I’ve Lost the H-1B Visa Lottery – What Now?

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Originally published here on LinkedIn on April 14, 2020

Every year around this time, our Asia team at Jowers / Vargas will receive many calls and emails from a number of recent law grads and BigLaw associates coping with the same unfortunate circumstance – losing the H-1B visa lottery. If you were one of the many unlucky individuals who did not get selected in the H-1B lottery, we are, as always, happy to talk you through your options and strategize a plan. In the meantime, here is some advice which has helped previous “generations” of lawyers who were not selected in the H-1B lottery and were not given a transfer or secondment overseas by their firms. Some of this can also be helpful for junior associates dealing with a layoff, should the current recession be long-term. In 2008 and 2009, I, along with our co-founders Evan Jowers and Yuliya Vinokurova, helped advise many US and Asia-based BigLaw associates dealing with layoffs or lesser but still major career concerns. Our co-founder Alejandro Vargas was a junior associate at Skadden in Hong Kong at the time. Further, Evan was an associate at Cadwalader in New York during the dot-com bubble-bursting 2001 recession.


Talk to Your Firm

You will – or should – know quickly whether your firm is able to accommodate its H-1B visa casualties, with transfers or secondments to overseas offices. Unfortunately, we are realizing already that a number of top firms this year will not accommodate, due mainly to the global COVID-19 crisis. In our experience firms typically give bad news on this subject very quickly (that is the least they can do after all), whereas it can take several weeks for firms to finalize transfers and secondments to overseas offices. Coordination needs to be done with various partners in different offices around the world. Until your transfer is confirmed, hope and expect for the best, but make sure to prepare just in case for bad news. If your firm unfortunately cannot accommodate a transfer or secondment, it can still be very helpful if your firm will sponsor a re-application for an H1-B visa in 2021. Keep in mind that if the US is in economic recession, your chances of winning the next “visa lottery” will improve dramatically, due to their being less applicants (due to less jobs). Of course, even if you have this verbal assurance from your firm, and even if you win the visa lottery in 2021, there is no guarantee you will be hired back by your firm next year. It will still be quite helpful to have an H1-B visa though (you will have the use of the work visa regardless for many years into the future). In any event, you will want to keep yourself busy in the meantime. A point of contention we have with firms that don’t have a good track record of finding a place within the firm for their H1-B casualties – Why hold back this critical information when pitching JDs who are future H1-B applicants? Wouldn’t it be great if law students with multiple offers were to know that firm A is likely to not come through for them if they lose the visa lottery, whereas firm B will likely provide a transfer or secondment? This is especially true in recent years where the chance of losing the H1-B visa lottery has been over 50%.


Consider a Tax LLM

We recognize that not everyone has the willingness or ability to pay for another year of school, but if you are in a position to consider a Tax LLM, it could be a useful way to maintain career continuity. The top four Tax LLM programs in the US according to U.S. News & World Report are (1) NYU, (2) Georgetown, (3) Florida, and (4) Northwestern.

  • NYU: Part-Time Tax LLM – June 1, 2020 (full-time Tax LLM program deadline has already passed on April 1, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask for an exception)
  • Georgetown: Full-Time Tax LLM deadline has already passed, but they continue to accept applications on a rolling basis until April 15.
  • Florida: Applications currently accepted
  • Northwestern: June 1

Why a Tax LLM? It’s easily the most respected (by hiring partners) LLM program, especially if you can land in one of the top four Tax programs aforementioned. This is true whether or not you may ever consider a tax practice as a career. An LLM in Tax will be great on your resume and also be applicable to any transactional practice, especially corporate and fund formation. Our co-founder Evan Jowers attended both the NYU and Florida LLM Tax programs in the early 2000s. If finances are understandably a concern when considering these options, please note that the University of Florida LLM Tax tuition and housing / living costs are a fraction of the other 3 programs listed. During the 2008 / 2009 brutal recession, our team convinced a number of suddenly out of work junior associates to enter into one of these Tax LLM programs and for many it saved their career. Big Law associate careers are fragile, in reality, and a junior being out of work for some months, and especially a full year, no matter what the reason, can make it very difficult to return to a major law firm private practice. A top tier LLM program for a full year provides a solid bridge between lay off or H1-B visa loss and a boom back economy. It keeps your resume “going” in a relevant way. Most hiring partners are impressed with juniors who adapt and show career survival instincts in this way, to be frank.


Talk to Us

Our Asia team at Jowers Vargas will offer any H-1B casualty who is a junior associate at a major firm our representation and career advice until you land back at a major international firm, regardless of how long it takes (and it may take a year or more). We will not be charging our client firms any recruiting fee to submit you to firms, considering the global pandemic crisis. Over the years we have helped many H-1B casualties get job offers in overseas markets, including at top tier US firms, especially in Asia. It’s always a challenge considering that most top firms do in good times accommodate their own H-1B visa lottery losers, further closing up the market for very junior associate lateral hiring, especially in the Asia markets. It is necessary to open your search to include top local firms, as well as consultant positions and other roles that do not pay on the Cravath scale, yet will still keep your international law firm career future very viable. Even in the just completed long run of boom years, H-1B casualties in many cases had to resort to landing in local law firms in their home countries before they could in a year or two land back in an international firm. This year the vast majority of H-1B casualties (who are unable to transfer within their current firms) will not land in US or UK firms unfortunately. We recognize that the timing during the COVID-19 crisis couldn’t be worse, which is why we are suggesting more “outside of the box” solutions such as applying for a Tax LLM.