What is the H1B Lottery and How Does it Work?
The United States government limits the number of H1B visas issued each year to 65,000. H1B applicants who have earned an advanced degree equivalent to a U.S. master’s degree or higher are exempted from this cap. However, those with advanced degrees are subject to their own annual cap of 20,000. Thus, the total number of H1B visas is in fact 85,000; but, keep in mind that the advanced degree H1B cap is calculated separately.
As you can tell, obtaining a H1B visa ultimately depends on successful selection through the H1B “lottery” because employers or their attorney can file the H1B petition only IF their applicant is selected in the lottery.
Additionally, 6,800 of the 65,000 visa-cap are reserved specifically for the H1B1 visa. This is also known as the Chile-Singapore cap because the H1B1 visa is specifically for nonimmigrant workers in specialty occupations from Chile and Singapore. Among the 6,800 visas annually allocated for the H1B1 visa, 1,400 are available for nationals of Chile and 5,400 are allocated for nationals of Singapore. Unlike the regular H1B program, the H1B1 visa is only valid for one year, however, and may only be obtained twice by a nonimmigrant worker in one year increments.
If there are any unused H1B1 visas remaining at the end of the selection process, those unused visas will be rolled over into the next year and added to the H1B cap for that year. This means there can be more than 65,000 H1B visas available in a given year. For example, if only 1,000 of the 6,800 H1B1 visas are used in one year, then the 5,800 (6,800-1,000) unused H1B1 visas will be converted into H1B visas for the following year, increasing the regular, non-advanced degree H1B cap from 65,000 to 70,800 (65,000 + 5,800) for that following year.
Cap Exempt Applicants
Besides registrants subject to the advanced degree exemption, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) exempts certain other employees and employers from the cap.
Employers exempted from the cap include:
- higher education institutions
- non-profit organizations associated with higher education institutions
- non-profit research organizations or government research organizations
- any for-profit company that seeks to hire a specialty employee to provide services to an institution or organization mentioned above.
Employees exempted from the cap include:
- individuals who have previously been granted exemption to the cap.
An employer may also file a cap-exempt H1B petition for an employee if the employee previously held H1B status in the United States and the employee has not used his or her full six years of status. The petition would cover the remaining time the employee is allowed in the U.S. An individual must file a petition subject to the cap if he or she has been out of the U.S. for 1 year.
Employees who gain different employment by transferring from one employer to another may be exempt from the cap, depending on the cap-exempt status of the employee, the employer, and the new employer.
What is the Likelihood of Being Selected in the H1B Lottery?
The H1B visa is very popular; each year, hundreds of thousands of individuals register for the H1B lottery. However, as we know, only a fraction of those individuals will be selected in the lottery and thus permitted to petition for an H1B visa.
In 2021 (also known as fiscal year (FY) 2022), USCIS received over 308,000 lottery registrations, and after three different selection periods ultimately chose nearly 132,000 lottery registrants, or about 42% of all registrants.
While this information provides some insight into the likelihood of being selected in the H1B lottery, keep in mind that this data does not articulate the number of advanced degree exemptions relative to the total number, or H1B1 visas relative to the total.
It is fair to assume that an H1B lottery registrant’s chances of being selected in the H1B lottery sit below 50%, and some years below 40%, depending on the number of total registrants. Chances of selection are improved for registrants with advanced degrees, who can be selected as part of the advanced degree exemption cap, or as part of the general cap. When the 6,800 H1B1 visas are removed from the calculation, the odds become even lower.
How to Prepare for the 2022 (FY 2023) Lottery?
In order to successfully register for the H1B visa lottery, you must create an account with the USCIS or login if you’ve already created one in the past.
It is important that you understand what type of USCIS online account is appropriate for you. Registering with the wrong account type can result in an error that could disrupt your ability to receive an H1B visa.
There are three types of USCIS online accounts that you could register under. Review the account types below to determine which one matches your circumstances.
- Applicant/Petitioner/Requester Account
This account type is not appropriate for H1B visa registrations. Instead, this account type is used for individuals to prepare and file applications, petitions, or other benefit requests.
- Attorney/Representative Account
Attorneys or other representatives who are submitting H1B registrations on behalf of a petitioner must use this type of account. This account will allow the attorney or representative to submit Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative.
- Registrant Account
Prospective petitioners should register using this type of account. Petitioners can use this account to participate in the H1B registration process regardless of whether an attorney or representative will submit the registration on the petitioners behalf.
Know the Registration Period Timeline
The initial registration period is generally around 14 days long in the month of March each year. For example, the initial registration period for 2022 begins on March 1st; however, accounts can begin to be created on February 21st, before registration officially opens. The initial registration period ends March 18th, 2022.
Below is the full 2022 registration period timeline:
- February 21st: Petitioners and registrants can start creating H1B registrant accounts at 12pm U.S. eastern standard time.
- March 1st: H1B registration period opens at 12pm U.S. eastern standard time.
- March 18th: H1B registration period closes at 12pm U.S. eastern standard time.
- March 31st: The USCIS will notify selected registrants
- April 1st: Selected registrants may file their petitions on this date.
The USCIS may open additional petition filing periods in 2022 if there are remaining unused H1B visas after the initial lottery selection. In 2021, the USCIS had an unexpected three filing periods. So, registrants should continue monitoring their selection status throughout the year and keep an eye out for USCIS updates about additional filing periods.
Avoid Duplicate Beneficiaries
Petitioners are only permitted to submit one registration per beneficiary per year. If a petitioner has submitted more than one registration for the same beneficiary, the USCIS will remove all submissions by the petitioner from the selection process.
Separate petitioners or their representatives may submit registrations for the same beneficiary. But, each petitioner or representative may only submit one registration each for that beneficiary.
Petitioners and attorneys should coordinate with each other to ensure there are no improper duplicate registrations for a beneficiary. If duplicate registrations are discovered before the initial registration period comes to a close, the extra submissions may be deleted by the petitioner or representative until there is only one registration for the beneficiary. However, the $10 registration fees will not be refunded. There is no way to correct duplicate registrations after the initial registration period has closed.
Pay Registration Fee(s)
There is a $10 registration fee for each registration for a single beneficiary. The $10 fee is non-refundable.
Wait for Selection Notification
After the registration period closes, registrants and their representatives will be notified of their selection status on their USCIS online account throughout all filing periods.
On their online account, registrants or representatives will see one of five possible selection statuses, indicating where they stand with regard to the selection process:
- Submitted: The registration was successfully submitted, making the registrant eligible for selection in the selection process.
- Selected: The registrant has been selected to file an H1B petition.
- Not Selected: The registrant was not selected to file a H1B petition for this registration.
- Denied: There were multiple registrations submitted by or on behalf of the same beneficiary.
- Invalidated-Failed Payment: The fee payment submitted for the registration was declined, not reconciled, or otherwise invalid.
What if I am Selected in the Lottery?
As mentioned, employers or their attorney can file the H1B petition only IF their applicant is selected in the lottery. The earliest an employer or their attorney can initiate the visa process is 6 months prior to the employment date stated on the petition or 6 months prior to the expiration date of the applicant’s current H1B status.
After an applicant/registrant is selected in the lottery, their employer must begin the petitioning process, which involves the filing of various documents to the U.S. government, including:
- Labor Condition Application with the U.S. Department of Labor;
- Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker with the USCIS;
- Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application is filed online.
Applicants from outside the U.S. must also attend an interview at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy before being issued their H1B visa.