US Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") will begin accepting a limited number of new H-1B visa petitions on April 1, 2015 for start dates of October 1, 2015. Now is the time to start preparing for the April 1 filing date, in anticipation of a likely H-1B lottery again this year.
The demand for new H-1B's always exceeds the limited supply. In 2013 and 2014, the quota was filled within the first week and an H-1B lottery was established. Given the built-up demand for H-1B visas since last year, savvy employers are already preparing to submit new H-1B petitions for receipt at USCIS on April 1, 2015. After this year's quota closes, new H-1B's will not be accepted again until April 1, 2016.
H-1B Quota Background
The H-1B is one of the most commonly used visas for US employers. The H-1B is frequently used for jobs that normally require at least a university degree in a specific field. USCIS is limited to a quota limit of 65,000 new H-1B visa petitions that may be granted each fiscal year. An additional 20,000 new H-1B visa petitions are also available each year to those with graduate degrees from US universities.
The government fiscal year begins on October 1. Because the USCIS permits filing H-1B visa petitions up to six months before that date, April 1 is the earliest possible acceptance date for new H-1B petitions.
Due to the extremely high level of demand for these visas in 2014, USCIS received 172,000 H-1B petitions during the first week of April, and established an H-1B lottery to determine which petitions would be accepted for processing. Petitions that were not accepted in the lottery were returned to the sender with the filing fee checks still enclosed. It seems very likely that this year's quota will again be reached within the first week of April and another lottery will be established in order to determine which petitions will be processed by USCIS.
Certain H-1B's Are Exempt from the Quota
Only new H-1B petitions are subject to quota limits. A foreign professional granted H-1B status under a previous year's quota is generally exempt from the current year's quota limit. This can be true if a foreign professional is extending their H-1B status, changing H-1B employers, or changing from another visa status (such as a current F-1 student who recently held H-1B status).
There is also a separate H-1B petition quota for nationals of Chile and Singapore that has never been exhausted. There are treaty benefits similar to the H-1B for citizens of Canada (TN), Mexico (TN), and Australia (E-3). There are also other visa categories besides the H-1B that employers may be able to use, but with very different requirements.
In addition, petitions by some employers are exempt. Unfortunately, this exemption is generally limited to government agencies, academic institutions, and related research organizations.
What to Do Now
Employers should begin to prepare now to submit new H-1B petitions on March 31, 2015 for receipt at USCIS on April 1, 2015. There are a number of preliminary steps and other government approvals to complete before filing the H-1B Petition with USCIS. Now is the time to prepare job descriptions, organize wage and compensation information, collect academic documents and, where appropriate, secure translations and evaluations of education/experience.