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The H-1B Lottery Process Explained

The H-1B program allows U.S. employers to sponsor foreign nationals for temporary employment in “specialty occupations.” Essentially, a “specialty occupation” is a role requiring at least a bachelor’s degree, or its equivalent, in a field related to the U.S. position.

Since the establishment of the H-1B program in 1990, Congress has set an annual cap on the number of available visas. Currently, the regular cap is 65,000 H-1B visas per year. Additionally, there is a separate allocation of 20,000 visas under the master’s cap (designated for individuals who have obtained a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education). Due to these limitations, the number of H-1B applicants often significantly exceeds the number of available visas. Consequently, USCIS employs an annual lottery system to select the individuals who are eligible to file H-1B petitions with the agency.

Electronic Registration Process

In 2020, USCIS introduced an electronic registration system for the annual H-1B lottery. This system enables employers to register prospective employees during a designated period each year. The registration window opens in early March and lasts for at least 14 days. The procedure is straightforward, employers must:

  • create a myUSCIS account,
  • submit basic information about their company and each worker they are registering, and
  • pay a $10 fee for each registration.

After the registration period concludes, USCIS conducts the H-1B lottery, randomly selecting individuals from the pool of registrants. Importantly, drafting an H-1B petition in advance is not necessary, as only those with selected registrations will be eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition for that year.

A notable aspect of the selection process is that individuals registered under the master’s cap are also eligible for the regular cap, enhancing their chances of being selected. This strategy encourages employers to prioritize foreign nationals with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education.

Following the lottery, USCIS electronically notifies the selected individuals via the employer’s myUSCIS account. Employers then have a 90-day window to file an H-1B petition with USCIS. If approved, the earliest start date for the employee is October 1st of the same year. Contact Berardi Immigration Law for more information.