In the recent H-1B visa lottery, 483,927 applications were filed for only 85,000 available visas. This means that more than 80 percent of applicants wanting an H-1B visa, which allows internationals to work in the U.S., won’t get one.
To reflect on this year’s H-1B lottery (which saw a 57 percent rise in applications) and to better understand the options available to students who didn’t win a visa this year, we spoke with international student career expert Marcelo Barros. Below is an excerpt of that conversation.
If an international student didn’t win an H-1B in this year’s lottery, what can they do to increase their odds of staying and working in the U.S.?
Barros: First, it’s important to point out that after the initial lotteries in 2021 and 2022, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services didn’t receive enough qualified applications to meet the annual quota of 85,000 visas and so they conducted subsequent draws to meet it—which could also happen again this year. As a backup plan, international students should remember that certain employers aren’t subject to the H-1B annual quota—in other words, the H-1B lottery doesn’t apply. It isn’t easy to secure one of these cap-exempt jobs, as they’re referred to, as they’re scarce, but this can be a smart strategy for some students. As a reminder, cap-exempt employers include higher education institutions, nonprofits associated with higher education institutions, nonprofit research organizations or government research organizations, and for-profit companies seeking to hire individuals for specialty occupation services.
What else can international students do to improve their chances of securing sponsorship?
Often, in today’s hot hiring market, multiple employers are competing to hire the same candidate. A desirable software developer with advanced coding skills may end up with a few job offers from different employers, all willing to try to secure an H-1B visa for them. So, securing multiple job offers from different employers, then having multiple entries at the lottery can work. And if all petitions get picked, then a student might be able to choose which one they’ll go with. This is the best-case scenario for international students and can give them tremendous negotiating power. It’s important to note that this strategy requires careful planning and extremely tight communication with each employer.
Have you personally seen this strategy work?
Yes. In the first quarter of 2022, we worked with 18 international students who each had at least two different entries in the lottery from different employers. Out of this group of 18 students, 14 received good news from the H-1B lottery. These are somewhat rare situations, but it was amazing to see this all unfold.
Turning to employers’ concerns, how is the H-1B demand-supply imbalance impacting U.S. businesses with critical positions to fill?
Say you work as a recruiter for Amazon. When you visit college campuses, here’s what you see: foreign nationals account for about 75 percent of the full-time graduate students in electrical engineering, 70 percent of the full-time graduate students in computer and information science, and 50 to 70 percent of the full-time graduate students in statistics, civil engineering, materials sciences, and pharmaceutical sciences. But it’s not just the massive numbers of international students with STEM degrees that’s attention-grabbing but also the caliber of these students—and their potential to add tremendous value to employers and the U.S. economy. So, as a recruiter, you’re eager and ready to hire these students, but in the back of your mind you know you’ll have to deal with an old and inefficient H-1B program, which makes it unnecessarily hard for you to hire and keep these international hires on payroll.
Is there any chance that quotas will increase in the coming years?
None of us should count on any significant changes anytime soon. Congress is unlikely to address the law of supply and demand for H-1B visas. So, it’s easy and understandable for our international students to get frustrated, but it’s important that they try not to do so. What we recommend international students to do is worry less about that the flawed H-1B program and instead make smart decisions early on during their academic studies in the U.S. that will make them irresistible to U.S. employers. There’s a lot that’s in control of career-driven international students seeking U.S. jobs, and thousands succeed every year.
What other trends have seen you seen impacting international students lately?
Unfortunately, we’ve seen an increase in the number of rescinded offers from employers lately. What happens is a graduate receives an offer in the fall for a job upon graduation in the spring, but then that offer gets rescinded about a month before graduation due to, according to the employer, “a change in business needs.” All of a sudden, these international students find themselves needing to quickly land a job so they don’t run the risk of violating their immigration status. It’s a very stressful situation, of course.
What can students do if they find themselves in this situation?
While there are no quick fixes for this tricky situation, international students need to immediately leverage social media and all other communication channels and let the world know that, unfortunately, they’re job searching again.
Are you seeing any positive trends?
Yes. Now that international student enrollment has stabilized, I’ve seen a lot of consistency from several universities in terms of providing their international students with as much job-search support as possible. This is excellent news for our international students. For example, the University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, one of our longstanding university partners, has a strong history of providing their international students with top job-search support. It’s something they prioritize and have taken much action on. Obviously, their international students benefit greatly from such focus and consistency.
Marcelo Barros is the founder of The International Advantage, and he specializes in providing job-search training for international students who seek U.S. jobs. Barros partners with over 70 U.S. universities to help their international students get noticed and hired. Next stops for The International Advantage include: School of Engineering and Applied Sciences/University at Buffalo on June 28, 2022, Mays Business School/ Texas A&M University on July 6, 2022, and Simon Business School/University of Rochester on July 12, 2022.