H-1B cap season is unpredictable. Since petitions are selected for processing through a lottery system – and only about one-third are chosen – employers and employees alike feel the pressure of not knowing whether they can count on their roles actually being filled.
“It’s tense for a lot of people applying for the cap,” says Ken Aranas, former senior customer relationship manager at Envoy. “Especially if they’re on Optional Practical Training [work authorization for international students]. There is a lot of uncertainty about whether they are going to be able to maintain their status.”
“There is a lot of anxiety behind the whole process,” Aranas says. But you can help reduce the fear of the unknown by setting the proper expectations with your candidate.
Here, Aranas sheds some light on the sentiments often felt by foreign national candidates as they navigate H-1B cap season — and how you can better support them throughout the process.
It’s important for HR managers to have a solid understanding of the process and learn the details they should relay to candidates – especially, Aranas says, critical information like process timelines and key dates.
“USCIS is probably the best source for those types of timelines,” he says. “They update a lot of information on their website, like when the cap is hit and how many applications have been submitted. They’ll also give you key dates, such as when petitioners can add premium processing to the application.”
When working with customers, Aranas makes sure to highlight March 20, the last date an employer can file a Labor Condition Application, and April 1, the first day USCIS accepts H-1B petitions. He also points out that it takes up to three weeks for the government to issue receipt notices, and up to six months to review and process petitions that are accepted into the cap.
“One of the things we run into a lot — especially for newer individuals — are wage issues when it comes to the Labor Condition Application,” he says. “We will see that the offered wage to the employee is actually below what the LCA wage is for the position. So, in that case we work with the employer to ensure the employee will get the higher wage when they start on H-1B or find a different position to sponsor the person for.”
Bachelor’s degrees from colleges outside of the United States can also take extra time to gather. “Sometimes getting copies of their transcripts or diplomas from a different country can be time consuming,” Aranas says. “That’s part of the reason why we really push to get these started earlier, so that we’re not rushing at the last minute to try and obtain these documents.”
Supporting your foreign national candidate doesn’t end when the petition packet is sent to the government.
“There’s a lot of anxiety as to whether or not a person has been accepted in the lottery,” he says. “We recommend that HR managers constantly follow up to be sure the receipt notice was issued and confirm whether somebody was accepted or not.”
Even if your immigration services provider works with your candidate directly, remaining part of the process shows your future employee that you care about his or her progress. “I also recommend that HR managers check in directly with their legal team to make sure the information is being relayed in an appropriate time frame,” Aranas says.
“Generally, we try not to look at the downside too early,” Aranas says. “We want to be optimistic and hope they do get accepted. At the same, employees need to be able to plan for alternatives, in case it doesn’t work out that way.”
There are a variety of “plan B” visa options available. For example: The TN North American Free Trade Agreement Professionals visa is available for Canadian and Mexican nationals. If your foreign national candidate is from one of those countries, he or she may still be eligible for work authorization through that visa. Speak with your immigration services professional to learn your options.