On April 1, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H-1B petitions for professional workers whose H-1B assignments will begin on October 1, 2008. By regulation, the USCIS can accept cases no earlier than six months in advance of the employment start date. We urge you to act now to gather all the information that we will need to process your H-1B petitions.

As you know, there are only 65,000 H-1B numbers available each year, and of this small number, 6,800 are set aside for professionals from Chile and Singapore, leaving only 58,200 for the rest of the world for the entire fiscal year. In addition to the 58,200 numbers, Congress also mandated that an additional 20,000 H-1B numbers be set aside for those who have earned Master’s or higher degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education.

Last year, the “regular” H-1B numbers were used up on April 2, the first day of filing. The USCIS received more than 130,000 petitions for the 58,200 H-1B numbers that were available, and had to institute a random selection process to choose which petitions would be adjudicated. The advanced degree petitions fared only slightly better; they were used up by April 30.

With last year as our guide, we think it’s entirely possible that this year, both “regular” numbers and advanced degree numbers will be used up on April 1, the first day permitted for filing. To have any chance of selection, petitions will have to be sent to the USCIS by overnight courier on March 31, 2008.

Please note that the filing urgency is only for those petitions that are subject to the H-1B cap, and that not every H-1B petition is subject to that cap. For example, petitions requesting an extension of H-1B status, petitions for those who have held H-1B status within the past six years, and petitions filed by certain entities that are exempt from the cap (including institutions of higher education, nonprofit research organizations, and governmental research organizations) are not subject. Those petitions can be filed at any time, and can request an immediate, rather than an October 1, 2008, start date.