USA is replacing the current visa lottery system with a salary-based approach

The US Department of Homeland Security has issued a new final rule on the H-1B work visa that will replace the current lottery system with a salary-based approach, a move that some international education industry stakeholders said would impact on international students, while a Presidential proclamation has extended the suspension of H-1B and J-1 work visas.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which sits within DHS, said that the new final rule, due to come into effect on March 9th, will “prioritize wages to protect the economic interests of US workers”.

At present, the H-1B visa for skilled workers has a lottery system of 65,000 visas per year, with an additional 20,000 lottery for applicants with a master’s degree obtained from a US institution.

Under the new system, employers filing registrations for H-1B visas will need to demonstrate that the salary is above the ‘required wage’ for occupations as defined by the Department of Labor, and priority will be given to the highest-level employees in the H-1B system (Wage Level IV for ‘experts and experienced leaders’) and descend down to the lowest level. The new system will not affect the visa cap numbers.

It is possible that the incoming Biden administration could rescind the new DHS rule, but during the Presidential election campaign last year he also spoke in favor of a salary-based system.

However, President-Elect Biden also pledged in his manifesto to provide international PhD students with an automatic green card, thus exempting them from the H-1B lottery system.

Meanwhile, on December 31st President Trump issued an extension of a Presidential Proclamation suspending the issuance of work-related visas until the end of March.

The suspension covers the H-1B skilled visa as well as some strands of the J-1 exchange visa, including Summer Work Travel, Au Pair, Camp Counselor and Intern.


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