In what has become the norm for the Trump administration to release important announcements at the end of the week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sent out its latest update last Friday at 5:25 p.m. Eastern. The press release confirmed that USCIS will implement the electronic pre-filing registration system for H-1B employers for the next fiscal year, which will run October 1, 2020 – September 30, 2021.

Up to now, employers seeking one of the 85,000 visas for H-1B “specialty occupation” workers had the first five business days of April to submit petitions for the post-filing random selection process. It then took USCIS a month or two to notify winners and several more months to return petitions to employees whose petitions were not among the 85,000 USCIS selected for processing.

The new procedure will involve a $10 per-case filing fee for the online registration. Employers will have from March 1-20, 2020 to submit a registration for each employee they seek to sponsor. Duplicate registrations for the same employee are prohibited. If USCIS receives more than 85,000 registrations, it will conduct a random lottery and notify “winners” by March 31, 2020. Employers whose petitions USCIS selected then will have a filing window (likely two months) to prepare and submit their petitions for adjudication.

As I reported when USCIS first proposed the new regulation for this process in November 2018, the electronic pre-registration system likely will have a “meltdown” provision, whereby if USCIS experiences a system malfunction, it can suspend the registration and revert to the prior system of employers simply submitting petitions for a post-submission random selection process. In the announcement last week, USCIS indicated that it had conducted “usability testing” for the system and “incorporated feedback from those sessions into redesigns of the system.” Given the irregularities of just about everything the Trump administration does, the cautious course of action will be to have H-1B petitions ready to submit the first week of April.

USCIS plans to issue a final regulation soon and provide information sessions and instructional materials to help employers prepare for this new system.