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Plans To Change H-1B Lottery Could Benefit Seattle Tech Companies

H-1B Visa

The Trump administration reportedly plans to increase the number of highly educated foreign workers who receive H-1B visas, a move that is likely to benefit tech companies in Seattle and elsewhere in the U.S.

The Current H-1B Lottery System

For some background, H-1B visas allow U.S. employers to employ foreign workers in “specialty occupations.” However, there’s an annual cap of on the number of H-1B visas that can be given out—85,000. Of those, 20,000 are reserved for workers who hold master’s degrees or higher. The remaining 65,000 are available for workers holding a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Because H-1B petitions exceed this 85,000 cap every year, a lottery system is used to determine which petitions are selected. Currently, petitions for workers holding master’s degrees or higher are first put through a special lottery for the 20,000 quota. If any of these petitions remain, they’re then put through the general lottery for the 65,000 quota.

The New H-1B Lottery System

The change to the lottery system that’s being reported would reverse the order in which the petitions for workers who hold master’s degrees or higher are considered.

Rather than being first put through a special lottery for the 20,000 quota, these petitions would be first put through the general lottery for the 65,000 quota—along with all the other bachelor’s-level petitions. Any remaining master’s-level petitions would then go into the special lottery for the 20,000 quota.

The effect of this reversal of order would be to increase the chances of master’s-level petitions to be considered, according to experts like Howard University professor Ronil Hira.

Tech Companies Stand To Benefit From The New Lottery System

Tech companies, particularly the big ones like Google and Micrsoft, tend to employ more H-1B holders with master’s degrees or higher than do other companies that employ large numbers of H-1B holders—primarily outsourcing and staffing companies.

So, all other things being equal, these tech companies are likely to benefit from a change to the current lottery system, so long as the change does in fact favor master’s-level petitions.

Photo: Ken Mayer | Flickr