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New H-1B system to favour US ‘higher’ degree holders

Change is afoot in the US, as the Department of Homeland Security has proposed to amend the current H-1B visa application system, and is gathering comment from “interested parties” until January 2 2019.

Is the US standout position as recruitment leader under threat with new regulations? Photo: Unsplash

Visa limitations are pushing students to look towards Canada

The new regulations, the Department said in a statement, would “likely” increase the number of beneficiaries with a US master’s degree or higher – estimating the rate of increase at 16%, or 5,340 graduate workers.

This is in line with Trump’s ‘Buy American and Hire American’ executive order, which specifically mentioned reforms to the H-1B system needed to ensure that visas are awarded “to the most skilled and highest-paid petition beneficiaries,” the Department statement explained.

Through the H-1B visa, US employers can employ foreign workers in a range of skilled occupations for a maximum of six years.

“First-time enrolment in graduate programs is declining; this could be a valuable recruitment pipeline”

Currently there is a cap of 65,000 visas per fiscal year, plus an additional 20,000 for applicants with advanced degrees from US institutions. In 2017, 198,460 petitions subject to cap were received.

Under the new regulations, all petitions, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, would be filed under the general cap first.

The US Immigration and Citizenship Services would select registrations to fill the regular cap first, and then select from those remaining for the US advanced degree exemption pool.

The order at the moment is reversed, with the advanced degree exemption group selected first, and the remaining petitions then included in the regular cap.

“Changing the order in which USCIS counts these separate allocations would likely increase the number of beneficiaries with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education to be selected for further processing under the H-1B allocations,” according to the DHS notice.

“As with anything with this semi-competent administration, take good news with a grain of salt”

In the meantime, the total number of beneficiaries with lower degrees, or with degrees from foreign institutions, would likely decrease.

The impact of the proposed changes on international student recruitment in the US has to be seen, but associate director of international initiatives at the National Association for College Admission Counselling Lindsay Addington told The PIE News that a focus on higher degrees could be a valuable recruitment pipeline.

“Given the emphasis of this proposed rule on prioritising applicants who have achieved a master’s degree or higher, it will be interesting to see if more international undergraduate students will immediately seek graduate education,” she said.

“As first-time enrolment of international students in graduate programs is declining, this could be a valuable recruitment pipeline, and one that helps the United States to ultimately retain talented international students and to continue leading in innovation.”

US immigration lawyer David Ware told The PIE News that the new method of selection could potentially be fairer for those with US-earned higher degrees.

“It’s a crying shame that folks who come to the US for education, and enrich our economy and knowledge community thereby, are on the same footing as a computer engineer who’s never set foot in the US and has a foreign degree,” he said.

“I’d love to see Congress pass legislation ‘ranking’ educational credentials”

“Personally, I’d love to see Congress pass legislation ‘ranking’ educational credentials, giving those with US credentials, as well as higher credentials the edge.”

Another proposed change is in the petition system. Employers seeking to file petitions for H-1B visas would need to register electronically first, and then submit the entire application if selected in the lottery.

According to Ware, this could be another potential good change to streamline the process.

“[The new system] will streamline the crazy rush during the lottery and reduce lots of needless work by attorneys, as instead of a huge petition packet for each potential H1B beneficiary, the employer will simply submit a set of names and personal data on potential lottery winning foreign nationals,” he said.

“If the employee is selected in the lottery, the employer will submit the entire H1B petition. It makes great sense.”

But Ware urged caution.

“As with anything with USCIS, especially in this semi-competent administration, one must take all good news with a grain of salt: the proof of the pudding will be in the execution,” he concluded.

The new regulations contain provision for a suspension of the registration system for the 2020 fiscal year if there isn’t sufficient time to develop, test and implement the new electronic system.

Uncertainty around the new system will make employers nervous and ultimately damage job-seeking international students, GlobalMe School founder Nicolle Merrill told The PIE.

“The largest recipients of H-1B such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, can easily ride out the ambiguity, given that they have large legal and hiring teams to adapt,” she explained.

“But smaller companies and firms outside of the technology industry will be less likely to open positions up for H-1B until the rules are ironed out. That means international students will have to work harder and longer to find jobs in the US that are even open to H-1B sponsorship. It means more rejection too.”

Merrill added that H-1B visa limitations are pushing students to look North, towards the usual suspect: Canada.

  • Additional reporting by Patrick Atack, Viggo Stacey

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