Yes, it's that time again – time to prepare to file your H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2016. Starting April 1, 2015, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will begin accepting H-1B petition filings – subject to the cap – for the next fiscal year, which begins October 1, 2015. We strongly recommend that H-1B petitions that are subject to the cap be filed as close to April 1 as possible because we expect the cap to be exhausted in the first week of April. 

To be able to file on or as soon as possible after April 1, employers will need to begin preparations now.

There is an annual limit on the number of H-1B visas that can be issued each fiscal year to persons subject to the H-1B cap (primarily first-time H-1B beneficiaries) – approximately 65,000 in the general category and 20,000 limited to persons with U.S. master's or more-advanced degrees. In 2014, both caps were exceeded in the first week of April (a total of about 172,500 petitions were received that week), and the USCIS had to conduct a lottery to determine which petitions would be considered. Petitions filed after the first week in April were not even included in the lottery. There is little doubt that the cap will be exceeded in the first week of April 2015 as well.

Exceptions to the H-1B cap

The H-1B cap does not apply to the following: 

  • Persons who are or who have been in H-1B status within the last six years;
  • Petitions for exempt organizations – institutions of higher education, or a related or affiliated non-profit entity, non-profit research organization or governmental research organization; or
  • J-1 non-immigrant physicians who are changing status to H-1B and who have obtained waivers of the two-year return home residency requirement through the Conrad 30 Program (in which the physician agrees to work in a medically-underserved area).

Alternatives to the H-1B

If the H-1B option is not available, employers may want to consider these alternatives:

  • As a prelude to filing for H-1B, optional practical training for foreign graduates of U.S. colleges and universities who may be eligible for a year of employment (or up to 29 months for students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields) after USCIS approval of an individual's Application for Employment Authorization.
  • TN visas under the North American Free Trade Agreement for Canadian and Mexican professionals.
  • L-1 visas for intracompany transferees. If an employer has foreign operations (or decides to create them), this visa permits employees to transfer to the U.S.-affiliated company in a similar position if they have worked abroad for the foreign parent, subsidiary or affiliate continuously for at least one year within the preceding three years as an executive, manager or in a specialized knowledge capacity.
  • E visa classification for treaty traders and investors if the L-1 visa is not available.
  • J-1 exchange visitor classification for business trainees, scholars and others.
  • O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary ability. Although the standards vary somewhat depending on the type of employment, generally speaking, the O-1 visa applies to those recognized as being at the top or near the top of their field of endeavor.