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Above: The new H1-B rules will boost foreign admissions to US colleges and universities (representative image)/Photo: edbrand.com

New H-1B rules are good news for Indians holding advanced degrees as there are more visa slots open for them and for Indian companies as they need not pay lawyers dealing with this issue


By Kris Lakshmikanth

The US federal government recently published the final rules for changes to the H-1B visa programme. For Indians who want to go to the US through their employer, the H-1B programme is the best method available. For the US government, this visa process allows it to filter immigration into the country of qualified talent, specifically in the STEM (Science & Technology Education) segment where there is an acute shortage of capable people.

There are two key changes coming in the rules. First, the government will require applicants for an H-1B visa to electronically register with the immigration office for the H-1B lottery before they submit their applications or documentation, starting in 2020.

We are now talking about the H-1B visa process for the forthcoming year, 2020, for which applications will be accepted by the US government from April 1 of 2019.

Currently, there is a lottery process if the number of applicants is more than the 85,000 limit specified by the US Congress. Applicants must submit their complete applications, including supporting documentation, in order to apply for a lottery run by USCIS, the immigration authority. Last year, roughly 1,90,000 applicants applied for the 85,000 slots. That means 1,05,000 people put together submitted applications, but lost out on the lottery.

Under the new rule that will be in force for the 2020 H-1B process, applicants must first register with USCIS electronically. If selected, the applicant would then be invited to submit his application and supporting materials. The idea is that you only have to take the trouble of applying when there is an actual slot available.

The change is likely to cut into the revenue of immigration attorneys, who today prepare complete applications for all applicants. A typical H-1B visa application retainer for an attorney today in Silicon Valley runs between $3,000-$6,000.

If your company is applying for you, then it will pick up the tab. Alternatively, there are thousands of people who desperately want to go to the US. They apply through small-time companies who often charge them between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 3 lakh for processing of the visa. However, in all cases, as it is a lottery, there is no guarantee that the applicant will get the H-1B visa.

Though the new rules mean that American immigration attorneys will lose income, from the employer point of view, costs will come down.

Let us look at the case of a top software services company which applies for 5,000 H-1B visas and gets only around 2,000 visas. For this company, the savings in visa processing charges can be as much as 3,000 x 4,000=$1.2 million. An amount not to be sniffed at.

The second change of the final rule has to do with how the lottery is conducted. Under the H-1B programme, there are two pools of applicants: let’s call them the regular pool and the advanced degree holders’ pool. There is a cap of 65,000 for the regular pool and 20,000 for the advanced degree pool, which is limited to applicants holding a master’s degree or higher.

In today’s process, advanced degree applicants first go through the lottery of the advanced degree pool, and if they fail, they get added to the regular pool for the second lottery.

In the new process just confirmed by USCIS, that process is inverted: the regular pool lottery will be run first with all applicants and then the advanced degree pool will take place with advanced degree applicants who failed in the first lottery.

What does that mean for applicants? Using last year’s numbers, there were 95,885 advanced degree applicants for 20,000 spots, so a roughly 20.85 percent chance of receiving a visa. That means 75,885 advanced degree applicants who lost out were then added to the regular pool of 94,213 applicants. That’s 1,70,098 applicants for 65,000 visas, or roughly 38.21 percent chance of getting a visa. Across the two lotteries then, advanced degree holders statistically would have got 20,000 visas from the first lottery, and then 38.21 percent of 75,885 or 28,998 visas from the regular pool lottery. So an advanced degree holder had a 51.1 percent chance of getting an H-1B visa, compared to 38.21 percent for regular pool applicants.

That’s the old probabilities, so let’s see how reversing the sequence of lotteries changes things. Now, 95,885 advanced degree holders join 94,213 regular applicants for 65,000 spots, for a success rate of 34.19 percent. That means 32,786 advanced degree holders will be successful in the regular pool. From there, the 63,099 advanced degree applicants who were not successful would get to go through the advanced degree lottery of 20,000 spots, a probability rate of 31.70 percent. Combined then, you have 20,000 + 32,786 = 52,786 successful advanced degree holders out of 95,885, for a combined statistical success rate of 55.05 percent.

Net-net, the changes in the lottery sequence mean that advanced degree holders would have been successful 55.05 percent of the time last year compared with 51.1 percent under the previous system. For regular applicants, the success rate declines from 38.21 percent to 31.70 percent

The USCIS is (from a statistical point of view) “placing an additional emphasis” on advanced degree holders. It’s a meaningful adjustment if you are applying, of course, but ultimately, nothing has changed as immigration priorities are written into the law and the executive branch doesn’t have much flexibility to change these systems.

Looking at the overall picture, the Trump administration wants to promote domestic employment. The new H-1B rules will make the US once again an attractive destination for overseas studies from India. This will help US colleges and universities as admissions go up and foreign students bring in money which boosts the local economy. In the past two years, Canada has overtaken the US with respect to overseas studies for Indian students as they have better chances of getting a work permit locally.

The US government is realising that it is better to utilise Indian manpower for the software industry compared to China and hence, the new rules will favour our nation.

The writer is the Founder Chairman & MD of The Head Hunters India Private Limited, a Bengaluru-based firm

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