Cyber security degree folded up sitting next graduation cap

During the final year of the Trump administration, USCIS and Homeland Security proposed switching out the H-1B lottery in favor of an application system that prioritized higher-salaried workers. While the Biden administration seems intent on abandoning many of Trump’s H-1B initiatives, it’s hinted that a system based on high wages is of interest.

Specifically, Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 would prioritize visas based on wages, and give both the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Labor the ability to determine the appropriate wage levels. Analysts and pundits have pointed out that such a system, if enacted, would harm the business model of the business-services and consulting firms that try to acquire lots of H-1B workers at relatively modest salaries.

But as pointed out in a new paper from the National Foundation for American Policy (PDF), abandoning the H-1B lottery could also have a huge impact on international students who often find their way into U.S. tech companies.

“Selecting H-1B petitions by salary level would favor those with the most experience in the labor market over those with the least experience, something not present under the current lottery system, which awards H-1B petitions by random selection when more applications (or ‘registrations’) are received than the annual limit allows,” the NFAP paper mentions. 

The NFAP also crunched some data: “The National Foundation for American Policy found that an international student may be 54 percent more likely to get an H-1B petition under the current H-1B lottery system than under the Trump administration’s regulation that would end the H-1B lottery, based on an NFAP analysis of actual cases of recent international students and filings for H- 1B petitions obtained from an immigration law firm.” 

Critics of the H-1B system, of course, would argue that the visa was originally intended for highly specialized workers whose skill-sets are hard to find, and that the vast majority of students (international or otherwise) don’t fall into that category.