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What is the H-1B visa lottery and how does it work?

In 2014, USCIS received more than 172,000 H-1B visa applications on the April 1st deadline, exceeding Congress’s cap by 87,000 applications.  The cap has been reached in each of the last several years and in most of the years that the program has been in effect.

When USCIS receives more applications that they have visas, the agency conducts a random lottery.  The submissions are opened and assigned a random number.  A computer lottery is conducted.  USCIS begins processing the applications that are selected.  All other applications are rejected and returned to the employer, along with the filing fees.

Obviously, the time surrounding the submission of the H-1B packet is very stressful for the employer and the employee.  Employers spend money on attorney’s fees and filing fees, all in the hopes of being able to hire the employee that they wish to hire.  Foreign employees face the sad possibility of returning to their home country and leaving the U.S. if the computer does not select their application.

One way to minimize the frustration and delay associated with this program is to file for premium processing.  USCIS allows employers to pay an additional fee (currently $1,225) to have the application processed more quickly.  USCIS promises a 15-calendar day processing of H-1B petitions when premium processing has been selected.  The agency guarantees that within 15 days of receipt, it will issue either an approval notice, a notice of intent to deny or a request for evidence.  If the agency fails to do so, the $1,225 is supposed to be Those employers who opt for premium processing are also allowed to use a specially-designated telephone number and email address to ask questions or check case status.  Our office highly recommends the use of premium processing.

USCIS actually conducts two lotteries.  The first lottery is for visa applications filed on behalf of employees having advanced degrees - Master’s Degrees and PhDs.  If USCIS receives less than 20,000 advanced degree applications, no lottery is conducted for those applicants.  If the agency receives more than the 20,000 advanced degree H-1Bs, the applications that were not selected are included in the general 65,000 lottery.  The result of this is that foreign workers holding advanced degrees.

The system is antiquated and counterproductive.  America loses qualified engineers, doctors, accountants, professors and all sorts of experts in their field each year because of this arbitrary cap.  No one can explain why the number has to be capped at 65,000/85,000.  It simply makes no sense.

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