Expect a Drop in H-1B Lottery Applications, as New Rules Go into Effect

By David North on March 27, 2024

The annual give-away of about 100,000 new H-1B lottery slots has just ended, with the question being: How many have applied this time around under the new rules?

Here’s the numerical framework for the H1-B allocation as set by Congress: Each year 20,000 people with advanced degrees get chosen in the first round of the lottery; most are in the IT business. The losers in that round and many others with only bachelor’s degrees then compete for the remaining 65,000 private industry slots. In addition, each year public-sector and non-profit employers usually hire at least 15,000 more H-1Bs outside the lottery system.

Given both a rules change (more on that below) and the industry’s layoffs of more than 300,000 high-tech workers (since January 1, 2023), according to Google, one might expect a decrease in the level of applications from the 780,884 of last year, an all-time high. The 300,000 layoffs figure includes an unknown mix of H-1B, citizen, and green-card workers.

The rules change made by USCIS was an important one; it allows individual applicants to file only a single application this year, unless they have an advanced degree. Last year, there was no such limit and a majority of the 780,884 were duplicate filings, which led to a second lottery, as many of the approvals were not accepted by the employer-winners.

The elimination of duplicate filings is a mixed blessing; on one hand, it reduces the work burden on USCIS, but on the other it probably reduces the quality of the incoming H-1B workforce. An outgoing H-1B applicant with a degree from an American university or a first-class Indian institution might well be a better candidate than someone who just barely made it through a lesser institution. Such a candidate might have more than one would-be employer seeking his or her services and thus be the subject of multiple applications. But under the new rules both the lesser and the more talented candidate have a single chance at the lottery.

Currently, only candidates with master’s degrees have more than one chance at the lottery.

The layoffs, oddly, are not figured into the lottery system. An employer could lay off more than 1,000 H-1Bs and then turn around and file for 2,000 new ones on the next round of applications and have all its applications initially accepted for the lottery.

A better system for allocating H-1B slots would be run an auction, and not a lottery; i.e., award visas based on the salary offered. This would allow the best and the brightest, not the luckiest, to be added to our tech workforce, and would run up the cost of the whole system, perhaps opening some jobs for American workers.

The application period ended at noon on March 25.