The demand for H-1B visas continues to rise.  Last year, demand for H-1B exceeded the available number of visas, and a lottery was held to determine which applications would be accepted. Employers should file H-1B applications by April 1, 2015, to ensure consideration for this year’s lottery and an opportunity to obtain a visa under the annual quota.   Failure to file by April 1st could mean employers will have to wait until October of 2016 to obtain an H-1B visa for their employees.

The H-1B visa category is essential to many businesses that wish to employ foreign nationals in professional positions.  Each year, the government makes available 65,000 new H-1B visas (this limit is commonly referred to as the “H-1B cap”) for those individuals who have not recently or ever previously held H-1B status.  The actual number of visas available under the cap is lower because of set-asides for certain countries under Free Trade Agreements.

The H-1B cap applies to “new” H-1B’s only, generally affecting individuals who currently do not hold or have not held H-1B status, such as students in F-1 status who are completing Optional Practical Training (OPT), TN status holders, L status holders, and the like.  It is especially important for employers of F-1 students to obtain the H-1B in a timely fashion.  This cap does not generally affect individuals currently or recently in H-1B status. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin to accept new H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY 2016) on April 1, 2015.  Further, under the advanced degree exemption, an additional 20,000 H-1B numbers available for individuals who have obtained a U.S. Master’s degree or higher.  Cases approved under the H-1B cap will have a start date of October 1, 2015, the first date of FY 2016.