2019 H-1B Processing Kicked Off on April 1st.  New changes affect foreign-born workers and their employers –– including tech giants like Google, Amazon, and Apple.

First, a new USCIS policy gives applicants with advanced degrees a huge advantage. Second, employers can now pre-register applicants online.

Companies rely on H-1Bs to fill technical positions. In order to secure an H-1B, an employee must fulfill strict academic and professional requirements.

H-1Bs are typically issued in a lottery. In 2018, 120,000 applicants vied for 85,000 slots. Of these, 20,000 were set aside for candidates who have a master’s or PhD.

Now, applicants with advanced degrees can apply first for the initial 65,000 slots. Applicants whose petitions are not accepted will have a second chance and can apply for the 20,000 set aside.

Another new policy, which takes effect in 2020, will allow employers to pre-register H-1B applicants online. If selected, the applicant’s employer will submit a complete petition. Pre-registration will allow employers to submit petitions for more employees quickly and inexpensively. (Employers must currently submit petitions for each petition, which can cost thousands of dollars each to prepare.) However, one drawback is that pre-registration will dilute the pool and decrease the chance an applicant will be approved.

In short, these changes are good for employers but can make employees anxious.

The bad news is H-1B applications face greater scrutiny than ever. For example, under the Trump Administration USCIS has issued more requests for evidence (RFEs) than ever before. Meanwhile, the number of applicants that were approved after receiving an RFE has decreased.

In August 2018, several prominent business leaders –– including Tim Cook of Apple, Ginni Rommetty of IBM, and Jaime Dinnon of J.P. Morgan –– wrote an open letter to the Department of Homeland Security expressing concern about changes to the H-1B process, as well as their impact on foreign-born employees and their families.