DHS to Propose ‘Merit-Based’ Rule for H-1B Visa Program
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DHS to Propose ‘Merit-Based’ Rule for H-1B Visa Program

5 December, 2018

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a notice of proposed rulemaking on December 3, 2018, that would require petitioners seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions to first electronically register with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) during a designated registration period. USCIS said the proposed rule would also reverse the order by which the agency selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B cap and the advanced degree exemption, with the goal of increasing the number of beneficiaries with master’s or higher degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education to be selected for H-1B cap numbers and introducing “a more meritorious selection of beneficiaries.”

USCIS noted that the H-1B program allows companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specialty, or its equivalent. When USCIS receives more than enough petitions to reach the congressionally mandated H-1B cap, a computer-generated random selection process, or lottery, is used to select the petitions that are counted toward the number of petitions projected as needed to reach the cap.

The proposed rule includes a provision that would enable USCIS to temporarily suspend the registration process during any fiscal year in which USCIS “may experience technical challenges with the H-1B registration process and/or the new electronic system.” The proposed temporary suspension provision would also allow USCIS to “up-front delay the implementation of the H-1B registration process past the fiscal year (FY) 2020 cap season, if necessary to complete all requisite user testing and vetting of the new H-1B registration system and process.” If the rule is finalized as proposed but there is insufficient time to implement the registration system for the FY 2020 cap selection process, USCIS said it would likely suspend the proposed registration requirement for the FY 2020 cap season.

Currently, in years when the H-1B cap and the advanced degree exemption are both reached within the first five days in which H-1B cap petitions may be filed, the advanced degree exemption beneficiaries are selected before the H-1B cap beneficiaries. The proposed rule would reverse the selection order and count all registrations or petitions toward the number projected as needed to reach the H-1B cap first. Once a sufficient number of registrations or petitions have been selected for the H-1B cap, USCIS would then select registrations or petitions toward the advanced degree exemption. This proposed change “would increase the chances that beneficiaries with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. 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,” USCIS said. The proposed process would result in an estimated increase of up to 16 percent (or 5,340 workers) in the number of selected H-1B beneficiaries with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education, the agency noted.

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 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,” USCIS said. “This would help reduce wait times for cap selection notifications.” The proposed rule also would limit the filing of H-1B cap-subject petitions to the beneficiary named on the originally selected registration, “which would protect the integrity of this registration system.”

USCIS indicated that the proposed rule is being issued in response to an April 18, 2017, executive order instructing DHS to “propose new rules and issue new guidance, to supersede or revise previous rules and guidance if appropriate, to protect the interests of U.S. workers in the administration of our immigration system.” The executive order specifically mentioned the H-1B program and directed DHS and other agencies to “suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”

Public comments must be received by January 2, 2019. The announcement is at https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/dhs-proposes-merit-based-rule-more-effective-and-efficient-h-1b-visa-program. An advance copy of the proposed rule is at https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2018-26106.pdf.

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