Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
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What do I and my founding team at our early-stage startup need to be aware of so we can be on track for the next H-1B lottery for the STEM OPT candidates we’re hiring?
— Strong Strategizer
Congrats — it’s only August and you are on top of things! Glad you’re planning now so you can be on track and have smooth seas and clear skies ahead for the next round of H-1Bs. It’s super important now, as we just had some recent H-1B lottery updates and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is still working through pretty deep case backlogs. By starting now, you can maximize your ability to retain your talent.
Just this week, USCIS announced that they are done selecting people for the April 2022 lottery. There was an electronic registration process in March for all the people who wanted to be chosen for H-1Bs in April, and they were all hopefuls for an October 1, 2022 H-1B start date.
For the past several years since USCIS established the March electronic lottery system, they have underestimated the number of selected H-1B registrants whose petitioners would follow through and submit the full I-129 petition for the H-1B by the June 30 deadline. So, in prior years, USCIS held multiple registrant selection processes — in July, September and beyond — to fill the remaining spots available for H-1Bs for the fiscal year before the government reached the limit.
Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)
We were all surprised in July this year when no second selection process occurred. This week, USCIS confirmed that they received enough H-1B petitions to meet this year’s limit, and they changed everybody else’s status in their system to “Not Selected” this week.
It’s likely they’re getting better statistical estimates of the petition rate, and how many registrants to select to maximize the 85,000 total annual H-1B cap-subject visas. Next year and beyond, it is likely that all registrants will be selected in March, and that no further selection periods will be held throughout the summer or fall.
Now let’s dive into everything you should keep in mind when applying for STEM OPT and preparing for next year’s H-1B lottery. As you know, STEM OPT (Optional Practical Training) is the two-year extension of OPT for individuals on an F-1 student visa whose field of study is on the list of STEM-designated degrees.
Timing is important
The earliest a candidate can apply for STEM OPT is 90 days before the current 12-month OPT EAD (Employment Authorization Document) is set to expire. I recommend that they submit their application as early as possible.