It is that time of year again. Immigration practitioners are gearing up for a busy H-1B season. Just as accountants have their April 15 deadline for filing tax returns, employers, foreign nationals, and immigration counsel have their March 31 deadline for filing H-1B petitions. Employers and foreign nationals should note that the new H-1B quota numbers for fiscal year 2016 will become available on April 1, 2015. Employers should start preparing new cap-subject H-1B cases immediately to maximize their chances of being able to hire new H-1B workers.

Last year, more than 172,000 H-1B petitions were filed, but only 65,000 were available. We believe demand for H-1B workers will be even higher this year, and that the 2016 H-1B quota will be exhausted within the first few days of filing, as it was in the past few years. We also believe that if the number of petitions received during the first five business days of April exceeds the annual quota, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will conduct a lottery.

Given that demand is likely to far exceed this year's visa supply, it is imperative that employers file all new quota-subject H-1B petitions on March 31, 2015. Employers should immediately identify employees who will need H-1B visas and start petition preparation as soon as possible. The Labor Condition Application, a necessary part of the application, is taking from 7-10 days to process. Employers must take this additional time into consideration to guarantee timely approval and the ability to file the H-1B petition on March 31, 2015.

Absent immigration reform, the annual limit for H-1B visas will remain at 65,000 for new, cap-subject petitions for fiscal year 2015-2016, with an additional set-aside of 20,000 visas for individuals with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions.

There are certain exceptions to the H-1B cap, as well as other visa options that may be available to meet staffing needs, but employers must start planning now to keep all options open.