New rules will make it tougher for companies in the U.S. to hire specialty workers on H-1B visas and may alter who gets the visas.
H-1B visa holders are required to have specialized knowledge and, at minimum, a bachelor's degree.
The new rules, announced Friday by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), would require companies that seek to hire foreigners to pre-register electronically with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) during a designated period in advance of the annual H-1B lottery.
The pre-registration will require additional paperwork and subject companies to new scrutiny.
The lottery takes place every April, and within days the quota is usually filled through random selection. The number of H-1B visas is capped at 65,000, with an additional 20,000 for advanced-degree holders.
USCIS, however, seeks to make the process less random by reversing it, "likely increasing the number of beneficiaries with a master's or higher degree from a U.S. institution of higher education ... and introducing a more meritorious selection of beneficiaries," the agency said in a release.
Currently, the advanced-degree holders are chosen first, weeding them out of the general pool. USCIS now plans to choose the general pool first, lumping into it holders of advanced degrees, while still reserving the 20,000 slots for additional advanced-degree holders.
President Donald Trump's Buy American and Hire American executive order, issued in April 2017, directed DHS and other agencies to "suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries."
The new rules will be published Monday and will be open for comments until early January. They will be in effect for the next H-1B lottery unless USCIS needs more time to perfect its electronic system.