For the past few months, publications that watch the federal government (such as Politico) have reported rumors that something big is in the works for H-1B reform.
Those big changes could arrive next year, pending the approval of a new formal proposal: All H-1B applicants—including those who have advanced degrees—will now enter the “general pool” of 65,000 visas. Once this cap is hit, any remaining applicants with advanced degrees will end up in a 20,000-visa “master’s cap” pool.
This is a substantial alteration of the current system, in which those applicants with advanced degrees are first placed in the “master’s cap” pool, and those that aren’t accepted in that first round are placed in the “general pool.”
A spokesperson for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) told CNN that this change might increase the number of H-1B holders with advanced degrees by as much as 16 percent. By “flipping” the pools, those with a master’s degree or higher have two successful shots at a successful H-1B application.
This change aligns with the Trump administration’s order that the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies “suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.” In addition to inverting the order of the “pools,” this new rule will also require H-1B petitioners to “electronically register with [USCIS] during a designated registration period,” which could theoretically streamline the process.
“Implementing an internet-based electronic H-1B cap registration process would reduce the burden on USCIS since it would no longer need to physically receive, store, and process hundreds of thousands of cap-subject H-1B petitions, which in some cases contain hundreds of pages of supporting evidence, prior to conducting the random selection process,” added the government’s proposal.
Approving more H-1B applicants with advanced degrees could benefit tech companies such as Google and Apple, which regularly voice their need for workers with advanced qualifications, while potentially harming the consulting and subcontracting agencies that pursue visas for bachelor’s degree holders.
Many of those subcontracting firms are also facing some issues in the form of new regulations from the U.S. Department of Labor, which is demanding that employers applying for H-1B visas fill out paperwork citing whether workers “will be placed with a secondary entity at this place of employment.” Should the employer answer “yes,” it must provide the legal business name of the “secondary entity,” along with the wage rate for its nonimmigrant workers, and the prevailing wage rate.
Will third-party companies prove more reluctant to outsource their IT work to staffing firms if they believe the U.S. government might publicize the relationship at some point? That’s an open question. In the meantime, heading into 2019 and beyond, H-1B applicants will need to adjust to a new reality.