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New H-1B proposed rule seen as incentive to take up US studies

The H-1B visa lottery as we know it is no more. Instead, the new rule is a preference or priority selection system that gives applicants with Masters or advanced degrees the edge.

Crispin ArandaOriginally posted on December 24, 2018; updated December 3, 2018

New H-1B proposed rule  seen as incentive to take up US studies

On November 30, 2018 the Department of Homeland Security announced a proposed rule that would give preference to H-1B visa applicants who have obtained a U.S. Master or advanced degree.  At the same time, the rule shuffles the current visa lottery and requires employers to register their temporary staffing needs for selection.

Universities and colleges offering post-graduate courses in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics see this as a welcome development that would increase enrolment in STEM courses.

The proposed rule would “require petitioners seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions to first electronically register with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) during a designated registration period.”

Under the proposed rule:

1.  The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would “reverse the order by which USCIS selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B cap and the advanced degree exemption, likely increasing the number of beneficiaries with a master’s or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education to be selected for an H-1B cap number and introducing a more meritorious selection of beneficiaries.” 

The current selection is through the visa lottery for the yearly cap of 65,000 H-1B visas and the additional 20,000 cap exempt for foreign workers with advanced degrees, e.g., Masters obtained in the U.S.

2.   The USCIS could “temporarily suspend the registration process during any fiscal year in which USCIS may experience technical challenges with the H-1B registration process and the new electronic system.”  It is a Trumpian laissez faire, letting the H-1B employers and applicants beware.

In fact, CompeteAmerica, in a letter to USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna, warned that the “agency’s current approach to H-1B adjudications cannot be anticipated by either the statutory or regulatory text, leaving employers with a disruptive lack of clarity about the agency’s practices, procedures, and policies…(that could) wreak havoc among the nation’s employers which are hiring high-skilled Americans and foreign-born professionals.”

H-1B visa petitions under Trump

In 2004, 312,200 H-1B visas were issued. While the yearly cap remains at 65,000 and cap-exempt at 20,000, the cap does not count extensions and those filed by other exempt employers such as institutions of higher learning.

During that fiscal year, the approved H-12B petitions show that

  • Approximately 43 percent were for workers born in India.
  • Sixty-six percent were for workers between the ages of 25 and 34.
  • Forty-nine percent were for workers with a bachelor’s degrees.
  • Thirty-four percent had a master’s degree, 11%per had a doctorate and 5% were for workers with a professional degree.
  • Forty-four percent were for workers in computer-related occupations.
  • The median salary rose slightly from $52,000 in fiscal year 2003 to $53,000 in fiscal year 2004.






In 2016, a tal of 345,262 H-1B petitions were approved including 230,759 continuing employment applications—the highest level yet.

The increases result largely from H-1B extensions, not included in the 65.000 annual cap . As in 2004, a majority of the H-1B applicants were from India many of whom are awaiting their  green cards.

In 2017, USCIS validates the top findings of a 2017 by the Migration Policy Institute mirrors the 2004 statistics:

  • Almost one-third of all approved H-1B petitions in fiscal 2017 went to just 20 companies, even as 40,645 firms were approved to sponsor H-1B visas that year: 75.% were from India, the average age range was between 25 to 34.
  • While the number of H-1B holders decreased from 49% to 45% the cap exempt H-1B holders with advanced degrees increased from 39% to 44%.
  • IT-related H-1Bs increased from 44% in 2004 to 69.8% in 2017 and the median income rose from $52,000 to  Among the top 20 firms, those with the highest share of H-1Bs pay less and 485,000.
  • About 71,000 spouses of H-1B visa holders have received work authorization under a 2015 policy that the Trump administration has signaled it plans to end.

In 2010 at the end of the Obama administration, 247,000 H-1B visas were filed; 192,990 approved. During the first year of the Trump presidency, H-1B filings almost doubled to 403,675 with 365,682 approved.

As for the H-2B, there were 57,600 issued in 2013, compared to 83,600 in 2017

In 2016, the USCIS report shows that of the total 85,502 h-2B visas 61,128 were from Mexico.  Applicants from the Philippines was a measly 835.

STEM EnroIment

International students make up the large majority of full-time students in many graduate science- and engineering-related programs, and their numbers have been rising much faster than the number of domestic students, according to a new report from the National Foundation for American Policy, a research organization focused on immigration and the economy.

The report found 81 percent of full-time graduate students in electrical and petroleum engineering programs at U.S. universities are international students, and 79 percent in computer science are. The report, which updates a previous version published in 2013, argues that at many U.S. universities “both majors and graduate programs could not be maintained without international students.” It further argues that “the increase in both the size and number of graduate programs in science and engineering at U.S. universities indicates U.S. student enrollment has not been held down by the lack of available slots at U.S. graduate schools.”

Field of Study Percent International Number of Full-Time International Graduate Students in 2015 Number of Full-Time U.S. Graduate Students in 2015
Electrical Engineering 81% 32,736 7,783
Petroleum Engineering 81% 1,258 302
Computer Science 79% 45,790 12,539
Industrial Engineering 75% 7,676 2,539
Statistics 69% 4,321 1,966
Economics 63% 7,770 4,492
Mechanical Engineering 62% 12,676 7,644
Civil Engineering 59% 9,159 6,284
Chemical Engineering 57% 5,001 3,834
Pharmaceutical Sciences 56% 1,931 1,502
Metallurgical/Materials Engineering 55% 3,723 3,103
Agricultural Engineering 53% 726 654
Agricultural Economics 53% 881 796

The report found that between 1995 and 2015, the number of full-time domestic students enrolled in graduate computer science programs increased by 45 percent, from 8,627 to 12,539 students, while the number of full-time international graduate students increased by about 480 percent, from 7,883 in 1995 to 45,790 in 2015.



Authors & Contributors

Crispin Aranda

Crispin Aranda

Crispin R. Aranda is an established International Visa Conselor and Immigrant Advocate. He is the president of IVC and is in several migration radio programs.

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