Dear Sophie: I didn’t win the H-1B lottery. What are my next steps?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

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Dear Sophie,

I earned my master’s degree in business analytics last year, and have been working for a company while on OPT since then.

My employer entered me in the H-1B lottery last month, but I haven’t been selected. I heard that my degree now qualifies as a STEM field, making me eligible to continue working under OPT.

How can I stay in the States?

— Astute Analyst

Dear Astute,

Appreciate you reaching out; your questions are all too familiar this time of the year. The U.S. is losing out on the world’s best and brightest talent because of the way the H-1B lottery system is currently set up, but please rest assured — you’ve got options! I shared my insights into available options for people in your situation in my recent podcast, Not Selected in the H-1B, now what?

Most of your visa options will require your employer to sponsor you, so please include your employer and the company’s immigration attorney when brainstorming and planning your next steps.

The way ahead

Keep in mind that you still can be selected to apply for an H-1B. In 2020 and 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) did not receive enough qualified applications to meet the annual quota of 85,000 after the March lottery, even though employers registered a record number of H-1B candidates.

So, the USCIS conducted subsequent draws to meet the annual quota — and that will likely happen again this year.

Still, I suggest carefully monitoring your OPT expiration date and pursuing backup options.

The two-year STEM OPT extension

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn

Yes, you are correct that business analytics is one of the 22 STEM fields of study added in January to the STEM OPT (Optional Practical Training) program, which extends Regular OPT for an additional 24 months. If you haven’t already, I suggest you meet as soon as possible with the designated school official (DSO) at your university to find out if you are eligible for reclassification to STEM.