The 2014 H-1B cap will open on April 1, 2013 and demand is expected to be the highest since FY2009. It is anticipated that sufficient H-1B filings will be received by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within four to five weeks of the cap opening, so all employers considering H-1B filings should act immediately.

The H-1B program is used by U.S. businesses to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, such as scientists, engineers, or computer programmers. The number of initial H-1B visas available to U.S. employers (the H-1B cap) is 65,000, with an additional 20,000 set aside for individuals who have obtained a U.S. master's degree or higher (85,000 total). When the H-1B cap is met, USCIS stops accepting new H-1B petitions and employers have to wait until the next fiscal year opens to file new H-1B petitions. This year, it is likely that the 2014 H-1B cap will close by the end of April 2013, leaving employers unable to file new H-1B petitions until April 1, 2014.

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Demand for H-1B visas is linked directly to the state of the U.S. job market. As indicated above, in FY 2009 when the U.S. job market was strong, approximately 163,000 H-1B petitions were filed within the five-day filing period at the beginning of April 2008. From FY2010 to FY2012, demand for H-1B petitions dropped due to the economic downturn and the weak U.S. job market. Last year, with an improving economy, the FY 2013 H-1B cap was reached on June 11, 2012, 10 weeks after H-1B numbers first became available. With hiring by U.S. employers stronger in 2013 than previously expected, the demand for H-1B visas in FY 2014 is expected to be the highest since FY2009, resulting in a shorter H-1B season than last year.

Act now! Employers need to file H-1B cap-subject petitions with USCIS as early as possible this year. Littler will start mailing H-1B cap-subject petitions to USCIS on March 29, 2012, for delivery on Monday, April 1, 2013, the very first day USCIS starts accepting filings. It generally takes approximately 10 days to prepare an H-1B so that it is ready for filing with USCIS. Accordingly, employers should initiate H-1B cases immediately.