U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2017 on April 1, 2016. U.S. employers should identify current and potential foreign national employees who may require H-1B sponsorship and file petitions for them by April 1.

H-1B Visas in Demand

Each government fiscal year beginning October 1, USCIS makes available 85,000 new H-1B visas. Applications for the available H-1B visas are accepted the first week of April. H-1B employment cannot commence before October 1.

Last year, USCIS received almost 233,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period and conducted a random lottery to select the petitions that would be processed. The number of petitions is expected to exceed the 85,000 cap again this year.

H-1B classification provides work authorization to foreign nationals seeking long-term, but temporary, positions in a “specialty occupation” with U.S. employers. A specialty occupation is defined as a position that requires theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields and a bachelor’s degree or higher. Our recent blog post provides more detail on the H-1B classification.

What This Means to You

Employers should start the H-1B planning process now. Employers with employees who need to change their immigration status to H-1B for any reason, including those working pursuant to time-limited Optional Practical Training (OPT), should plan to file H-1B petitions to retain those employees beyond the expiration of their work authorization, as the timing of filing a new H-1B petition is critical to their retention. Unless your organization is exempt from the H-1B cap, any petitions filed after the first week of April will likely be rejected.