• Matt Hughes

What are the chances of winning the H1B lottery?

Updated: Oct 14

What is an H1B visa?


One of the many ways to work in the United States is on an H1B visa, which allows specialty workers with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent work experience to get a job with a company in the United States. When you get an H1B visa, you can stay for an initial period of three years and the visa is extendable for a total of up to six years (with additional extensions available under certain circumstances). Often H1B visas are used by workers in the tech industry where there are – at least arguably – not enough qualified American workers available to fill the demand for jobs.

How do you get an H1B visa?


To get an H1B visa, you need to have an American employer who is willing to hire you. They first need to file a Labor Condition Application, or LCA, which contains information showing that the foreign worker will receive at least the same wage that an American worker would receive, under the same conditions. Once the employer has an approved LCA, they can send in your H1B visa application to be considered as part of the H1B lottery.

What is the H1B lottery?


The H1B lottery is what most people call the random selection process for H1B visas. Because the number of H1B visas that can be issued in a year is limited, not everyone who wants one will get one. The highest number of H1B visas that can be issued in a year is called the “cap.” For 2020, the H1B cap is 65,000 for the H1B “Regular cap,” plus 20,000 for H1B visas for people who have a master’s degree from an accredited U.S. university (“master’s cap”). The lottery takes place in early April and the numbers that are selected count toward the cap for the following fiscal year. So, the lottery in April 2019 fills the numbers for Fiscal Year 2020, which began on October 2019.

What are the chances of winning the H1B lottery?


The chances of winning the H1B lottery depend on the number of applications entered into the pool. In years where the economy is good, the number of applications is higher and in recent years, the total number has been around 200,000. In 2019, the USCIS first ran the lottery for all petitions, meaning both regular and master’s cap. The odds of any petition winning in that lottery were around 35%. Then, the remaining master’s cap petitions were placed into a second lottery where an additional approximately 20,000 were selected. The odds of winning that second lottery were around 30%.

What is changing in the H1B lottery?


Up to now, you needed to prepare and submit your entire H1B application and application fee before being entered in to the lottery. If you weren’t selected, they returned your application and the fee to you. There will be a major change beginning in calendar year 2021, when USCIS plans to introduce a system that will allow employers to register an applicant in an H1B database for a fee of $10.00. They will then run the lottery using those registrations and only those who win the lottery will be allowed to submit complete applications and pay the H1B application fee. This will make the application process simpler and more cost effective for beneficiaries and employers, but will likely result in increased filings!


H1B Conclusions


Your chances of winning the H1B lottery have been roughly 1/3 for regular cap beneficiaries and then another third for master’s cap beneficiaries. Major changes in the way that the lottery will be run in 2021 will likely change those odds somewhat but the process for applying will be simpler and require less of a financial investment.

If you or your company are interested in pursuing an H1B visa, or other work visa options, please contact me.


This general information is attorney advertising and not intended as legal advice. Everyone’s situation is different, so please get in touch for advice that is specific to you.


Hughes Immigration LLC.  Licensed to practice in Pennsylvania. Practice in Oregon limited to immigration and nationality law.  This website constitutes attorney advertising.

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