By Shereen Siewert
The Department of Homeland Security on Friday announced proposed changes in immigration rules that would require petitioners seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions to first electronically register with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during a designated registration period.
The H-1B program allows companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require a bachelors or higher degree. Church Mutual Insurance, Hsu Ginseng, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Sentry Insurance and Marshfield Clinic are among the central Wisconsin businesses to participate in the program, according to immigration records.
Under the proposed new rules, USCIS would also reverse the order by which USCIS selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B cap and the advanced degree exemption, likely increasing the number of beneficiaries selected, and creating a potentially more balanced selection process.
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 towards 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.
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.
Once a sufficient number of registrations or petitions have been selected for the H-1B cap, 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 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.
The proposed process would result in an estimated increase of up to 16 percent in the number of selected H-1B beneficiaries with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education.
USCIS 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 USCIS, according to a news release. The proposed rule aims to alleviate the 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.
Supporters of the rule change say the new policy 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 could help protect the integrity of this registration system.
Additional information on the proposed rule is available in the Federal Register. Public comments may be submitted starting Monday, December 3, when the proposed rule publishes in the Federal Register, and must be received on or before January 2, 2019.