way through Congress which might help to alleviate that situation, and would assign priority to students receiving their education in the U.S. While the H1B Lottery system has remained relatively stable over the past decade, it would appear that significant changes may now be on the horizon.

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Topics: H1B Visa