Chosen by Chance: A Study of the Impacts of the H-1B Visa Lottery on Foreign Students and Workers

March 16, 2009

nameThank you very much for your interest in this study. This page explains why we’re doing the study and how it works, so that you can decide whether or not you would like to participate. We hope you will, and you’ll find instructions on how to volunteer at the bottom of the page.  We encourage you to send this page to anyone you know who is applying for an H-1B visa this year, or anyone who is likely to know an applicant.

We welcome your participation if you are applying for an H-1B visa to the United States in April 2009 and if you qualify for the study. You qualify for the study if:

  1. you are currently applying for a new H-1B visa, not a renewal of an old one, and
  2. your visa application is sponsored by a private-sector company.

To volunteer, send an email to
We can only accept volunteers who email by April 15, 2009

As you know, there are very tight limits on H-1B visas for people with the traits above. The limits are so tight that the US government has been allocating such visas by a random lottery since 2006. Last year, visas were randomly awarded to about a third of the skilled foreign workers with an undergraduate degree who applied for a new H-1B in the private sector. The lottery system means that large numbers of visa applications are rejected --- not because the applicants lack ability or lack a willing employer, but simply because of bad luck.

Who’s running this study?

The principal investigator for the study is Michael Clemens, PhD, a Harvard-trained economist. Michael is a Research Fellow here at the Center for Global Development, and an Affiliated Associate Professor at Georgetown University. He is working on this study with Paolo Abarcar, who (like you) is a young and highly-skilled worker from abroad. You can watch a YouTube video of Michael discussing his research.

The research question: How the lottery affects you

We are conducting this study in order to shed some light on how the H-1B lottery affects highly skilled workers from abroad --- that is, how it affects you. How does being granted or denied an H-1B visa affect your career path, your country of residence, your earning power, your schooling decisions, and your family? Almost all research on US visa policy studies how it affects American workers; we want to focus on how it affects the people who are actually subject to visa restrictions.

How it works

Here’s where you come in. All we ask is that you complete a simple and very short online questionnaire --- twice. We’ll ask you to complete the questionnaire once in early April, before you know the result of the lottery, and again in December. Asking the same questions at two points in time will allow us to track the different trajectories taken by the lives of people who were and were not awarded a visa in the lottery. The questionnaire will ask simple things like what country you are from, what country you live in, what education you have, if you work then what type of work you do, your approximate income, and what ties you have to your home country. You can view a list of the questions that will appear on the questionnaire by clicking here.  It will be short and you could complete it in 10 minutes, easily.

This is the 21st century, so confidentiality is on everyone’s mind. First, the questionnaire absolutely will not ask specifics like the name of your employer, the name of your school, or other such detailed personal information. Second, it absolutely will not ask about your legal status --- that is your business. All we are interested in is whether or not you were given an H-1B, and how that event changed the broader path of your life. We absolutely will not, at any time or for any reason, share your responses to the questionnaire with anyone else. When we report the results of the study we will never report individual responses to any of the questions, but will only report trends and averages across groups of respondents.

As a way of saying ‘thanks’, we will randomly select five of the volunteers for the study and, after the second survey is concluded, send each of them a $50 gift certificate for --- that’s enough to buy an iPod Shuffle. (Not a bad lottery, right?)

To join the study

To volunteer for the study, please send an email to Paolo Abarcar at We can only accept volunteers who email by April 15, 2009. We hope we can count on your help with this important research.  Paolo will also be happy to discuss any aspect of this research with you, and he will be the one who sends you the survey if you decide to volunteer.  Please consider sending this page to other people you may know who are applying for an H-1B visa this year, or who may know people who are.

We will post the results of the survey on this page by February 2010.  Thank you very much for your time and consideration.