H1B Lottery Reversal Benefits Holders of Master’s Degrees

In addition to the new online registration rules for H1B petition sponsors, there is another change that will now favor applicants with advanced degrees.  This is one more measure aimed at giving priority to the ‘best and brightest’ H1B workers, and although it is a simple move, it will increase your chances by 16% of being selected if you hold a Master’s degree or higher.

Reversal in Order of the Two Lottery Cap Groups

The H1B lottery each April is split into two separate groups: those with Bachelor’s degrees (regular cap) and those with more advanced degrees (Master’s exemption).  The regular cap lottery is for 65, 000 visas and the Master’s exemption allows for 20,000 visas awarded.

Previously, the Master’s exemption lottery was held first, and then any Master’s applicant not selected would automatically be entered into the regular cap lottery.  This meant they would have two chances at being selected.

The new rule will reverse the order, so that the regular cap lottery is held first and then the Master’s exemption lottery second.  Those with advanced degrees will still have two chances, but with better odds of being selected.

Why Does this Benefit Advanced Degree Holders?

At first glance, it may not seem like this changes the odds very much, but if you look at the math and lottery probabilities it becomes clear why the USCIS has made this change.

  • In the 2018 (FY2019) lottery there were roughly 95,000 petitions each for the regular and Master’s rounds, for a total of 190,000 petitions.  
  • What this meant, is that 75,000 Master’s applicants were not selected in their exemption round of 20,000 petitions.
  • Then, they joined the 95,000 regular cap petitions, for a total of 170,000 entries.  
  • This gave the regular petition entries better odds of being selected in the regular cap lottery than the smaller group of ‘second chance’ Master’s entries.

Now, all 95,000 Master’s petitions would be entered along with the regular cap petitions, meaning that they have a 50% chance getting selected in the regular round.  Then, if not selected they would have their second chance in the Master’s lottery.

Applying that formula to the 2018 lottery would have meant that 32,500 Master’s petitions would have been selected in the regular round, plus the 20,000 in the Master’s lottery, for a total of 62,500 Master’s exemption petitions.  

The USCIS claims that this results in the advanced degree holders to have a 16% overall better chance of being selected in the lottery.  It also means that a projected 73% of all H1B visa petitions selected in the future will be for those with Master’s degrees.

This does make sense, since previously the Master’s petitions were a smaller percentage in the regular lottery, and assuming the lottery is truly random then the USCIS is correct.

The Key Takeaway: If You Really Want to Secure an H1B Visa, Get a Master’s Degree

The message here is clear for hopeful H1B visa workers.  If you want to have the best chance of being selected for an H1B visa, obtain a Master’s degree.  When you couple this with the clear trend away from outsourcing companies, the new Labor Condition Application rules and preference for higher wage positions, it becomes clear that the H1B visa program is being geared toward real specialists in their field.

Of course, you can always side step the entire lottery process, and start applying now for cap-exempt positions, which often pay just as much for many specialty occupations.

  • February 3rd, 2019
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