Trump Merit-Based H1B Visa Program Proposal – Advanced Degree Approvals

One of the major changes proposed under the Trump administration is converting the current H-1B visa program into a more merit-based system. If enacted, this would affect the chances of many foreigners hoping to stay in the US as temporary workers.

The H-1B visa allows US employers to temporarily hire foreign talent in specialty occupations, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This type of employment visa is highly popular, especially since numerous US tech companies bring in workers from other countries, citing the need for more skilled labor in these fields.

Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers apply for this visa each year. However, the program limits the number of approved petitions at 65,000 annually, with an additional 20,000 slots for applicants who hold a master’s degree from an American university. If the number of petitions exceeds these caps, as is usually the case, the program conducts a “lottery” to determine who will be granted their visas.

The computer-generated random selection is currently done in two steps: First, all applicants with advanced degrees (master’s or higher) are counted in the lottery for the 20,000 advanced-degree approvals. Those who have advanced degrees but are not selected in the first round will then join all the applicants who do not have advanced degrees. This mixed group of petitioners are all counted in the second-round lottery, which is for the 65,000 approval slots.

This practice could be reversed if the merit-based system becomes law. The plan proposes these two steps: First, all the petitioners – whether advanced degree-holders or not – are counted in the lottery for the 65,000 approvals. Then, among those who are unselected, only those with advanced degrees will be counted in the additional lottery for 20,000 approvals.

This proposed system is in line with the suggested points-based reform in immigration. In a bill called the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act, each immigration hopeful would have to gain at least 30 points in order to be eligible for immigrant visa application.