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USCIS Concludes March H-1B Pre-Registration Lottery Selection and Announces Expansion of Premium Processing and Commitment to Reducing Backlogs at the Agency

March 31, 2022

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced March 29, 2022 that it had completed its H-1B random lottery selections after receiving sufficient submissions for its annual H-1B quota during the H-1B pre-registration period.

U.S. companies, known as ‘registrants” for H-1B purposes, will have the following updated information on their accounts:

  • Selected – Registration selected for U.S. petitioner to file the H-1B petition in the 90-day window commencing April 1;
  • Submitted – Not selected in the March lottery selection. Could be selected if any follow up lottery conducted by USCIS in the fiscal year; or
  • Denied – Signifies that multiple registrations were submitted on behalf of the same foreign national beneficiary, or the registration might be invalid.

USCIS has not yet announced the number of H-1B petitions submitted in the March pre-registration filing but in 2022, it received 308,613 H-1B pre-registrations and in 2021, it had receipted 274,237 filings.

Background

For the past two years, USCIS has implemented an online “pre-registration” process to streamline the H-1B process. The process has achieved the goal of avoiding the tremendous efforts in filing H-1B paper submissions in the first week of April and has saved the U.S. government a million dollars in postage in returning rejected packages. It has also given U.S. petitioners and foreign national beneficiaries more immediate information regarding the success of their H-1B submissions; the wait for a decision regarding acceptance or rejection of a selection has changed from months to just a few days. For corporations planning hires in the H-1B category, and for the foreign national, the immediacy of the selection has proven helpful to determine future planning needs.

The annual quota for H-1B subject to cap cases is 85,000 visas. 65,000 are assigned to those in possession of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and 20,000 additional visas are reserved for foreign nationals in possession of U.S. master’s degrees only. Other H-1B visas that are not subject to the annual cap include institutions of research and higher-level educational institutions including colleges and universities.

If a case is selected in the H-1B pre-registration, it will give U.S. petitioners the ability to file H-1B cap subject petitions in the filing period commencing April 1. USCIS has announced that the filing period will last 90 days.

It is important to note that in the last two H-1B filing seasons, USCIS has conducted more than one random lottery selection. In 2020, USCIS announced it had not received sufficient submissions and announced a second-round lottery in August 2020. In 2021, USCIS announced an additional lottery selection in August and November.

Efforts To Reduce Agency Backlogs

USCIS has long held the goal of reducing agency backlogs and streamlining its benefit applications. It announced a three-pronged plan to achieve its goals:

1. Expansion of Premium Processing – USCIS announced a final rule which codifies premium processing fees and adjudication timeframes furnished by Congress. Premium processing is a fast track service which is currently available for Forms I-129 (covering nonimmigrant visa categories, including H1, L1, E1, E2, E3, O1, R1 in certain circumstances) and certain immigrant visa petitions filed with Forms I-140.The Final Rule, which becomes effective on May 30, will expand premium processing options for those applicants filing Forms I-539 -changes or extensions of stay, and applicants for employment authorization requests. How quickly USCIS will implement premium processing in the various categories was not outlined in its announcement and the actual phase-in may take some time.

2. Employment Authorization Documents – USCIS is working on developing a Final Rule to expedite the issuance of employment authorization cards, which have been severely delayed. The agency’s goal is to permit premium processing for these applications at a premium, additional filing fee of $1,500 to be processed in a 30-day time frame and to expand validity periods and furnish, as well, expedited processing times for healthcare and childcare workers. The aim of the agency is to assure that applicants for this crucial benefit will not lose their ability to be work authorized while their applications remain pending with the agency.

3. Reducing Processing Times – USCIS has set as one of its major goals the reduction of burdens to the system itself and in addition to phasing in the premium processing options for additional filings, it plans to monitor the agency’s pending cases through a metric defined as ‘cycle times.” Cycle times will measure how many months’ worth of cases are pending and comparing that to publicly posted processing times with the goal to assess how much progress the agency is making toward reducing the overall backlog of cases.

Takeaways

It is clear from its recent initiatives, and in the wake of its emergence from the pandemic, that USCIS is attempting to recover from the last two years of increased delays in its processing times. The agency has further announced it plans to hire and train more staff and develop new technologies to handle the large volume of submissions. Since the agency is self-funded and does not have a line-item budget designated by Congress, it has developed a method to increase its revenue by expanding the premium processing program through the increase of its filing fees for its services. The hope is that the agency will be on the upswing as we move into 2023 and beyond.

 

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