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New $10 Fee Proposed for Upcoming H-1B Lottery Registration (2)

Sept. 3, 2019, 12:59 PMUpdated: Sept. 3, 2019, 4:16 PM

Employers seeking H-1B visas in next year’s lottery would have to pay an extra $10 over and above what they already pay under a new Homeland Security Department proposal.

The proposed regulation, released Sept. 3, would implement the fee to cover the electronic preregistration process for the annual visa lottery, which is run by the DHS’ U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Businesses already pay at least $1,710 or $2,460 per worker for the specialty occupation visas, depending on the size of the employer. Companies with high proportions of temporary foreign workers also must pay an additional $4,000 per H-1B petition, and many employers also pay an extra $1,410 for fast-track processing. The extra $10 is minimal compared with the other fees, which are projected to increase soon.

The electronic system being used for H-1B preregistration won’t be a “totally separate system,” but still will involve startup costs, the agency said. The USCIS largely is funded by user fees rather than appropriations.

For the past several years, all 85,000 H-1B specialty occupation visas have been snapped up in the first week of April, the earliest employers can apply for the visas for the upcoming fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. H-1Bs, popular in the tech industry, are used heavily by companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Apple.

The USCIS is estimating that employers will complete 192,918 H-1B registrations each year.

The preregistration process would allow employers to know whether they’ve been selected in the lottery before having to complete and turn in hefty application packages.

The USCIS says it’s intended to make the lottery smoother for employers, and is expected to save them a total of between $42.7 million and $66.8 million annually. Those savings, however, are for employers that aren’t selected in the lottery—those who are are expected to incur total opportunity costs of between $6.2 million and $10.3 million annually as a result of the preregistration.

The extra $10 fee is expected to add another $2.3 million to $2.6 million in total costs to employers.

Timing, Input Concerning

Immigration attorneys and advocates aren’t opposed to the preregistration process in and of itself. But they’ve expressed concern about the timing and manner of the rollout.

An Aug. 16 letter from immigration and business advocates to acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli asks that the agency both give a heads-up about whether there will be preregistration next year and solicit more public opinion before implementing it. The time and cost savings the agency expects from the process won’t be realized if employers must start preparing their applications anyway because they can’t be sure whether preregistration will be an option, the letter says.

The USCIS said in its Sept. 3 proposal that implementation could come as soon as next April. A separate notice will announce the launch of the electronic registration process.

The new process first was announced under a regulation issued in late January. That regulation also changed the order that the USCIS conducts the lottery in order to maximize the number of H-1B specialty occupation visas that go to workers with master’s degrees from U.S. colleges and universities.

Electronic preregistration, initially proposed by the Obama administration, was a top priority of former USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna. Cissna had wanted it in place for the lottery that was run earlier this year. However, it was waylaid by the Trump administration’s push to issue the “public charge” rule, which denies green cards to immigrants who have used or potentially will use certain forms of public assistance.

The public charge rule was finalized Aug. 12.

(Story updated with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bloomberglaw.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com

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