New Details on the H-1B Visa Registration System: Take Action Now in Order to Register by March 1, 2020!

January, 2020David W. Gearhart, Sarah E. Mullen, Fatima G. Khan

On January 9, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued guidance on the new H-1B registration process for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 H-1B cap-subject petitions.

The H-1B Program is one of the primary ways U.S. employers hire degreed foreign nationals. Most private employers must apply with hope that their application is eligible for one of the limited 65,000 Regular H-1B cap slots, or one of the 20,000 Advance Degree H-1B cap slots.

USCIS now requires employers to pre-register for each prospective H-1B worker through an online electronic registration system during a designated registration period. Because of high demand, only employers that have their pre-registration(s) selected during a lottery will be eligible to file a complete H-1B cap-subject petition for the FY 2021 cap season (October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021).

The recent USCIS guidance confirms that USCIS will accept pre-registration applications beginning on March 1, 2020. USCIS intends to close the initial registration period on March 20, 2020 and will announce the actual end date of the initial registration period on its website. Because the registration process shifts the deadline from the traditional April 1, employers should begin the H-1B process now. We recommend advance planning to have all pre-registrations completed on March 1, 2020.

The recent USCIS notice provides details regarding the H-1B registration system:

  • Employers and their legal representatives will be able to set up registration accounts prior to March 1. USCIS will post on its website the date that employers and their representatives can set up these accounts, which can be saved and modified prior to submission.
  • Employers with at least one pre-registration that was selected during the initial registration period will be notified by March 31, 2020.
  • A selected employer’s complete H-1B visa petition will be due within 90 days of notification of selection, saving any employer whose petition is not selected the time and expense of preparing a full petition filing.

In light of the impending H-1B cap-subject season, now is the time for employers to consider H-1B sponsorship, such as for these common scenarios:

  • Employees who are in F-1 student status and working pursuant to a period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) following completion of a U. S. degree program.
  • Employees in L-1 status, whom an employer is sponsoring for legal permanent residency (or will sponsor in the future) but who are unlikely to receive a “green card” within the allotted period of admission (i.e., five years if in L-1B status or seven years if in L-1A status).
  • Prospective employees/applicants who have not previously been counted against the H-1B numerical limits within the past six years (e.g., with another U. S. employer or presently working abroad) and whom an employer wishes to possibly employ in the US. Because the registration process alone is less expensive than a full H-1B application, we recommend that employers err on the side of caution and pre-register for any applicant (who would need H-1B sponsorship) whom they are seriously considering hiring. 

It is critical not to miss the March 1 to March 20, 2020 pre-registration period, because the next set of cap-subject H-1B visas won't be available until 2021.

If you are interested in employing a degreed foreign national in the US, please contact one of our immigration attorneys immediately to discuss the H-1B process as well as other work authorization or immigration options that may be available.