H-1B visa petitions will be accepted by USCIS beginning April 1, 2015 for employment to begin October 1, 2015 (the beginning of fiscal year 2016). Assuming the annual quota is immediately exhausted as expected, the filing window will close April 7, 2015, and USCIS will conduct a random lottery to determine which lucky applicants will be selected for processing. There are only 65,000 new H-1B visas available each fiscal year (with an additional 20,000 reserved for foreign nationals with a U.S. master's degree or higher). Last year, USCIS received approximately 172,500 H-1B petitions, and the year before that, 124,000 petitions were received.
The H-1B annual quota applies to foreign nationals who do not presently hold H-1B status, including recent graduates who are working during their one year of "optional practical training." This cap does not apply to filings for H-1B workers who have already been counted against the annual H-1B quota, which includes requests for extensions of stay or changes in employer sponsor. Certain types of employers are exempt from the H-1B annual quota, including institutions of higher education and their related or affiliated nonprofit entities (including some hospitals), and nonprofit research organizations or government research organizations.
Time is running out! If you currently employ a foreign student with limited employment permission expiring between now and April 1, 2016 (when the next fiscal year lottery begins) or intend to extend a job offer soon, this is likely your last chance for an H-1B visa during all of fiscal year 2016.