As we enter the H-1B 2023-2024 season, U.S. employers and prospective foreign employees are preparing to submit their registrations and enter the annual H-1B lottery. One way to make your registration stand out is to enter the H-1B master’s cap degree exemption, a separate lottery for those who possess advanced degrees from eligible institutions. The master’s route gives individuals a better chance of being selected for the H-1B visa because there are only a limited number of visas available each year.
It may sound simple, but there are precise requirements to follow when applying. So let’s delve into the master’s cap, how it can benefit you, and how you can enter it.
The registration for the highly coveted H-1B visa lottery was conducted between March 1 and March 17, 2023. While there is no official announcement made by USCIS yet, attorneys and petitioners are receiving email notifications to check their registration accounts for selection notices. A sample notification is posted below. The email is being sent from [email protected] to the employer’s and/or attorney’s email address that was used for registration. (Updated 2/1/23)
What is H-1B Master’s Cap in 2023–2024
The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa designated for professionals who work in jobs that are considered specialty occupations. Compared to other work visas for skilled workers, the requirements are relatively lenient. Therefore, USCIS receives many registrations each year. To manage this, the USCIS has implemented an annual limit and uses a random lottery to choose the registrations to go into processing.
The regular H-1B cap, which comprises those who do not qualify for the master’s degree exemption, consists of 65,000 spots. In addition, USCIS saves 6,800 spots for Chilean and Singaporean residents. Another 20,000 places are available to candidates with a U.S. master’s degree or higher from eligible universities or institutions. This is what is sometimes called the advanced or master’s degree exemption. However, it is not really an exemption as it does not make you exempt from the H-1B cap.
The primary advantage of the advanced degree exemption is that it provides applicants with two opportunities to be selected for the H-1B visa. If you are not selected in the standard cap, your application will be entered into the H-1B master’s pool for the next chance to be chosen. This gives applicants with advanced degrees a better chance of having their H-1B visa approved compared to those who only have a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, the H-1B master’s cap usually receives fewer applications, this will generally improve your chances of being selected.
H-1B Master’s Quota Lottery and Registrations for 2023-24 Season
H-B petitioners need to register their alien beneficiaries before the opening of the lottery window. Here is how it will work:
- Before the H-1B filing window, employers must register their beneficiaries with the USCIS online system.
- The USCIS will then use the lottery system to select registered beneficiaries.
- The petitioners whose beneficiaries were selected will then file petitions.
According to USCIS, this method expedites the process because it avoids them having to sift through tens of thousands of petitions every year, making the filing process less expensive for employers.
All registrations—including H-1B master’s quota eligible registrations—are up for selection in the regular cap. Those registrations with advanced degree designations not selected in the regular cap will be put into the H-1B master’s cap afterward. According to USCIS, ordering the lottery this way increases the chances of selecting H-1B beneficiaries with a master’s degree or higher by up to 16%.
After the lottery selection, USCIS will notify employers if their registration was chosen, and the subsequent filing steps will take place. The employer will need to file the complete H-1B petition, and the entire package of documents will be sent to the designated service center, where it will then be rejected or approved. Each petition is given a USCIS case number, a tracking identifier.
H-1B Advanced Degree Exemption Eligibility
For you to qualify for the H-1B master’s degree exemption, there are two main requirements:
- You must have earned a master’s degree from an institution accredited by a nationally recognized agency.
- The U.S. institution should also be public or non-profit in nature.
Some formally recognized accrediting organizations include:
- Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
You can find a complete list of accreditation programs in the United States on the Department of Education’s website.
So, if the institution where you received your degree is unaccredited or happens to be a for-profit university, your petition will be denied. Please note that you’re also subject to all the other H-1B requirements.
Likewise, if you failed to meet that requirement and USCIS denied your petition, you also won’t be eligible to count towards the regular (65,000) cap. For that reason, it’s crucial to ensure you meet the statutory requirements before filing. Failure to do so only causes delays and additional frustration.
How the Pre-Registration System Works
As previously mentioned, each sponsor will submit a registration for their beneficiary rather than a petition. This involves creating an online account in the USCIS portal and submitting one registration for each beneficiary. Each sponsor can only submit one petition per beneficiary. However, keep in mind that a single sponsor can submit registrations for multiple beneficiaries, and beneficiaries can have registrations submitted for them by various employers.
On March 1, at 12 p.m. EST, the registration window will open, allowing sponsors to submit their registrations. This window will remain open until March 17 at 12 p.m. EST. Submitting a registration early or late in that time frame does not help or hurt your chances.
On March 31, the USCIS plans to release the lottery results. It will do this by changing the status of your online registration to one of four statuses:
Selected: This means that USCIS chose your registration in the lottery, and your sponsor can submit a petition.
Denied: If your sponsor submitted more than one registration on your behalf, then all of that sponsor’s registrations for you will be disqualified and subsequently rejected.
Not Selected: The USCIS will conduct the lottery after March 25 and select the required 80,000 registrations for the regular cap and the advanced exemption. Any not selected will remain in the “Submitted” status until the end of the fiscal year. If the USCIS needs to fill more spaces throughout the remaining six months, it will draw from this pool. Otherwise, all unselected petitions will change to “Not Selected.”
Submitted: This just means that the USCIS has received your registration. If your petition is not selected but also not denied, it will remain in “Submitted” status until October 1st. After which, it will change to “Not Selected.”
H-1B Master’s Cap Lottery–How Does it Work?
Under the current system, the H-1B master’s cap lottery follows the process outlined below.
- If the H-1B quota candidate pool—including master’s quota eligible registrations—exceeds 65,000, then a random computer lottery selects 65,000 registrations. (Note: the actual numbers may be different due to up to 6,800 visas reserved for petitioners from Chile and Singapore)
- USCIS then identifies H-1B master’s cap-eligible registrations from the pool of all registrations rejected in the regular cap lottery. Finally, if there are more than 20,000 master’s cap-eligible applications, USCIS runs a second computer-generated lottery to select 20,000 registrations from the master’s pool.
- The USCIS then sends letters to individuals whose registrations are selected. These sponsors will then file I-129 petitions on behalf of their beneficiaries.
- Those registrations not selected in the regular or master’s quota will be designated as “not selected” in the online portal. USCIS will give no refund for the $10 registration fee.
- Selected petitioners will receive their USCIS case number to stay up-to-date on H-1B processing times.
If You Were Selected In The Lottery
Form I-797C, Notice of Action is issued by USCIS to communicate information pertaining to receipt, rejection, transfer, reopening or an upcoming appointment should you be selected in the lottery. In the example below (disclaimer – names, IDs and personal information have been changed for privacy) you’ll see it has the title Fiscal Year 2023 Selection and then under it has the company, employer identification number, the person the registration was submitted on behalf of and the confirmation number. If selected, the next paragraph will say, “This registration was selected toward the number projected as needed to reach the congressionally mandated cap (regular cap).” In the next sentence, you will see what dates the company needs to file the corresponding H-1B petition. Be aware, no other beneficiary apart from the one identified in the I-797C may have a petition submitted. The petition should also include the start date of October 1, 2023.
Ineligible H-1B Master’s Cap Institutions
You may be inclined to assume that all U.S.-based institutions are accredited. Do not make this assumption because it may steer you in the wrong direction.
For example, the University of Northern Virginia was accredited at one time. However, due to violations, their accreditation was revoked and subsequently shut down by the government in 2013. As a result, graduates from this school were not eligible to file under the H-1B master’s cap but could still file under the regular H-1B quota.
The other issue we frequently encounter is schools not being public or non-profit. If a school is recognized as proprietary, it is a for-profit institution and therefore not eligible under the criteria.
H-1B Master’s Cap Denial and Requests for Evidence (RFE)
Even if your institution is eligible for the master’s cap, your petition may still be denied if not filed correctly. This can be the result of:
- Insufficient evidence: This can result in either an H-1B rejection or an H-1B RFE. This will come in the form of an I-797 form or receipt, as well as a comprehensive list of evidence required to verify your institution and degree.
- Inconsistent documentation: All of the information regarding your institution must match so USCIS does not raise its suspicion concerning your case.
USCIS takes qualifications for your institution seriously. Therefore, an RFE may be issued if the USCIS cannot determine your institution’s accreditation or public or non-profit status.
H-1B master’s degree exemption is generally only available to those who have already graduated from an accredited public or non-profit institution. Therefore, if you have completed your coursework or thesis defense but still await graduation, the USCIS will likely deny your petition.
There have been cases of petitioners submitting a letter of completion from the institution’s dean in these situations. However, these cases have been rare and becoming more seldom as the demand for H-1B visas increases. As a result, we predict this will not be a successful tactic for the H-1B 2023-2024 season.
If you move or otherwise change your address, you must inform the USCIS. USCIS will send the RFE to the last known address, and you will be held responsible for responding to the request. If no response is given, your petition will be denied.
An RFE can drastically delay your petition, so working with your immigration attorney to ensure your institution qualifies is always advisable.
If you’ve been denied your H-1B visa, another option is to get a job with a cap-exempt employer.
What Options Do I Have After a Denial?
The first thing to understand when considering what to do next is to determine whether your H-1B master’s petition was rejected or denied.
- A rejection means that the evaluating officer saw that you:
- Had incomplete, inconsistent, or incorrect information on your petition
- Did not file the proper fees to their appropriate places, or;
- Did not have sufficient evidence (i.e., missing documents like degrees, resumes, job descriptions)
- A denial means that the evaluating officer fully processed your case and decided that you or your employer did not meet the qualifications for an H-1B visa.
If your H-1B master’s petition is rejected, then you may simply need to fix the error and refile the petition next season if your registration is selected again.
However, if your petition is denied, you may be able to file a legal motion. There are two main types of these motions:
- Motion to reopen: File this motion if you have new evidence to bring to the table that might change the evaluating officer’s mind.
- Motion to reconsider: Used when you and your immigration lawyer believe that the evaluating officer was wrong in their assessment of your case.
Because they are both legally delicate matters, neither of these should be attempted without the help of an experienced immigration attorney. As an aside, you will likely receive an H-1B denial letter that prohibits any appeals to a third party.
When a sponsor registers a beneficiary, they must designate whether it is for the master’s cap or the regular cap. If a sponsor submits an H-1B master’s cap registration that does not qualify, the registration will likely still go through. Still, the subsequent will probably be denied if the registration is selected. Keep in mind that once a registration is submitted, it cannot be corrected.
Additionally, a second registration cannot be submitted for the same beneficiary. A single sponsor can only submit one registration for each beneficiary in any given fiscal year. If this rule is violated, all registrations for the beneficiary filed by the guilty sponsor will be denied.
However, keep in mind that a beneficiary can have multiple registrations filed on their behalf by different sponsors. Also, a single sponsor can submit registrations for various beneficiaries.
Furthermore, the rate of denials and RFEs have skyrocketed over the past several years. With such a short window for submitting registrations and filing subsequent petitions, it is imperative to ensure that necessary supporting documents and fees are correctly filed along with the petition. With other visas, a small mistake might delay your visa by a few weeks or months. However, with the time constraints placed on the H-1B, a small error may cause you to have to wait until the next fiscal year to try again.
And lastly, because registrations are far easier and cheaper to submit than petitions, we anticipate that there will be many entries.
H-1B Master’s Cap Predictions
It is expected that fewer people will apply for the H-1B visa in the 2023-24 cycle. In 2022 USCIS received 483,927 registrations for H-1B visas, and in the previous year, over 300,000 people registered for the lottery. The increase in petitions was also seen in the past decade. However, the 2023-24 season might be different, where fewer people will enroll in the lottery. This scenario is expected due to the current economic climate, where many companies are laying off workers, including H-1B holders. As a result, we are expecting hiring to slow down to positions that tend to fulfill H-1B visa requirements.
Decreased number of applications will have a positive effect on master’s applicants as their chances of being selected will increase. This means that you are more likely to be selected during the regular lottery and more likely to be selected during the master’s lottery. This will also be good news for the spouses, who will be eligible to apply for the H-4 visa along with the EAD and begin lawful employment in the U.S. if the main H-1B applicant is selected in the lottery and their application is approved.
Check out our H-1B Lottery Predictions for 2023-24.
Will Premium Processing Help My Case?
Premium processing, the optional service provided by the USCIS that expedites your petition’s processing time to just 15 calendar days for an additional fee, does not increase the probability that your petition will be approved if your registration is selected in the lottery. Instead, it only serves to shorten your petition’s processing time. The service fee for premium processing for H-1B season 2023-2024 is $2,500.
Also, expediting your petition will not change these dates because of the date constraints on the H-1B. If selected and approved, you will still need to wait until October 1st before beginning work as an H-1B employee. Speak with your immigration attorney to see if premium processing is appropriate for your case.
Learn more about H-1B Visa Fees.
Will the H-1B Master’s Cap Help With My Green Card?
The path from an H-1B visa to an employment-based green card can be difficult. However, it could be made easier if you possess a master’s degree.
H-1B Master’s Cap: Best Green Card Categories
Once your registration has been entered into the 2023 advanced degree exemption and your petition has been processed and approved, you will be able to start working that fall under your H-1B. Fortunately, this visa is considered a dual intent visa, meaning that you can pursue a green card. The first step to getting your green card is choosing which preference level you want to apply for. Here are the leading contenders:
- EB-1: This green card is for immigrants with extraordinary achievements, outstanding researchers and professors, and multinational managers and executives.
- EB-2: This one is for those with exceptional ability, those who qualify for a National Interest Waiver, or have an advanced degree.
- EB-3: This third level is for those with bachelor’s degrees, those with more than two years of experience (skilled work), and those with less than two years of experience (unskilled labor).
H-1B Master’s Cap to EB Green Card Process
As you can see, by having a registration that could be entered into the 2023-2024 H-1B master’s quota, you have a prime spot for an EB-2 green card. This has the advantage of generally having a much shorter waiting time than the EB-3, which is the green card that most H-1B employees qualify for.
However, it isn’t enough just to have a master’s degree. You also need to have a job with a U.S. employer that requires your degree. The USCIS looks more at your position than your particular qualifications.
If you and your attorney decide that the EB-2 is the right green card for you on account of your advanced degree, your employer (either your H-1B employer or a new one) must obtain a PERM Labor Certification on your behalf before filing an I-140 petition. Once the USCIS receives your petition, that date will be your priority date. You will need to wait until your priority matches or passes the final action dates in the monthly visa bulletin released by the Department of State. Once that happens, you can submit an I-485 to adjust your status from H-1B to a green card.
Because the final action dates for the EB-2 tend to be much sooner than those for the EB-3, your master’s degree could end up shaving months or even years off of your green card waiting time.
H-1B Master’s Cap FAQs
Below you will find answers to the most frequently asked questions about the master’s cap in the H-1B lottery process:
Does the master’s exemption exempt me from the cap?
No. The word exemption is only used to describe an exception. If your registration is filed in the H-1B master’s cap, it will still be subjected to the regular and the master’s lottery. However, it does give your registration two opportunities to be selected.
Do I have to register before the H-1B cap?
Yes, all employers who plan on filing petitions on behalf of H-1B beneficiaries will have to register. However, if they are picked in the lottery, only then will they file a petition.
Do I have to file a petition in the lottery this year?
Sponsors no longer submit petitions to enter the lottery. Instead, beneficiaries must be registered, and the USCIS will select registrations. Therefore, you only need to file a petition if USCIS selected your beneficiary’s registration in the lottery.
Will there be registration every year?
Theoretically, yes. However, the USCIS reserves the ability to suspend the registration process for any year if they encounter technical difficulties. We will keep you apprised of any suspensions.
How does the H-1B master’s cap order increase my chances of selection?
Your master’s registration will be entered with all other registrations into the regular cap first. This means that USCIS will select some master’s registrations in the regular cap without entering the H-1B master’s cap. All unselected master’s registrations will be entered into the master’s lottery, which will have a smaller amount of competition because some master’s registrations had already been chosen in the regular cap.
This is understandably confusing, so we always encourage you to work with your immigration attorney to make an educated decision about your case.
Where can I find an H-1B sponsor?
If you do not have an H-1B sponsor, databases are available to find a suitable one. Disclaimer: We do not take ownership or responsibility for the information found on H-1B sponsor sites. This site allows you to filter your search by visa job title, NAICS industry, work city, and visa rank. The information on that visa sponsor database is based on LCAs and Labor Certifications. Another good place to search for qualified H-1B jobs is at U.S. academic institutions because they’re not subject to annual cap restrictions.
What is the prevailing wage?
The prevailing wage, provided by the Department of Labor under the Occupational Employment Statistics program, is the average wage for employees who perform the same (or similar) jobs in the same area. The prevailing wage is indicated on the Labor Certification Application. In addition, most employment visas, including the H-1B visa, require by law the employer to pay their alien employees this wage as the minimum. Therefore, the DOL will determine the prevailing wage when your employer files for a Labor Certification Application.
Are my chances better as an MBA graduate?
Having an MBA instead of any other type of advanced degree does not directly help your chances during the H-1B master’s cap. However, getting an H-1B for MBA graduates might make you more qualified for the position you’re applying for and will likely help your chances of having your petition approved if your registration is selected in the master’s cap or the regular cap.
What documents/info are required for the H-1B registration?
You’ll need to provide the following information/supporting documents:
- Company’s name
- Employer’s FEIN (identification number)
- Business address
- Employers contact information
- Employer’s lawyer contact info
What are all the H-1B fees paid to USCIS?
Employers only need to pay the $10 registration fee to enter the lottery. However, should their employee’s registration be selected in the lottery, then these fees below will apply:
Responsible for Fee
Premium Processing (optional
Employer or Employee
Public Law 114-113 Fee
Basic Filing Fee
USCIS Anti-Fraud Fee
ACWIA Education and Training Fee
$750 (less than 25 employees) $1500 (more than 25 employees)
What is consular processing?
Consular processing is for H-1B petitioners who have been selected in the lottery and have an approved complete H-1B package but live outside of the United States. Note that if this is your case, you will need to make an appointment at the U.S. consulate/embassy in your home country and bring with you the paid DS-160 nonimmigrant application, receipt that you paid the $190 cost for this form, and be ready to answer any questions the consular officer may ask you. For example, you may be asked about your job, employer, qualifications, work history, and travel history at the interview. If you don’t know the answer to one of their questions, always be honest, and it’s perfectly okay to say, “I don’t know,” if you’re unsure.
Why was my Labor Condition Application delayed?
In the past, we’ve seen cases where the iCert visa portal didn’t recognize an employer or company’s FEIN number. Typically, this occurs if there hasn’t been a pre-verification before completing the Labor Condition Application. It’s best to always go through a qualified immigration lawyer to ensure no unnecessary delays like this occur.
How Do I Submit a Petition?
It’s always best to go through the approved delivery method specified for your petition. Options like USPCS, FedEx, UPS, or another bonded service are generally good routes. Do not deliver your petition by hand or another unconventional way, or you risk your petition not being correctly processed. Again, your lawyer can provide the best instructions for delivery methods.
What are the types of RFEs?
An RFE is sent by USCIS indicating that the evaluating officer needs more documents or evidence to make a clear decision. An RFE is not an immediate denial, so you still have a chance of getting an approval. Therefore, it’s essential to respond to the RFE promptly and within the time frame you’re given. The three types of ways to respond to a request for evidence are as follows:
- Full response: This type includes all USCIS’ requested evidence.
- Partial response: These tend to be the typical responses. You submit some of the evidence USCIS has asked for but not all of it, either because you do not wish to submit it all or simply do not have the requested evidence.
- No response: You can always withdraw your application.
With any RFE you receive, always thoroughly review it with your attorney to decide the best course of action. Sometimes USCIS may have doubts about your employer, your relationship with the company, and your credentials, among other things. Any response you send to USCIS should support any doubts or issues concerning your case.
I just lost my H-1B status, now what do I do?
If you lost your H-1B job, you are granted a 60-day grace period that starts on the first day of your unemployment. You’re given this grace period so you can either find a new sponsor, switch to another visa, or get your affairs ready to leave the United States.
Can my spouse get a visa?
In 2015, the Obama administration created a rule which permitted those with H-4 visas (spouses of H-1B holders) to get employment authorization. The Biden administration has kept this rule and proposed legislation to make it permanent. We will keep you updated with changes to this legislation. The only way it could be rescinded is by a law passed by Congress at this point.
What are VisaNation Law Group’s H-1B Visa Lawyer Fees?
VisaNation Law Group’s legal fees are now tiered because only some companies will file complete petitions after they are selected in the lottery. The tiers are as follows:
- One: $550 for the initial registration process, which includes all preliminary case analyses required to file the case such as SOC, duties, documents, educational check, evaluations, if necessary, FEIN, etc.
- Two: $1,900 will be due if the case is selected in the lottery for filing, which includes all form/support letter preparation plus case filing within the timeframe
- Three: $500–$1,500 will be the cost of a Request For Evidence (RFE) response, should one later be issued on the case
Please note that H-1B petitioners have the option to complete the initial registration themselves. But, again, note that if the registration is completed incorrectly, the petition may later be denied. Once the petition has been confirmed as being selected in the lottery, employers may retain VisaNation Law Group for the complete filing. If that route is chosen instead, the legal fee for preparing the H-1b filing will be $2,300. This fee excludes the cost for a response to any possible RFE that USCIS may issue on the case and any H-4 application required. The price for an RFE response will remain between $500–$1600, depending upon the complexity of the RFE.
What other options do I have if I don’t qualify for the 2023-2024 H-1B advanced degree exemption or H-1B lottery?
If you’ve reviewed all the criteria above and find that you are not eligible for the H-1B visa for 2023-2024, you do have other options apart from the H-1B master’s cap and regular lottery pool. For example, the L-1B visa, like the H-1B, is also a nonimmigrant visa. It allows employers who have offices both in the United States and overseas to transfer employees from their overseas offices to those in the U.S. for up to five years. Another option is the J-1 visa, intended for government-approved programs for positions like nannies, students, counselors, doctors, etc.