Playing the Lottery: The New H-1B Visa Electronic Registration Process

On January 9, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) formally announced that the much-anticipated H-1B electronic registration process will be implemented for this year’s “H-1B cap” cycle. Accordingly, employers and prospective employers of foreign national employees in the U.S. will need to follow a new process in petitioning for H-1B employment visas and must take note of important updates to filing deadlines.

What is an H-1B Visa?

  • In the realm of U.S. nonimmigrant employment visas, the H-1B is perhaps the most common and coveted. This is likely attributed in large part to the very limited number of U.S. employment visa options available to foreign nationals, including recent STEM graduates of U.S. universities who comprise a coveted talent pool.
  • The H-1B is appropriate for foreign nationals who will work in “specialty occupation” positions in the U.S. (i.e. professional-level roles requiring at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a specific field of study). While there is no bulletproof list of qualifying positions, accountant, lawyer and scientist roles (requiring a degree in accountancy, law and science, respectively) might make a strong specialty occupation case; whereas roles in market research, computer programming and management consulting are likely to receive more scrutiny as to whether a specific degree at the bachelor’s level or higher could be considered a bona fide requirement.

The H-1B “Lottery”

  • Each fiscal year there are 65,000 new H-1B visas available plus an additional 20,000 reserved for holders of U.S. Master’s degrees or higher.
  • Given this numerical limitation, the number of annual applications for the visa from petitioning employers for their employees/prospective employees (“H-1B petitions”) typically greatly exceeds the supply. Indeed, for last year’s H-1B cycle, USCIS received over 200,000 petitions for the 85,000 available visas.
  • Accordingly, H-1B petitions are regularly subject to a randomized lottery conducted by USCIS wherein only a portion of petitions received will be selected for further processing. This visa limit and lottery process are also commonly referred to as the “H-1B cap.”
  • H-1B petitions selected for processing in the lottery then need to undergo a formal adjudication process wherein the merits of the H-1B petition—including the qualification of the offered position as a specialty occupation—will be assessed by USCIS under the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Ultimately, petitions selected in the lottery can either be approved or denied; H-1B denials have increased at a significant rate in recent years.

What is Changing?

  • Historically, petitioning employers were required to submit full hard-copy H-1B petition filing packages within the first few days of April to the appropriate USCIS Service Center. Complete H-1B petitions typically consist of government filing fees, numerous forms completed and signed by the petitioner, a detailed supporting statement outlining the specialty position and the employee beneficiary’s qualifications, and a host of supporting documentation. Assuming USCIS received more petitions than visas available during the first five business days in April, the filing window would then close and the lottery would be run. Petitions that were not selected in the randomized lottery would be returned to employers (or their legal counsel) unadjudicated.
  • Now under the new filing scheme, in lieu of mailing complete H-1B petition filing packages to USCIS in early April, employers (or legal counsel) must electronically register each individual H-1B application it seeks to enter into the lottery between March 1 and March 20, 2020. In the unlikely event ample registrations are not received by March 20, the registration window will be extended.
  • The information collected by USCIS during the new electronic registration process will be limited to basic information pertaining to the petitioning company and employee beneficiary.
  • Assuming ample registrations are received within the aforementioned window, which seems likely, the randomized lottery will then be conducted, and only cases selected in the lottery should then be mailed in full to USCIS for adjudication.

Practical Considerations

  • While many employers may have early April engrained in their head as the standard annual H-1B filing deadline, it is most important to mark March 20, 2020 as the likely drop-dead deadline for entry into the H-1B lottery.
  • Employers should also consider at what point within this window to file their registration(s) for applicable employees. While many may rush to file on March 1, government systems are far from immune to standard IT glitches, and some may prefer to take a wait-and-see approach for any issues that may pop up in early March with this new electronic system.
  • It is most common to issue spot any problems with H-1B petitions through the preparation process. For example, if the job duties of the role can realistically be considered “professional” or if the employee possesses the requisite credentials to qualify for the specialty occupation. Given that minimal information will be collected during the electronic registration process, employers will need to consider how much time to invest in diligence upfront prior to submitting the registrations.
  • While one of the clear benefits of the new electronic registration process is that employers may save the time/costs of preparing voluminous H-1B filing packages that would ultimately not be selected in the lottery for review, employers may nevertheless see benefit in preparing the petitions at present in the background, so they are ready to file the petition with USCIS quickly upon learning of a positive outcome from the lottery.

Ultimately preparation is key, and employers should consider this new process and impact to its workforce now in order to determine a plan of action, manage employee expectations and prepare for any hiccups during this inaugural year of the electronic registration process.

New Year’s Resolutions: Cases To Watch For California Employers in 2020

With the new year comes the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court, and the Ninth Circuit will issue a number of significant decisions spanning a range of topics in the employment arena.  In addition to the new California laws that have recently come into effect, covered here, California employers should watch these three litigation areas as well: READ MORE

The TRO on AB 51 is Still in Effect Following Oral Argument – With Modifications and Supplemental Briefing On The Way

On Friday, January 10, 2020, Chief United States District Judge Kimberly Mueller of the Eastern District of California heard oral argument on plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction.  As a result of clarifications made at the oral argument, the temporary restraining order (TRO) has been modified from its broad applicability to only enjoin defendants from enforcing AB 51 to the extent it applies to arbitration agreements covered by the FAA.  The revised TRO will remain in effect until January 31, 2020, at which point we might have a ruling on the preliminary injunction.  Judge Mueller concluded the oral argument by providing both parties the opportunity to submit supplemental briefing on two issues:  (1)  jurisdiction/standing; and (2)  severability.  As to the latter issue, Judge Mueller indicated she would accept specific proposals related to how the arbitration-related sections of the statute might be severed if she decided to grant the injunction on FAA preemption grounds. READ MORE

Crowdworkers Are Not Employees Under German Employment Law

In one of its latest rulings, the Regional Labor Court of Munich concluded that crowdworkers or microtaskers are not employees under German employment law. However, the Court has allowed an appeal to the Federal Labor Court. READ MORE

How To Deal with Strikes in France?

In 2019, France has been facing many strikes and social movements which impacted companies in term of business and staff management. Who did not hear about the “Yellow vests” movement or, more recently, the claims raised against the retirement reform which are still on-going?

Many employers are wondering how to properly react and manage their strikers and non-strikers’ employees. You will find some tips hereafter.

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Five Common Mistakes Employers Make Under USERRA

  1. Treating Voluntary Uniformed Service Differently than Involuntary Service

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) prohibits employers of all types and sizes from discriminating against applicants and employees based on uniformed service, which includes service in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, the Guard and Reserve components of military services, and the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service. The law grants strong reemployment rights and protections for service members returning to their civilian jobs. READ MORE

New California Employment Laws for 2020

2020 is upon us, and with it, a slew of new employment laws that are now in effect. Read on for a description of 13 key employment laws every employer operating in California should know about going into 2020. For more information on these laws and advice regarding best practices, check out our California Employment Law Update Seminars taking place at our San Francisco office on January 9, 2020 and Silicon Valley office on January 22, 2020. READ MORE

Try To Restrain Yourself: California Is Temporarily Restrained From Enforcing Arbitration Ban

Remember California’s new ban on mandatory workplace arbitration agreements? The Eastern District of California has put it on ice, granting a temporary restraining order against the ban’s enforcement. As a refresher, and as we wrote about here, on October 10, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law California’s latest afront on workplace arbitration—AB 51. Under AB 51, employers may not, “as a condition of employment, continued employment, or the receipt of any employment-related benefit, require an applicant or employee to waive any right, forum, or procedure” for FEHA and Labor Code claims. Violations of the new statute carry hefty consequences, including criminal penalties. Many employers see arbitration agreements as necessary to manage employment disputes and an outright ban on this efficient process strongly affects their bottom line. The ban was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2020, but the TRO put enforcement on hold for now. READ MORE

CFTC Whistleblower Program Ends the Year with Another Seven-Figure Bounty Award

On December 19, 2019, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced that it will award more than $1 million to an individual whose tip helped expose a securities fraud scheme and eventually led to the CFTC filing charges. The individual first provided the information through the employer’s internal compliance program, which the employer submitted to another regulator, and the individual subsequently provided that information directly to the CFTC.  The award is significant because it recognizes that individuals are eligible to receive an award for: (1) being the original source of information the CFTC receives from another regulator; and (2) a tip that leads to evidence of a violation the CFTC ultimately charges, even if the reported conduct itself does not form the basis for those charges. READ MORE

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure: California DFEH Clarifies Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Requirements

California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”) has updated its Employer FAQ guidance addressing the new sexual harassment prevention training requirements that were initially set to go into effect on January 1, 2020.  However, an amendment to the bill earlier this year moved the effective date to January 1, 2021.  As we reported when the initial bill was passed last year, the law expands harassment training requirements from employers with fifty or more employees to those with five or more employees, and from requiring training for supervisory employees only to requiring training for non-supervisory employees as well.  The training must be repeated once every two years. READ MORE