DHS announces revised H-1B Visa program, calls it “More Effective and Efficient”

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted its “final rule” amending regulations dealing with H-1B petitions that are subject to caps, including those that may be eligible for the advanced degree exemption. It will come into effect April 1, and could lead to advantages for Indian applicants with advanced degrees from U.S. universities. Indian applicants for H-1B visas form the overwhelming majority of petitions filed for this category.

The final rule, which was flagged last December, and has come into operation faster than previous such changes, reverses the order by which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B regular cap and the advanced degree exemption. It also introduces an electronic registration requirement for petitioners seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions.

Authorities say this new formulation makes the system “more effective and efficient,” and one expert from the Obama administration, says it is good news for Indian graduates of U.S. universities who have earned advanced degrees.

“This change is moderately good news for Indian graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees, since USCIS estimates that about 5,000 more of them will get H-1B visas each year—at the expense of all other applicants,” said immigration attorney Doug Rand, in an email response to News India Times. Rand was the assistant director for entrepreneurship in the Obama White House and worked on immigration regulations, including the H-4 Employment Authorization for spouses of H-1B visa holders.

“But make no mistake: The H-1B program is already under duress due to other recent policy changes, and more trouble is on the near horizon,” Rand warned, adding, “Today’s rule is the first full immigration regulation that the Trump administration has pushed all the way through the regulatory process, from start to finish, and they did it at warp speed.”

Rand also said, “It’s possible that other changes—such as excluding lower-salary workers from the H-1B program and eliminating work permits for H-4 spouses—may be coming soon.” Rand is the co-founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company that says it helps families navigate the immigration process.

The USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna called the changes, “simple and smart” with a positive benefit for employers, the foreign workers they seek to employ, and the agency’s adjudicators. Once implemented, Cissna said, the new registration system will lower overall costs for employers and increase government efficiency.

“We are also furthering President Trump’s goal of improving our immigration system by making a simple adjustment to the H-1B cap selection process. As a result, U.S. employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a U.S. master’s or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery in years of excess demand for new H-1B visas,” Cissna said.

In its press release, the DHS said that effective April 1, the USCIS will first select H-1B petitions submitted on behalf of all beneficiaries, including those that may be eligible for the advanced degree exemption. It will then select from the remaining eligible petitions, a number projected to reach the advanced degree exemption.

“Changing the order in which USCIS counts these allocations will likely increase the number of petitions for beneficiaries with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education to be selected under the H-1B numerical allocations,” the USCIS maintains. “Specifically, the change will result in an estimated increase of up to 16% (or 5,340 workers) in the number of selected petitions for H-1B beneficiaries with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education,” it contends. More details are spelt out at uscis.gov.

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