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H-1B Lottery Starts March 9, 2021 with Good News for Employers

H-1B Lottery

February 17, 2021

Starting Tuesday, March 9 through Noon on Thursday, March 25, 2021, employers may register for the H-1B “cap” so their foreign national employees or candidates have a chance to be chosen in the H-1B lottery. Late last week the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) announced that the lottery will continue to be based on a random ranking process and not the recently published wage-based ranking. The USCIS confirmed they are pushing back the implementation of the wage-based H-1B ranking process until next year.

The H-1B lottery exists because Congress established an annual quota of 65,000 H-1B visas (regular cap), plus an additional 20,000 H-1B visas for foreign nationals who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher (master’s cap). In every year where the demand for H-1Bs has exceeded the quota, the USCIS employs a random ranking process for allocation known as the H-1B lottery. In January, the government published a rule to change the ranking process from random to a wage-based ranking. The government’s authority to make this change is likely to be challenged if it is not withdrawn.


An important exception to the cap on H-1Bs exists. Higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations affiliated with a higher education institution and nonprofit research or government organizations all are “cap-exempt” and may file H-1B petitions at any time. All other employers are limited by the H-1B annual quota.

Good News for Employers

The announcement of the registration process and the rule implementation delay allowing this year’s H-1B lottery to remain based on a random selection process is good news for employers, especially in Iowa where many jobs that qualify for H-1B visas are hard to fill. The online registration process implemented last year was reasonably successful and reduced the effort and cost of the initial process by collecting limited information for the lottery drawing. If an application is chosen in the lottery, a comprehensive application is submitted.

The Time to Start is Now

Although the registration process is not complicated, it does require several steps and a collection of information. We also recommend that the labor condition application (LCA), a pre-cursor to the H-1B filing, be submitted with the Department of Labor in advance of the lottery drawing. This will avoid time crunches later.

Through the Global DSM: International Talent Strategy, The Partnership works to establish Greater Des Moines (DSM) as a global community attracting and retaining foreign-born persons to the region.

Dentons Davis Brown

Dentons Davis Brown Law Firm provides legal services in Greater Des Moines (DSM).