Online H-1B visa registration won’t be ready for H-1B season

A planned online registration system won’t be ready when people can next apply for new H-1B work visas on April 1.

On Wednesday, the US Department of Homeland Security released a copy of new H-1B visa process requirements. The requirements will change the order in which H-1B registrations are selected to help get more qualified job candidates into American businesses. They will also require online registration, once the online system is up and running.

The government had planned to roll out a more modernized registration system by April 1. But the public expressed concern about bringing a new system online too early.

“USCIS has decided to suspend the registration requirement until such time that the registration system is fully tested to be reliably operable, and, as necessary, modified to address commenters concerns,” the 214-page final rule draft states.

It was unclear when online registration will become available. Applicants will be able to continue to file paper petitions.

The H-1B visa is popular in American business. Some companies, especially in the tech sector, use H-1B visas to help fill their workforces. Tech firms big and small say they need the program to hire trained talent they can’t find in the United States. The work visa is valid for three years and can be renewed for another three years.

The number of H-1B visas granted annually is capped at 65,000, and another 20,000 are reserved for people who hold advanced degrees from US higher education institutions. When demand exceeds the supply — as it often does — a lottery system is triggered.

The final rule changes the selection process so that all registrations are first applied to the 65,000 visa cap. After that, US Citizenship and Immigration Services will select from the remaining applicant pool to fill the degree cap. The agency has said the process could increase the number of H-1B holders who have advanced degrees.

The changes are in line with guidance to implement President Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” strategy.

Because of the changes, “US employers seeking to employ foreign workers with a US master’s or higher degree will have a greater chance of selection in the H-1B lottery in years of excess demand for new H-1B visas,” USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said in a statement.