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Updates to the H1-B Visa Lottery: Early Entry, New Fee

Monday | February 24, 2020 | by WES Advisor

h-1b visa lottery

This year, the H-1B visa lottery will take place earlier than usual. Are you prepared?

Typically, the lottery opens in April. However, this year you can begin applying on March 1, 2020.

Below, find out what’s changed. Plus, learn to register online for the H-1B visa lottery this March.

Why Is the H-1B Lottery Starting Early This Year?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has introduced a new digital registration system. To ensure that people use the new system successfully, they are starting the process a month earlier than usual, on March 1, 2020.

The decision to accept digital registrations for the H-1B lottery was announced in December 2019.  It will help streamline the process that takes place when an employer sponsors a skilled immigrant for a work visa in the U.S. It also means that people will hear back faster if they successfully receive a visa.

What Is Different About the 2021 H-1B Visa Lottery?

In the past, employers had to mail long, in-depth forms about their candidates to USCIS.

Now, because of the new digital registration system, employers can provide basic information about their company and candidates—and it can all be completed online. This will reduce the amount of time that applications spent in transit with mail services, while also reducing costs (since it could be expensive to mail large files).

Then, USCIS can quickly scan and process eligible applications. Once the draw is complete, the organization can directly notify employers electronically about whether their candidates have won one of the placements. This way, the government is also able to reduce mailing fees while expediting communications about the lottery results.

USCIS will only ask employers to fill out in-depth forms about their candidates if they have already earned one of the available lottery spots. This will save employers a considerable amount of time, and it will enable the government to focus on the individuals who are likely to qualify for a work visa.

However, there is also a new $10 USD registration fee that employers must pay in order to apply digitally. It applies to regular applicants, as well as advanced-degree and cap-exempt registrations. This fee became effective on December 9, 2019.

In 2020, the government received 201,011 applications for its H-1B visa lottery. That is more than twice the number of positions available (a total of 85,000 spots). The lottery opened on April 1, 2020, and it maxed out its quota (or “cap”) for all categories on April 19, 2020.

What Is the H-1B Visa Lottery Process for 2021?

Below is a general overview of the newest process for the H-1B lottery:

  1. On March 1, USCIS starts accepting H-1B visa applications. Employers will create an account with USCIS and then digitally register each of their candidates. This step now requires a payment of $10 USD (per entry). For 2020-2021, USCIS will accept up to 85,000 total applications before reaching its cap (see below). However, the organization will continue to accept applications until March 20, 2020.
  2. After March 20, the “computer-generated random selection” (or, the lottery) begins. USCIS will once again be accepting 65,000 candidates for the general category and 20,000 for the advanced-degree exemption category. The winning candidates will be selected at random from the total pool of registrants. The lottery starts with applicants of all degree levels (65,000 total). After a first-round lottery, the remaining advanced-degree beneficiaries have the chance to enter a second-round lottery (20,000 total). USCIS recommends that applicants who hold advanced degrees (issued in the United States) should apply to both the general and advanced lotteries to increase their chances.
  3. On March 31, USCIS intends to notify selected registrants. At this point, employers will be asked to send the more in-depth petition forms for their chosen candidates. They will have 90 days to send their completed petitions.
  4. On April 1, employers may begin to file cap-exempt petitions. It’s important to note that employers are encouraged to begin registering these candidates as soon as March 1, 2020, even if they know that their candidates are cap-exempt.
  5. Typically, approved H-1B visas take effect automatically on October 1.

One thing to note is that there used to be a premium processing system. This allowed representatives and employers to pay more for expedited consideration. The new digitized system might remove the need for this option by ensuring a faster, more affordable process for everyone; however, USCIS has yet to disclose a full set of details about premium processing for this year. Be sure to follow the USCIS website for updates.

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What Is an RFE?

An RFE is a “Request for Evidence.” This means that you need to provide additional information or materials before your lottery application can be processed.

If you receive an RFE, it does not mean that your lottery application will be denied. However, it is essential that you provide the missing information as soon as possible.

First, carefully and thoroughly read your RFE. (You will also want to ensure that your employer or their representative is aware of this request. They might want to look over the documents and make recommendations, as well.) Gather your missing documents and check to make sure that they fulfill the request. It is always helpful consult with an immigration attorney to make sure you respond properly to the RFE.

In Summary

Hopefully, the new changes to the lottery process will make it even easier for skilled immigrants to gain employer backing for an H-1B. Digital registration should make the process quicker, easier, and more affordable. Just be sure to keep an eye out for updates and be sure to follow the new, earlier timeline for 2020-2021.

Good luck!

Related Reading

H-1B Regulatory Requirements and Updates

Understanding Visas to Study and Work in the U.S.

WES Advisor is an initiative of World Education Services, a non-profit organization with over 45 years of experience in international education. We provide advice and resources for international students and skilled immigrants to help them make informed decisions about education, employment, immigration, and integration opportunities in the U.S. and Canada.