The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) announced today that the final rule amending DHS regulations governing H-1B cap-subject petitions will be published in the Federal Register on January 31, 2019, and will become effective on April 1, 2019.

The new rule implements the electronic registration requirement, but suspends it for the FY2020 H-1B cap season. The rule also reverses the order in which the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) will select cap subject H-1B petitions.  USCIS will first select, in a random lottery, a sufficient number of H‑1B registrations (or petitions when the registration requirement is suspended) submitted on behalf of all beneficiaries, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, to meet the H-1B cap.  USCIS will then select from the remaining registrations (or petitions), also in a random lottery, a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to meet the advanced degree exemption.

For a more detailed discussion on how this new rule changes the selection process for H-1B cap-subject petitions, please see our prior post.

An H-1B cap registration proposal has been in the works since 2011, but it may have been President Trump’s Buy American and Hire American (“BAHA”) executive order that finally created the right climate to push the proposal as far as it has now come.  In its proposed rule, published in the Federal Register on December 3, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) describes two major changes it seeks to implement to the H-1B cap selection process, beginning in 2019.

First, the proposed rule requires employers to submit a registration within a specific timeframe for each beneficiary the employer intends to employ in H-1B status. The purpose of the registration requirement, according to DHS, is to make the process more streamlined and cost effective.  Employers would be allowed to file H-1B petitions only if their registrations were selected.  The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) would then instruct the employer to file a petition on behalf of the prospective beneficiary named in the registration.

Second, the proposed rule reverses the order in which H-1B beneficiaries are selected in the lottery by first selecting those who qualify under the “regular cap” and then selecting those who qualify under the advanced degree exemption. According to DHS, the purpose of this change is to prioritize prospective beneficiaries who hold an advanced U.S. degree. This change seems to partly align with one of the stated directives of BAHA: to reform the H-1B visa program by ensuring that visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest‑paid petition beneficiaries.

The following are key points employers should know about the proposed rule:

H-1B registration process

  • WHEN: Expected to become effective for the FY2020 H-1B cap season, but USCIS reserves the right to delay implementation in the event of technical challenges.
  • HOW: Employers will be required to submit an online registration during a 14-calendar‑day period prior to April 1, 2019. The exact time period will be announced on USCIS’s website 30 days before the registration period begins.
    • Only one registration will be allowed per beneficiary. Duplicate registrations will result in the invalidation of all registrations submitted by the employer for that beneficiary.
    • Each registration will require basic information, including employer’s name, FEIN and contact information; beneficiary’s name, date of birth, country of citizenship, and passport number; whether the beneficiary hold an advanced U.S. degree; and what position is being offered.
    • If USCIS does not receive enough registrations to meet the cap during the initial registration period, registration will remain open until a sufficient number is received.
    • If USCIS receives more than enough registrations during the initial period, USCIS will conduct a random selection from all the registrations received.
    • USCIS will announce on its website when sufficient registrations are received.
    • The number of registrations that are needed to meet the cap is determined in advance, based on historical data, and includes a surplus in order to account for petitions that are withdrawn, denied, and revoked.
    • Petitioners whose registrations are selected will be notified that they may file their petition(s) during their designated filing period.
    • Each filing period is expected to last 60 days, but USCIS will establish several, staggered filing periods to reduce processing pressures on the agency.
    • Employers will not be permitted to substitute beneficiaries in registrations that are selected for filing.

Change in the order of selection

In the past several years, USCIS has received more than enough H-1B petitions to meet the cap. Under current regulations, petitions are accepted during the first 5 business days of April.   USCIS then conducts a random lottery to select a sufficient number to meet the advanced degree exemption of 20,000.  Advanced-degree petitions that are not selected in that lottery are then entered into the regular pool, from which USCIS selects a sufficient number to meet the regular cap of 65,000.

    • HOW: Under the proposed rule, USCIS would first select a sufficient number of registrations to meet the regular cap of 65,000 from among all registrations that have been submitted, including those for beneficiaries who have advanced U.S. degrees. USCIS would thereafter select registrations for the advanced-degree exemption.
    • WHY: DHS interprets the intent of the current regulations as increasing the number of individuals with advanced U.S. degrees who get H-1B visas.  DHS  believes this new process is more in line with that intent and will increase advanced-degree beneficiaries who get H-1B visas by 16 percent, or 5,340 workers.

Although the H-1B cap registration rule has come this far, USCIS is soliciting comments from stakeholders on essential elements of the rule, including: (1) how to enhance the integrity of the registration process and reduce the potential for abuse; (2) the  type and scope of information that should be submitted with each registration; and (3) making the change to the advanced degree selection process separate from the new registration process.  Written comments are due by January 2, 2019.

We will provide an update to this post once the proposed rule becomes final.