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Learn more about the annual H-1B Visa registration lottery from our experts at Parsons Behle & Latimer.

The annual H-1B Visa registration lottery–does it pay to play?

The annual H-1B visa registration lottery will open at noon EST on March 1 and run through noon EST on March 18. As companies recruit and employ foreign talent, they consider several questions:

What is the H-1B visa?

The H-1B visa is for persons who will work in a job that requires at least a four-year bachelor’s degree in a field related to the occupation. 

Who qualifies for an H-1B visa?

A person must have at least a four-year bachelor’s degree or its equivalent based on a combination of education or experience.

Persons from every country may apply for the H-1B visa.

What is the lottery?

US immigration law limits the number of new H-1B visas available each year.

There are 65,000 new H-1B visas available to all applicants plus another 20,000 for persons who earned a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. college or university.

Because the demand for new H-1B visa numbers exceeds the supply, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) uses a random lottery to process applications.

Should my company register in the lottery?

YES! If your company does not register, it risks losing skilled workers.

Companies often hire foreign graduates with Optional Practical Training (OPT), erroneously believing it lasts forever. Foreign graduates can work on OPT for up to one year. Those with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can extend OPT for 24 months IF their US employers properly use E-Verify for all new hires.

After OPT expires, foreign workers must either obtain a work visa or depart the US and work remotely abroad if they wish to continue working for their US employers.

How much does it cost?

USCIS charges $10 to register each foreign worker. Legal fees are approximately $400.

Previously, during the first five business days of April, USCIS would accept all new H-1B visa petitions that US employers filed. Although USCIS refunded government filing fees ($1,710 or $2,460) for cases not selected in the lottery, companies still paid thousands of dollars in legal fees and administrative costs filing H-1B petitions.

Currently, companies file H-1B petitions only if USCIS selects them for processing in the lottery.

How can my company increase its chances of winning the lottery?

First, play by USCIS’s rules. Submit only one registration for each worker. If a company submits multiple registrations, it automatically loses.

Second, recruit persons with US master’s or higher degrees. They have two chances for winning – in the lottery for everyone and for those with advanced US degrees.

If my company does not win the lottery, can it still employ foreign workers?

Yes. All foreign graduates qualify for OPT for up to one year. Graduates with STEM degrees working for US employers that properly use E-Verify can extend OPT for another 24 months.

Also, there are work visas available only to nationals of certain countries, such as:

  • TN for Canadians and Mexicans (no annual limit)
  • H-1B1 for Chileans and Singaporeans (annual limit of 1,400 for Chileans and 5,400 for Singaporeans)
  • E-3 for Australians (annual limit of 10,000)

Companies cannot discriminate and ask job applicants about their immigration status and citizenship. However, by strategically recruiting, companies can effectively use these other visas.

Finally, if your company has a foreign parent, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch office, it could employ foreign workers abroad for at least one year in either executive or managerial roles or positions requiring specialized knowledge. After one year abroad, foreign employees may transfer back to the US in similar roles using the L-1 visa, which has no annual limit. 

Jacob T. Muklewicz leads the US immigration and visa practice of Parsons Behle & Latimer’s employment and labor practice team. He counsels and advises large multinational corporations, local businesses, individuals, investors and professionals in areas involving employment-based immigration law. To contact Mr. Muklewicz, send an email to [email protected] or phone 801.532.1234.