Yesterday, USCIS announced it will resume Premium Processing effective Tuesday, March 12, 2019 for all H-1B petitions.  Petitions processed with Premium Processing result in USCIS review within 15-calendar days.  If USCIS fails to act within this time period, the government will refund the petitioner’s premium processing fee.

The reopening of Premium Processing is not specific to FY 2020 H-1B cap petitions.  USCIS will make a separate announcement whether Premium Processing is available for FY 2020 cap petitions soon.  If your H-1B petition is already pending, it is important to file the request for premium processing with the correct USCIS Service Center.  Petitioners who have received a USCIS Transfer Notice, indicating the file was transferred to either the Nebraska or Vermont Service Centers, must file the request for premium processing with the USCIS Service Center now handling the petition.

Cap-subject US employers and their prospective employees alike have been waiting on edge to find out whether the FY2020 H-1B Cap Season would proceed as before or whether US Citizenship and Immigration Service’s (USCIS’s) recently proposed significant changes would be implemented to take effect before April 2019.  The result:  the Registration requirement will not take effect in April 2019, but the lottery will be held with the selection process reversed 

What does this mean?  In effect and as anticipated, US employers should proceed as before to have their H-1B cap cases analyzed, prepared and filed during the first week of April. For FY2020, cap-subject employers will not be required to electronically register their intended H-1B petitions in the lottery. In order to test and refine the system, USCIS decided to suspend the electronic registration requirement for this fiscal year.  Before implementing the electronic registration requirement in the future, an announcement will appear in the Federal Register to notify the public.

There will, however, be an important change this cap season.  That is, cap-subject petitions will first be chosen from the regular cap of 65,000 and only then will the 20,000 advanced degree exemption petitions be selected.  USCIS believes that reversing the selection process will result in a significantly higher number (16% or 5,340 workers) of petitions being chosen on behalf of beneficiaries who possess a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. higher education institution.  USCIS states reversing the selection order is in support of the President’s April 18, 2017 Buy American and Hire American Executive Order which directed the Agency to “suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”  Unfortunately, the Rule change doesn’t seem to consider the potentially negative impact on US employers who rely on professionals who possess less than a master’s degree nor employers whose workers are offered an appropriate wage for their profession, but are not the most highly paid overall.

When the electronic registration requirement is implemented, cap-subject US employers who want to file H-1B petitions, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, will have to electronically register with USCIS during a specifically designated registration period.  Notice of the electronic registration period is to be provided at least 30 days in advance to the start date.  USCIS will then select from the electronic registrations to determine which employers may proceed to file their H-1B petitions.  For more on this topic, please see my blog post H-1B Cap Season: Important Proposed Changes dated December 4th on Fox Rothschild’s Immigration View blog.

As in prior years, USCIS will post H-1B cap information on its website at www.uscis.gov in advance of the time for filing cap-subject H-1B petitions.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued its long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to amend USCIS Regulations relating to cap-subject H-1B petitions filed under both the regular cap and advanced degree exemption. Comments from the public may be submitted to the agency within the next 30 days.  This does not affect cap-exempt H-1B petitions.

 While the proposed changes are subject to possible modification, be aware that the upcoming H-1B cap season will likely be dramatically different from past years.  Highlights of the proposed changes include:

Pre-Registration

Electronic Registration/Pre-Registration
There is a proposed requirement that all cap-subject H-1B employers first register each intended petition electronically with USCIS during a designated period rather than directly filing complete H-1B petition packets with USCIS.  Basic information relating to the petitioner and beneficiary would be required in order to register. An employer would be limited to one registration per beneficiary within the same fiscal year.  USCIS does not plan to impose a registration fee at this time.  Only those employers whose registrations are selected (selected registrants) would be eligible to file cap-subject H-1B petitions during the particular filing period. 

Initial Registration/Random Selection 
An initial, time-limited registration period would be created with a start date at least 14 days prior to April 1st, which is the first date when cap-subject petitions may be filed each year. During the initial registration period USCIS would determine whether sufficient employer registrations were received to reach the regular cap for the new fiscal year.

  • If not, USCIS would notify all registrants that they may file their H-1B cap-subject petitions on behalf of the named beneficiaries and registration would remain open to employers.

    • On a rolling basis, USCIS would continue accepting and selecting electronic registrations until the regular H-1B cap is met, checking registration numbers at the end of each day to determine when there are enough to meet the cap.
    • A random selection may or may not be conducted as determined by USCIS.
  • If so, USCIS would close the registration period and randomly select enough registrants to meet the regular cap.
  • USCIS would notify the selected registrants of the applicable H-1B petition filing period and where to file their H-1B cap-subject petitions.
  • After the selection process is completed for the regular cap, USCIS would determine whether there are enough remaining eligible registrants to meet the 20,000 advanced degree exemption.
    • If not, USCIS would notify all registrants that they may file their H-1B cap-subject petitions on behalf of the named beneficiaries and registration would remain open to employers.
    • USCIS would continue accepting and selecting electronic registrations until the advanced degree exemption is met. A random selection may or may not be conducted as determined by USCIS.
  • If so, USCIS would close the registration period and use a computer-generated random selection process to meet the advanced degree exemption.

Petition Filing for Selected Registrants Only
USCIS would notify the selected registrants when and where they may file their H-1B petitions on behalf of the named beneficiaries.  Only the selected registrants would be permitted to file cap-subject H-1B petitions.

  • An employer that registers to file multiple petitions (each on behalf of a different beneficiary) may be selected to file some of its petitions and not selected for others.

Unselected Registrations
Unselected registrations would remain on reserve for the fiscal year so that if USCIS determined that it must increase the number of registrations to meet the regular cap or advanced degree exemption (presumably in case some of the selected registrants fail to file or their H-1B petitions are denied), then USCIS would select from among the reserve registrants and if needed re-open the registration until the regular and advance degree exemptions are met. 

  • If the registration period is re-opened, USCIS would announce the re-opened registration period start date on its website and accept additional registrations sufficient to meet the new projected amount of registrations needed to meet the regular cap and/or advanced degree exemption. 

 Selection Process

Regular Cap Exhausted First
With the goal of maximizing approvals for the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries, the proposed regulations would change the sequence for considering petitions filed for beneficiaries counted against the regular cap or beneficiaries counted under the advanced degree exemption.

  • USCIS would select registrants toward the regular cap first until that cap is reached.  This would include all registrants (that is, those seeking to employ beneficiaries with only bachelor degrees or equivalent as well as those with advanced degrees from US education institutions).
  • Only when the projected number of registrations needed to meet the regular cap is reached would USCIS select registrants who are eligible for the advanced degree exemption.

The proposed rule states that by changing the selection order, USCIS believes that the total number of petitions selected under the regular cap for H-1B beneficiaries possessing a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education will increase overall each fiscal year.


If you wish to discuss your plans for the upcoming H-1B cap season or the proposed rule, please contact your Fox Rothschild attorney or any of the firm’s Immigration Practice Group co-chairs.