Executive Summary:  This Alert is a reminder to employers of the fast approaching April 1, 2015 deadline for filing H-1B work visa petitions on behalf of foreign employees who need sponsorship for long-term work authorization in the U.S.   

Background

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H-1B work visa petitions on April 1, 2015. The H-1B visa classification is designed for foreign workers who will fill a professional occupation that requires at least a bachelor's degree or equivalent. There is an annual limit of 65,000 H-1B spots available each year for foreign nationals with bachelor's degrees and an additional 20,000 for those holding U.S. master's degrees. As the economy continues to rebound, we fully expect the annual H-1B cap to be exhausted within the first couple of filing days, if not on the first filing day itself. As a point of reference, in 2014 the H-1B filing period closed April 7, 2014 (meaning the filing period lasted only five business days).

Who Needs an H-1B Visa?

We urge employers to identify current or future employees who are present in the U.S. under any of the following categories:

  • F-1 student visas;
  • J-1 exchange visitor visas;
  • TN/E-3 visas for Canadian/Mexican/Australian nationals;
  • L-2/H-4 dependent visas; or
  • E-1/E-2 treaty visas.

Any prospective professional employees who are residing overseas will also require visa sponsorship in order to work for a U.S. company. In many cases, the H-1B visa is the most common vehicle to achieve this.

What to Expect for the 2015 H-1B Filing Season

In light of the improved economic forecast, more employers have reported increases in hiring of foreign nationals for hard to fill professional positions. In April 2014, the H-1B cap was met in only five business days (from April 1, 2014 through April 7, 2014). During this period, the USCIS received approximately 172,500 H1-B petitions (compared to 124,000 cap-subject petitions filed for the prior year's H-1B lottery). When USCIS receives more H-1B visa petitions than there are visa numbers available, USCIS will use a lottery system to select the petitions it will process.

For 2015, we anticipate greater demand for H-1Bs than in 2014, and expect that the quota will be exhausted in less than five business days, perhaps even on April 1 itself. To ensure the best chance of securing one of the limited H-1B numbers, employers must work with their immigration counsel to ensure H-1B applications reach the USCIS on April 1, 2015. 

When Should I Start the H-1B Process?

In light of the expected demand for H-1Bs, employers who would like to sponsor a worker for an H-1B petition should act quickly and begin working with an experienced business immigration attorney well in advance of the April 1, 2015 deadline. Employers must take several prerequisite steps before filing an H-1B petition with USCIS. These steps include registering the company with the Department of Labor (DOL), posting required notices, and obtaining DOL certification of a Labor Condition Application. These prerequisite steps can take up to three to four weeks, so time is of the essence, and starting early will allow sufficient time to accomplish all required steps.

Employers' Bottom Line

To maximize your chance of securing an H-1B visa, it is critical to file the H-1B petition on April 1, 2015. After the 2015 H-1B quota is exhausted, employers will have to wait until April 1, 2016 to file H-1B petitions again, and employees may risk losing legal status and work authorization.