Employers who wish to sponsor H-1B workers for Fiscal Year 2017 can begin filing petitions on April 1, 2016 for a start date of October 1, 2016.  The H-1B visa is used by businesses who wish to employ foreign nationals to work in a specialty occupation requiring theoretical or technical expertise.  For FY 2017, cases will be considered accepted on the date that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) takes possession of the petition, not on the date it was postmarked.

Annual Limit 

There is an annual limit of 65,000 visas available for H-1B petitions, with an additional 20,000 reserved for individuals who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher.  USCIS received over 233,000 last year and expect an even greater number this year.  USCIS accepted petitions for the first five business days before announcing that it had received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions and that the cap was closed.  Although USCIS will again accept applications for the first five business days between the Friday, April 1 start date and Thursday, April 7, 2016, all employers are well-advised to file H-1B petitions on Thursday March 31, 2016.

Lottery System

If USCIS receives more than enough petitions to meet the standard and advanced-degree quotas during the first five business days of the filing season, as it did last year, it conducts a computerized lottery to choose cases for processing. USCIS first conducts a lottery of advanced-degree petitions to select enough cases to fill the cap exemption of 20,000. After completing the advanced-degree lottery, the remaining cases are put into a second lottery to select enough petitions to meet the standard quota of 65,000, which is actually less since 6,800 visas are reserved for Singaporean and Chilean nationals. 

Key Filing Deadlines

In order to file an H-1B, an employer must have a certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the Department of Labor (DOL).  Currently, the DOL is taking seven calendar days to certify an LCA, however, regulations permit the DOL to take up to seven business days, i.e. 10 days.  In addition, if a company has not filed an LCA since 2008, there is a chance the company will not be registered with the DOL.  As such, the company will need to first register; this process takes an additional three business days.  Also, in previous years, the high usage rate of the online LCA system towards the end of March caused the website server to shut down or function extremely slowly.  Early filings are imperative to avoid technical delays. 

Moreover, if a company’s prospective H-1B employee does not have a U.S. degree, a degree equivalency must be conducted by an accredited credential evaluation company.   Although most companies offer 24 hour turn around at this time of year, due to high demand levels, this cannot be guaranteed close to the H-1B Cap filing deadline.  

Click here to view table.

An organization is well-advised to contact immigration counsel regarding the process for filing a petition for H-1B employment in FY 2017.