Indian students completing master’s in U.S. stand better chance to get H-1B visas

New rules aimed at ranking U.S. degree above skills gained in foreign countries

May 04, 2019 09:12 pm | Updated 10:30 pm IST

Prioritising students in U.S. would help Indians, who account for 20% of international students.

Prioritising students in U.S. would help Indians, who account for 20% of international students.

Under the new visa regime in the U.S., which kicked off in April, foreign students who complete their master’s or any higher degree from American universities will have a better chance of obtaining H-IB visas, say immigration experts based in the U.S.

The master’s cap of 20,000 visas is available only to applicants with a master’s or a higher degree from nationally-accredited public or not-for-profit educational institution in the U.S.

As per the changed policy, a lottery for 65,000 visas will be held first with both bachelor’s and advanced degree holders eligible for selection. Once the regular cap is filled, the master’s cap, restricted only to those with advanced degrees, will be held.

Earlier, 20,000 applicants with advanced degrees would have moved out of the system by the time the regular lottery was conducted, giving other applicants a better shot at selection. Now, there would be more such applicants in the regular draw, which obviously results in a disadvantage for those applying with just a bachelor’s degree.

Mark Davies, global chairman of New York-based Davies & Associates, LLC, said, “Given the challenges facing the H-1B programme at present, any proposal to prioritise students who study in the United States would represent a very positive development for Indians, who account for around 20% of all international students in the country.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, Vivek Tandon, founder & CEO of EB5 BRICS, a California-based immigration advisory firm, said, “Under the changed scenario, it would be interesting to see how Indian students in the U.S. may stand a better chance to get H-IB visas.”

Eligibility unchanged

The eligibility requirements for students remain unchanged. Yet, with a bigger pool of master’s and advanced degree holders participating in the draw, those planning to apply for an H-1B after a bachelor’s degree will be at a disadvantage, he added. Facing significantly higher rejections and Requests for Evidence (RFEs), Indian IT companies have already begun ramping up hiring in the U.S., but are hampered by the small size of the talent pool in that country.

“This change shrinks the pool of visas available to Bachelor’s degree holders and will make it tougher for Indian IT workers to work in the U.S.,” added Mr. Tandon.

Explaining why inexperienced Indian students may be granted H-1B visas and not skilled Indian tech workers, he said the policy change, which aims at prioritising master’s degree holders for the H-1B visa, seems to be a step towards this objective. “Since Indian IT workers rarely opt for advanced U.S. degrees, this move aims to rank a U.S. degree above skills or valuable work experience gained in a foreign country like India or Vietnam.”

Increasing restrictions on the H-1B, for example, on a spouse’s right to work and on the threshold salary, could still impact Indians who meet the U.S. study requirements.

“As a result of this uncertainty, we are seeing an increasing number of people seeking alternative immigration solutions. This includes L1 visas, an E-2 visa coupled with citizenship of Grenada, and the EB-5 investor visa, which is the fastest route to a Green Card,” added Mr. Davies.

The H-1B puzzle

The USCIS had recently reversed the order in which it conducted the H-1B lottery, which is held if the number of H-1B petitions exceeds the annual cap of 85,000 visas.

This cap consists of two categories — 20,000 visas open only to applicants with a Master’s or higher degree and 65,000 visas open to all eligible applicants including those with advanced degrees. Until now, the lottery for the master’s cap was held first. Going ahead, lottery for the regular cap will be done first followed by the baster’s lottery.

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