H-1B visa lottery changes benefit those with advance degrees, and tech companies

The Department of Homeland Security changed the order of the H-1B visa lotteries, increasing the odds for highly educated foreign nationals.

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On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced a change to the H-1B visa program—the program meant to help fill specialty occupations, usually requiring technical skills or advanced degrees—which could be a major benefit for tech companies. The rule change shifts the lottery that decides who received the 85,000 H-1B visas given to for-profit organizations each year, according to a press release.

Previously the H-1B lottery system granted the first 20,000 visas only to candidates holding higher degrees by US institutions, and the other 65,000 visas were granted to otherwise qualified applicants. The Department of Homeland Security switched the order of the lotteries, attributing more visas to those with advanced degrees, according to the release.

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This shift lowers the chance of candidates with only a bachelor's degree to earn a visa, but provides a greater opportunity for highly educated foreign nationals to be rewarded.

"These simple and smart changes are a positive benefit for employers, the foreign workers they seek to employ, and the agency's adjudicators, helping the H-1B visa program work better," United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna said in the release. "The new registration system, once implemented, will lower overall costs for employers and increase government efficiency. 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."

The H-1B lottery change also benefits large tech companies looking to bring in top talent, as the chance for highly skilled workers to receive the visas increases. This could hurt smaller outsourcing firms, however, who seek entry-level positions to fill basic tech jobs. However, this change is long overdue, as the smaller tech staffing companies were known to flood the lottery with applications for lower skilled positions.

Amazon, Microsoft, Intel, Google, Facebook, and Apple all employ H-1B visa holders to fill tech talent gaps.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • The H-1B visa lottery system underwent a major shift, granting more visas to those with advanced degrees. — Department of Homeland Security, 2019
  • The change gives an advantage to highly educated foreign nationals, as well as major tech companies looking for top talent. — Department of Homeland Security, 2019

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By Macy Bayern

Macy Bayern is an Associate Staff Writer for TechRepublic. A recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin's Liberal Arts Honors Program, Macy covers tech news and trends.