The Trump Administration on Friday, 30 November, proposed major changes to the H-1B application process, including a new rule requiring companies to electronically register their petitions in advance, in an attempt to award this popular American work visa to the most skilled and highest paid foreign workers.
The H1B visa, popular among Indian IT companies and professionals, is a non-immigrant visa, that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
Under the new proposed merit-based rule, a notice for which was issued on Friday, companies employing foreign workers on the H-1B visa - under the Congressional mandated annual caps - would first have to electronically register with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) during a designated registration period.
The H1-B visa has numerical limit cap of 65,000 visas each fiscal year as mandated by the Congress. The first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of beneficiaries with a US master's degree or higher are exempt from the cap.
Under the new rule, the USCIS would also reverse the order by which it selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B cap and the advanced degree exemption.
This is likely to increase the number of foreign workers with a master's or higher degree from a US institution of higher education to be selected for an H-1B cap number. As such the proposed rule will introduce a more meritorious selection of beneficiaries, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement.
The DHS said public comments on the proposed rule may be submitted starting 3 December, when the proposed rule publishes in the Federal Register, and must be received on or before 2 January.
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.” " - Department of Homeland Security
Once a sufficient number of registrations or petitions have been selected for the H-1B cap, the 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 US 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," it 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 US institution of higher education, the DHS said.
The 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 the 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, it said.
"This 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 would protect the integrity of this registration system," it added.
President Donald Trump, who insists on the 'Buy American and Hire American' strategy, last year instructed the DHS to propose new rules and issue new guidance to supersede or revise previous rules, to protect the interests of US workers.
He had 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."
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