On March 31, 2009, U.S. employers may begin to file H-1B (specialty occupational professional) work visa petitions so that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("CIS") receives them on April 1, 2009, the first day of the filing program for the next federal year. In recent years, CIS has received many more H-1B petitions on the first day (last year redefined as the first week) of April than it had slots for the entire federal year. Statistically speaking, graduates of U.S. advanced degree programs had approximately a 70 percent chance of snagging a coveted H-1B approval last year, and undergraduates (or the equivalent) had an approximately 50 percent chance.

H-1B petitions can request an October 1, 2009 start date of employment. Employers that employ workers in statuses such as F-1 (student), J-1 (exchange visitor), L-1B (intracompany transferee with specialized knowledge) and some other temporary visa statuses may need to file an H-1B petition to retain a foreign national employee without a gap in employment authorization.

Now is the time to scour your employee roster and determine if your workforce includes foreign national workers who are on a time-limited work authorization. If so, and if your organization wants to keep the employee on board, you might need to file an H-1B petition in the first week of April. Further, it is also time to alert your recruiters that if they wish to extend offers to any foreign nationals who are abroad (or in the U.S. and not in H-1B status but need to transition to such status) they should consult with you as soon as possible. Please note that those who already hold H-1B status are not subject to the H-1B limit.

It is critical to engage in adequate planning in the H-1B sponsorship context, including accounting for issues such as any impact on foreign travel, strategies to bridge any gap in employment authorization through a STEM employment card or a "cap gap" H-1B filing.