Ladies and gentleman, the H-1B visa has officially left the building…..

The recovering global economy and the rapid development of the hi-tech sector in particular, have led to an increased demand for the employment of foreign degreed professionals in the United States. The problem: the annual numerical limitation aka “the H-1B cap” makes it extremely difficult to rely on the H-1B as a viable work visa option for bringing foreign talent to the US.

The H-1B is a nonimmigrant visa for foreign professionals who are coming to the US to work in a “specialty occupation”. All legalese aside, this means that the job requires the attainment of a particular academic degree (bachelor’s or higher) and that the employee holds that degree or its equivalent. Each year, US employers can file H-1B petitions at the start of the H-1B filing season on April 1st.

The cold hard facts

  • Each fiscal year the US government sets an annual quota of 65,000 H-1B visas for foreign professionals.
  • 6,800 H-1B visas are set aside from the 65,000 for Singaporean and Chilean professionals (both countries have free trade agreements with the US).  \
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) reached the cap of 65,000 for FY 2014 within the first week of the filing period, which opened on April 1,2013 and closed on April 5, 2013 (first time since 2008!) 
  • Due to the massive volume of H-1B petitions received during the first week of the FY 2014 filing period, USCIS used a random selection process or “lottery” to select a sufficient number of petitions needed to meet the cap of 65,000. Any applications not selected were rejected and returned.

The future looks bright (maybe)

You may have heard the recent buzz surrounding the proposed US immigration reform legislation. If enacted, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” would have a positive impact upon the H-1B category as follows:

  • The current H-1B quota would be replaced with a cap that fluctuates between 115,000 and 180,000 based on various economic parameters designed to protect the US workforce.
  • It would become easier for H-1B holders to change employers.  
  • Spouses of H-1B visa holders would be eligible for US work authorization.

Read more about US immigration reform here:

Keep the faith

Benjamin Franklin said it best: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” While I’d have to agree with Ben on that one, US employers can maximize their chances of success for FY 2015, by preparing applications well in advance, and submitting to USCIS on the very first day of the H-1B filing period, April 1, 2014. My advice to employers – start planning NOW.