Options after missing H-1B Lottery

For many international students and professionals aspiring to work in the United States, the H-1B visa represents a critical gateway. However, the demand for H-1B visas often exceeds the available supply, leading to a competitive lottery system. For those not selected, understanding the history and exploring alternative options is essential to continuing their professional journey in the U.S.

Understanding the H-1B Visa and Its Lottery System

The H-1B visa allows U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. There are two main categories under the H-1B visa:

  • Regular Cap: This includes 65,000 visas annually for foreign professionals who possess at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in their specific fields.
  • Master’s Cap: An additional 20,000 visas are reserved for those who have obtained a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution.

In recent years, the number of applications has significantly outstripped the available visas, necessitating a lottery system. This system randomly selects applicants to ensure fairness, but leaves many without a visa.

Alternatives for Those Not Selected in the H-1B Lottery

For those not selected in the H-1B lottery, there are several viable alternatives to consider:

  1. Transfer to a Different Study Program

Students who are nearing the end of their F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) or the two-year STEM OPT extension, particularly those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, may consider transferring to another academic program. This move can extend their stay in the U.S. under student status and potentially allow them to qualify again for OPT or even participate in Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

Continuing Education with Day 1 CPT: Some educational programs offer what is known as Day 1 CPT, allowing students to start working in their field of study immediately. This option is beneficial for those who need to maintain employment authorization without a gap, ensuring continuous practical training in their area of expertise.

Benefits of CPT: Unlike OPT, which can be used either before or after graduation, CPT must be part of the curriculum and directly related to the student’s major. CPT can be full-time or part-time, with full-time CPT allowing students to work more than 20 hours per week. However, it’s important to note that using CPT for 12 months or more can make a student ineligible for OPT.

Transferring to a different study program can not only extend a student’s educational journey in the U.S. but also enhance their qualifications and work experience in their field. This strategic move often allows students to better position themselves for future employment opportunities, including another chance at the H-1B lottery.

  1. Seek Cap-Exempt H-1B Employers

Certain organizations are exempt from the H-1B cap, including higher education institutions, nonprofit research organizations, and government research organizations. Employment with these entities allows individuals to apply for an H-1B visa without going through the lottery process.

  1. Utilize Specialized Visa Programs for Specific Nationalities
  • H-1B1 Visa: Specifically for citizens of Chile and Singapore, this program allocates additional visas outside the regular H-1B cap.
  • E-3 Visa: Exclusive to Australian citizens, this visa category closely mirrors the H-1B but is generally less competitive.
  • TN Visa: Available to citizens of Canada and Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), this visa allows individuals in certain professions to work in the U.S.
  1. Consider the L-1 Visa for Intra-Company Transfers

The L-1 visa is an option for those who have worked abroad for a company that also has a U.S. office. This visa category facilitates the transfer of employees to the U.S. branch, allowing them to bring specialized knowledge or executive and managerial skills.

  1. Explore the O-1 Visa for Individuals with Extraordinary Abilities

For those who demonstrate outstanding ability in their field, whether in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, the O-1 visa is a potential route. This visa requires individuals to prove their extraordinary ability through sustained national or international acclaim and recognized achievements.


Although not being selected in the H-1B lottery can be disappointing, numerous alternatives offer different paths to work and stay in the U.S. Each option has specific requirements and benefits, making it crucial for individuals to consider their circumstances and career goals carefully. Consulting with an immigration lawyer can provide tailored advice and increase the likelihood of finding a suitable and legal pathway to achieve professional aspirations in the United States.