On April 12, 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released the H-1B “cap” count, indicating that it received approximately 236,000 petitions for H-1B work visas for fiscal year 2017. This means that U.S. employers filed approximately 236,000 petitions during the short five-day window of opportunity that opened on April 1, 2016, and closed on April 7, 2016. 

Per congressional mandate, approximately 65,000 H-1B visas are available each fiscal year—plus an additional 20,000 H-1B visas are available only to those who hold U.S. advanced degrees. In situations where demand exceeds supply, USCIS holds a random selection process (a lottery) to determine which petitions will receive H-1B work visas. 

On April 12, USCIS indicated that it has conducted the H-1B lottery process. First, USCIS held a lottery for the 20,000 H-1B visas available only to those who hold U.S. advanced degrees. All petitions filed under the U.S. advanced degree category that were not selected in this initial lottery were then included in the random selection process for the standard 65,000 H-1B visas. 

The next step is for USCIS to send out official Form I-797 receipt notices relating to those petitions that “won” the H-1B visa lottery. Typically, official receipt notices from USCIS arrive immediately following the lottery, and USCIS continues to mail out receipt notices for several weeks. Petitions that are not selected in the lottery process will not receive a receipt notice, and eventually the petition will be returned to the attorney of record, along with the government filing fees. This process will take up to several months to complete.

Certain petitions contain requests for USCIS premium processing, whereby USCIS adjudicates the petition within 15 calendar days in exchange for an optional government fee of $1,225. For these petitions, USCIS typically sends a courtesy email receipt to the attorney of record in advance of sending the official Form I-797 receipt notice by U.S. mail. USCIS will start the 15 calendar-day processing clock on a future date that is yet to be determined, but will be no later than May 16, 2016.