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What to do if you're not picked in the H-1B lottery?

March 8, 2023
|4 Mins Read
Annie Blay
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This is a guest post from our friends at Legalpad!


Whether you get selected in the H-1B lottery is a matter of luck. Names are randomly selected each year, and there is little you can do to improve your chances. If you enter the lottery but are not selected, there are a few ways you can stay in the U.S., move to the U.S., or continue to work for your U.S. employer. 


How does the H-1B lottery work?

There is an annual cap (limit) to the number of H-1B visas available to foreign workers yearly. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employs a lottery system to select H-1B registrants randomly.

There are two H-1B lotteries: the regular and Master's cap lottery. During the regular cap lottery, USCIS selects 65,000 applicants with a Bachelor's degree or higher. After the regular cap, a USCIS conducts a second lottery and selects 20,000 applicants with a Master's degree or higher. H-1B applicants with a Master's degree or higher get two chances to be selected, so having a Master's degree or higher is the only way to improve your chances of winning the lottery. 


Explore different U.S. work visas

Even if you were not selected in the H-1B lottery, you could still work for the petitioning company if you qualify for another U.S. work visa. The H-1B is the most well-known U.S. visa, but several other visas enable foreign talent to live and work in the U.S.


L-1 visa for intracompany transfers

Have you worked for a multinational company abroad for at least a year in the past three years? You may qualify for the L-1 visa, which enables multinational businesses to transfer certain employees from a foreign office to a U.S. office. Your job outside the U.S. must be a manager, executive, or specialized knowledge role and have a job offer in the same category for the company's U.S. entity. 

If you don't qualify for the L-1 now, consider spending a year working abroad and transferring to the U.S. office via the L-1 later. If you want to learn more about the L-1 visa, sign up for an L-1 webinar hosted by Legalpad. 


E-2 visa for investors

Did you know you can get a U.S. visa by investing in a company? Nationals of certain treaty countries can qualify for the E-2 work visa if they invest a substantial amount in a U.S. company. The minimum investment amount is based on the type of company and can include seed funding for a startup. You can even use the funds invested to cover your immigration costs. 


O-1 visa for individuals with extraordinary abilities

The O-1 visa is arguably the most flexible and advantageous U.S. work visa. It has no prevailing wage requirement, flexible criteria, and is eligible for unlimited extensions. To qualify, you need to meet at least three of eight extraordinary ability criteria or show evidence that you have won a major award like a Nobel Prize.  

The O-1 is particularly popular among startup founders. If you're an entrepreneur, consider joining an O-1 for startup founders webinar hosted by Legalpad.


If you’d like to begin your process for the O-1 and get a free 30-minute consultation with Legalpad, just use this link!


Visas for nationals of certain countries

The U.S. offers special work visas to nationals of certain countries, including:

  • The TN visa for professionals from Canada and Mexico
  • The E-3 visa for Australian professionals 
  • The H-1B1 visa for Singaporean and Chilean professionals


If you are a citizen of one of these countries, consider the corresponding visa as an alternative to the H-1B.  


File an H-1B petition with a cap-exempt employment

Some U.S employers are cap-exempt, meaning they can hire foreign nationals on the H-1B without having to go through the lottery system. Cap-exempt H-1B visa petitions can be filed at any point in the year. 

Examples of cap-exempt employers include universities, related non-profit entities, non-profit research organizations, and government research organizations. 


Enroll in university 

If you aim to stay in the U.S. but didn't get picked in the lottery and don't qualify for any other work visas, you can extend your time in the country by returning to school. 

As an F-1 student, you can live and travel within the U.S. F-1 status also opens up the opportunity to work on CPT or OPT. 

In addition, while you're studying at a U.S. institution, you can work on increasing your chances of getting a visa or green card in the future by:

  • Networking with companies that might be willing to sponsor your visa in the future
  • Obtaining an advanced degree (Master's or Ph.D.) that will increase your chances of H-1B selection in the future via the Master's cap or help you qualify for an employment-based green card petition (like the EB-2) more quickly. 
  • Meeting more O-1 visa criteria so you can apply for the O-1 in the future
  • Strengthening your employment-based green card profile  


Apply for a green card

You can become a U.S. permanent resident if you qualify for an employment-based petition or marriage-based green card. 

It can sometimes take years to get a green card, so it's essential to understand the steps in the green card process before applying.

Attending a U.S. permanent residency webinar can be the first step to figuring out whether it's the right time to start your green card process. 


Wait for your second chance in the lottery

Sometimes if the annual quota is not reached in the initial H-1B lottery, USCIS runs a second selection lottery. Whether USCIS runs a second lottery is dependent on the number of cap registrations. 

It can be risky to wait for a second chance because it doesn't happen every year, but if you have no other options, you can wait and see if a second lottery happens and if you're selected. You do not need to do anything to be entered into a second selection lottery if you are already registered for the H-1B lottery. 


Join a free webinar to explore options

Legalpad hosts several free immigration webinars each week, with topics ranging from permanent residency to the O-1 visa for startup founders. Sign up for an upcoming webinar to explore your options and connect with a team of experienced immigration experts.


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