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Trump’s administration is looking for ways to distribute H-1b visas not based on lottery system (like it is currently working) but based on “merit”

Just a few hours ago a pretty good article came out explaining how Trump’s reform will affect H-1B visas. The nuts and bolts of it is that Trump’s administration is looking for ways to distribute H-1b visas not based on lottery system (like it is currently working) but based on “merit”. This entire sentence may sound like a mumbo jumbo, so let me step back and explain how the system currently works.

There are 85,000 H-1B visas issued to foreign professionals looking to work in the U.S. annually.

When this program started (somewhere around 1990s) there were fewer people trying to get a job in America than there were available slots (hard to believe, right?). The application process was pretty straightforward. You apply for a job, get hired, your employer applies for your H-1B visa sometime between April 1 and September and voila, you can now live and work in the U.S. for up to 6 years. Employers didn’t rush with applications and everyone who was petitioned for got their working visas. But a few years ago (somewhere around 2009 - 2011) things started to change drastically. Large recruitment companies who make money by employing and “selling” cheap labor to their clients started applying for more and more foreigners. Suddenly (and I remember that year very well), the volume of applications rose exponentially and demand for H-1b visas exceeded its supply.

Read also U.S. non-immigrant work visas types

The law states that all H-1B applications will be reviewed in the order they are received. Knowing this, companies started to send their petitions on April 1st when the application begins. Imagine that on April 1st hundreds of thousands of applications are sent for review. Which ones do you prioritize for 85,000 slots? The law further dictates that in such event there will be a “lottery” which randomly selects 85,000 applications and rejects the rest. Note: it’s actually a little more complicated than that with applications being divided into “general” and “advanced” but I can write about it under a different question. Are you still with me? We are back to the lottery.

Many people have gone through the lottery and got selected but in 2012 there were somewhere around 100K applications for 85K slots which isn’t that bad. In 2016 over 230K applications came in on April 1st. This means that only 4 out of 10 people were selected. The problem with this lottery was that it left the decision on who will have an opportunity to work in the U.S. to chance which is not exactly in the spirit of the purpose of this visa. H-1B visa program was created to attract the best and brightest talent to the country, not to pick people randomly.

Trump administration is looking to change this.

The idea is that in the event when the number of applications exceeds the number of available slots, applications will be prioritized based on the applicant’s profile. Currently, two main criteria are being considered: whether an applicant has U.S. educational degree and what salary s/he is going to be paid. Trump’s administration is hoping that this will help keep the best and the brightest in the country and send everyone else home.

Disclaimer: I do not intend to share my political views on Trump, his administration or his views on H-1B program. The intent of this post is to address the question that has been growing ever since he has been elected President.