Devastating! First-round H-1B Lottery Results Unveiled, Described as Brutal or Extremely Brutal.
According to the latest information released by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, this year witnessed a staggering increase in H-1B visa applications, reaching over 780,000—30,000 more than last year. Shockingly, the selection rate plummeted to a mere 14.6%.
This number stood at 46.2% just three years ago in 2020. No wonder the American media refers to the lottery as a “Lottery” itself, as if winning a grand jackpot.
Following the announcement, social media platforms became a sea of sorrow. Some students shared their anguish, revealing that they had participated in the lottery for five consecutive years without success. Others expressed their desperation, recounting how they even resorted to visiting temples and praying fervently, yet still failed to secure a spot. With the prospects dashed, numerous students have chosen to pursue further studies or opt for postgraduate programs. In the blink of an eye, tens of thousands of dollars have vanished from their pockets.
Despite the popular belief of allowing children more time for exploration, the majority of Chinese students studying abroad find themselves caught in the predetermined paths of business and programming.
The reasons behind this trend are simple yet pragmatic.
l Choosing a programming-related field provides better chances in the H-1B visa lottery, particularly in STEM disciplines. Furthermore, these industries offer greater job security due to the presence of numerous large corporations. Some students have shared stories of working for small companies for six months, only to have their employers refuse to sponsor their visa applications. Others who secured sponsorship through their employers, albeit without salary increments, are reluctant to switch jobs for fear of missing the prime career development phase.
l Higher salaries serve as evidence of one’s talent, increasing the likelihood of winning the H-1B lottery and ultimately remaining in the United States.
l One student candidly remarked, “If you want to stay in the United States, vocational education at a place like Lanxiang Technical School may be more beneficial than attending a university.”
13.5% Success Rate for Chinese Students in H-1B Lottery
First, let’s provide a brief explanation: What is an H-1B visa?
The H-1B visa acts as a hurdle for international students transitioning from their student status to work status in the United States.
International students studying in the U.S. hold an F-1 student visa.
After graduation, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services grants international students a work permit called Optional Practical Training (OPT) (note: this is not a visa).
The duration of OPT generally lasts for one year, with STEM fields being eligible for up to three years.
During this period, students must secure employment related to their field of study and obtain sponsorship from their employer to apply for an H-1B visa.
If a student fails to find a job with the necessary sponsorship or is not selected in the H-1B visa lottery within this one-year timeframe, their OPT expires. At that point, the student is left with two options: either return to their home country or continue their studies. Pursuing further education allows them to obtain another 12 months of OPT. However, it’s important to note that only one OPT application is permitted per degree level.
What does this mean? If a student previously applied for OPT with a bachelor’s degree, they cannot apply for OPT again at the same degree level. They must pursue a higher level of education to be eligible for another OPT period.
According to the 2022 U.S. Open Doors Report, the number of Chinese students applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT) in the 2021/22 academic year was slightly over 50,000, representing a decrease of approximately 21.7% compared to the previous year’s 60,000+ applicants.
Based on this data, we can estimate the number of Chinese graduates each year. Around 30,000 are undergraduate students, while approximately 60,000 are graduate students.
In other words, out of the 90,000 graduates, excluding those who return to China, choose to study in other countries, or continue their education, 72% of students (around 65,000) opt to apply for OPT and seek employment in the United States.
Now, let’s examine how many of these 50,000 students are fortunate enough to win the H-1B lottery.
Let’s consider another set of data to get a sense of the difficulty in securing an H-1B visa.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as early as March 27th, the number of H-1B visa applications for the fiscal year 2024 had reached the application cap. This includes the advanced degree exemption category, where individuals with master’s degrees or higher qualifications are eligible for an early lottery.
Comparison to last year reveals that this year’s number of H-1B visa applicants has nearly doubled (suggesting possible involvement of Indian intermediary companies in packaging and fraudulent application submissions). However, the number of approvals has not increased; in fact, it has decreased.
Last year, there were 480,000 applications, resulting in nearly 130,000 approvals. Surprisingly, out of the 780,000 applications this year, only slightly over 110,000 received approval.
The immigration agency has not disclosed the specific proportion of Chinese students among the approved applicants this year. However, based on previous data, it is estimated that Chinese students accounted for approximately 13-15% of the total applicants, with an annual submission range of 35,000 to 50,000 students.
Among these tens of thousands of students, the probability of being selected is even lower.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the H-1B visa approval rate for Chinese students is approximately 12%. In 2021, despite three rounds of lottery selections, the H-1B approval rate for Chinese graduates remained at a mere 12%. The numbers saw a slight increase in 2022, reaching 13.5%.
Let’s make a simple estimation. Out of the 90,000 Chinese international students graduating each year, over 60,000 choose to stay in the U.S. for Optional Practical Training (OPT) and submit H-1B visa applications. However, the number of students who successfully obtain an H-1B visa in the first round is merely around 6,800.
In other words, roughly estimating, out of the annual graduating student population, excluding those who proactively return to their home country, pursue further education, or choose to move to other countries, the percentage of students who manage to secure an H-1B visa to stay in the U.S. is only around 8%.
How many steps are required to stay in the United States?
The United States is an immigration country, but immigration policies vary greatly with each administration.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa designed to attract skilled professionals. It aims to recruit highly educated individuals capable of engaging in professional work.
During the Obama administration, there was stringent employer scrutiny for H-1B visa lottery selection. Employers had to submit extensive documentation and pay thousands of dollars in fees, which helped screen out many unqualified applicants.
The Trump administration initiated reforms to the H-1B visa program, which have been continued by the Biden administration. Starting from 2020, prospective visa applicants only need to submit their names and pay a $10 fee through the new registration system.
This policy, originally intended to help companies and employees save money and effort, has significantly lowered the threshold for the lottery selection process, leading to the emergence of many non-compliant behaviors. This year witnessed a surge of 300,000 applicants, with a large portion allegedly coming from Indian outsourcing companies engaging in “fraudulent packaging.”
However, despite the exponential increase in the number of applicants, the chances of being selected have decreased as the quota remains fixed. Data reveals that out of the H-1B beneficiaries, India accounts for 300,000, representing 74.1% of the total. In contrast, China, the largest source country of international students, has only 50,000 applicants, accounting for a mere 12% of the total.
After this year’s lottery selection, there was a collective outcry on Chinese social media platforms. One student I know, Eric, was among those affected. Despite studying a highly sought-after STEM major, he missed the optimal window for transitioning from OPT to H-1B due to the downsizing in the tech industry and the delays caused by the pandemic when applying for entry-level positions upon returning to China. Despite sending out numerous resumes, he received no response.
In the end, like many international students, he made the decision to redirect his career path to Canada, with the hope of eventually obtaining Canadian permanent residency and then pursuing employment in the United States.
Each company has a limited quota for H-1B visas. Employers must ensure they have fulfilled their local hiring requirements before considering international students. They must also provide evidence that the position is suitable for an international candidate.
So, for students majoring in humanities or the arts, how can they prove they are more deserving of employment than native English speakers? When faced with the harsh reality, these dream-seeking international students have no choice but to switch their majors and work hard to improve their lives through self-reliance.
Even if one successfully obtains an H-1B visa, it does not guarantee the ability to stay in the United States. The process of transitioning from H-1B to permanent residency (green card) can take 5 to 6 years, and that’s under the assumption that the international student has made significant contributions and the employer is actively supportive.
I have friends who, after graduating from graduate school, had to accept lower salaries and lower their expectations for employment in order to find an employer willing to sponsor their H-1B and initiate the application process. During the years of pursuing a green card through the H-1B, they missed out on the prime period for career development. If a company’s performance is not satisfactory, they may be among the first to be let go.
On one hand, there is the longing for an ideal future, and on the other hand, there is the harsh reality of identity anxiety. I believe every international student understands this dilemma.
Far-sighted Planning by Parents
As early as 2013, Hurun Report, in collaboration with a well-known national immigration company called Huijia Immigration, released the “Huijia Immigration • Hurun China Investment Immigration White Paper” for five consecutive years.
During these five years, there has been a consistent trend, with the United States consistently topping the immigration index, accounting for nearly 80%. Hurun Report stated, “Among the destinations considered by Chinese high-net-worth individuals, the United States ranks far ahead.”
Among the population considering or choosing immigration, education remains the most important reason, with a high proportion of 83% and a growing trend each year.
Another interesting statistic is that 65% of surveyed high-net-worth individuals who have already immigrated believe that their children have seen improvements in confidence and education, and 43% have experienced an enhancement in their quality of life. However, 90% of those considering immigration state that they plan to return to China to reside after retirement, or live between China and overseas.
“I feel it every day, the profound calculation of parents’ love for their children,” exclaimed an immigration lawyer from Huijia Immigration.
So, from an educational perspective, why is having a legal status important?
Firstly, the touted benefits of pursuing education become evident when certain conditions are met.
If the entire family has plans to relocate, obtaining a green card allows children to attend public schools. Alternatively, if the intention is to send children to boarding junior high or high schools in the United States, having a green card grants them entry into the pool of domestic students during university applications. With equal levels of excellence, their chances of admission increase, without having to compete for the scarce spots allocated to international students.
Secondly, if studying and paying taxes in a particular state while attending public schools, students can enjoy in-state tuition benefits. For example, in-state students attending a California-based university within the UC system pay only half the tuition compared to international students, resulting in savings of up to $30,000 per year.
However, it’s worth noting that if one obtains a green card and chooses to study in their home country, the advantage when applying to top-tier universities is not significant. Many American universities consider the student’s high school location and require differentiated treatment.
The second major benefit is the freedom to work and stay in the United States.
If a family plans to pursue undergraduate studies in the US, there are two significant advantages:
Firstly, after graduation, students have more time to explore and practice in their field of interest, allowing them to experience the positive outcomes of a good education.
Secondly, they are not restricted by their immigration status, avoiding being tied to a single company and unable to explore other opportunities during the crucial early stages of their career.
The third benefit, in the long run, is that it serves as an insurance policy for the child’s future global mobility.
Apart from a few specific countries and regions, US green cards are widely recognized globally. This means that besides travel, individuals with a green card can work in countries such as the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Australia without being limited by visa restrictions.
Among the existing four immigration categories, two are particularly popular: the EB-1A for outstanding talents and the EB-5 immigrant investor program for rural areas (with no waiting period).
In simple terms:
1. EB-1A/C is suitable for applicants who have achieved recognition in their professional field. It takes around 3-4 years for the entire family to obtain a green card. The requirements are relatively high, and starting this year, there is a backlog in processing.
2. The EB-5 immigrant investor program has a specific category for rural projects. By investing $800,000, which is returned after the specified period, applicants enjoy priority processing, exemption from visa backlogs, and an annual allocation of dedicated visas. This means that the speed of processing is comparable to that of talent-based applications.
3. For students already studying in the US, under the condition that the visa category they are applying for does not have a backlog, they can simultaneously submit the I-526E immigrant petition and the I-485 adjustment of status application. Since the I-485 application allows for the application of work permits and travel documents while waiting for approval, students can legally reside, study, and work in the US until the completion of the I-485 process.
It is worth noting that EB-5 is an investment-based program, and the safety, investment period, and backlog requirements may vary. Projects exclusively represented by reputable companies tend to have lower risks.
According to immigration lawyers from Huijia, their exclusive project, the Yellowstone Club Phase 3 in the US, was sold out last year with over 200 subscriptions. Like previous research conducted jointly by Huijia and Hurun, most of the participants are motivated by education. They view it as a far-sighted plan B for their children, considering their capabilities and resources.