Employers that wish to sponsor H-1B workers for Fiscal Year 2018 can begin filing petitions on April 1, 2017, for a start date of October 1, 2017. The H-1B visa is used by businesses that wish to employ foreign nationals to work in a specialty occupation requiring theoretical or technical expertise. For FY 2018, cases will be considered accepted on the date the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) takes possession of the petition, not on the date the petition was postmarked.

Annual Limit

There is an annual limit of 65,000 visas available for H-1B petitions, with an additional 20,000 reserved for individuals who have earned a U.S. master's degree or higher. Last year, USCIS received over 233,000 petitions, and an even greater number is expected this year. USCIS accepted petitions for the first five business days before announcing that it had received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions and that the cap was closed. This year, we encourage all employers to file H-1B petitions on Friday, March 31, 2017, although USCIS will accept applications until Friday, April 7, 2017.

Lottery System

If USCIS receives more than enough petitions to meet the standard and advanced-degree quotas during the first five business days of the filing season, as it did last year, it conducts a computerized lottery to choose cases for processing. First, the lottery focuses on selecting advanced-degree petitions to fill the cap exemption of 20,000. After completing the advanced-degree lottery, the remaining cases are put into a second lottery to select enough petitions to meet the standard quota of 65,000.

Key Filing Deadlines

To file an H-1B visa petition, an employer must have a certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the Department of Labor (DOL). Currently, the DOL is taking seven calendar days to certify an LCA. However, regulations permit the DOL to take up to ten business days. In addition, if your company has not filed an LCA since 2008, it is likely your company is not registered with the DOL. If this is the case, the company first will need to be registered through a process that takes an additional three business days. Also, in previous years, the high usage rate of the online LCA system towards the end of March caused the website server to shut down or function extremely slowly. Early filings are imperative to avoid technical delays.

Moreover, if your prospective H-1B employee does not have a U.S. degree, a degree equivalency must be conducted by an accredited credential evaluation company. Although most companies offer a 24-hour turnaround at this time of year, due to high demand levels, this cannot be guaranteed close to the H-1B Cap filing deadline.

Key Dates

Ideal date

Last Possible Date

File Labor Condition Application (LCA)

3/17/2017

(add an additional 3 business days if your company is not registered with the Department of Labor)

3/30/2017

(add an additional 3 business days if your company is not registered with the Department of Labor)

File Petition with USCIS

3/31/2017

4/6/2017

If your organization is planning to petition for H-1B employment in FY 2018, it is advised to get in touch with counsel immediately to discuss the process.