The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting new H-1B visa applications on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 and it is expected that USCIS will receive more than 140,000 petitions for the 85,000 available H-1B visas.

H-1B Visa Cap Likely to be Reached in First Week

The number of available new H-1B visas is limited to 65,000 bachelor degreed positions and 20,000 advanced degreed positions. This applies to an immigrant employee who will fill a specialty occupation in the U.S., which is defined as any position with the minimum requirement of a bachelor's degree in a specific major or the equivalent experience. For example, H-1B specialty occupations include a wide range of high-tech, medical and managerial professionals (i.e., operations engineers, physicians, engineering managers, or accountants).

The statutory H-1B cap of 65,000 for the fiscal year will likely be met within the first week of the filing period, which begins on April 1, 2014. All applications received by the USCIS in the first week of April will be entered into the lottery. Last April, USCIS received approximately 124,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period and reached the cap within the first five days of accepting petitions. When it receives more petitions than the cap allows, USCIS uses a computer-generated random selection process known as the "lottery" to select a sufficient number of petitions to fill the 65,000 bachelor degreed positions and the 20,000 master's degreed positions. Immigrant employees with a U.S. master's degree will have an opportunity to be selected under the 20,000 master's degree cap. This year, the continued economic recovery is causing immigration practitioners to expect even more petitions to be submitted than last year, likely in the range of 130,000 to 150,000.

H-1B Visa Petition Process

Employers seeking an H-1B visa for a foreign worker to start work on or after October 1, 2014, should submit their H-1B visa petition as close to April 1, 2014 as possible, but no later than the first week of the filing period. The petition process includes submitting the following to USCIS:

1. All sections of the Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, including the H Classification Supplement and the H-1B Data Collection and Filing Fee Exemption Supplement; and 2. A signed check or money order with the correct fee amounts in multiple checks (H-1B filing fees, payable to the federal government, are $2,325.00 per petition; an additional $1,225.00 may be paid to expedite the processing time.)

Petitions not selected in the lottery will be rejected and the petition and filing fees will be returned to the employer. Unfortunately, rejection means that the company may not employ the non-U.S. citizen individual that year on H-1B status and the affected foreign national may need to leave the U.S

For accepted petitions, the processing time typically is three to five months, unless the employer submitted a $1,225 expedite fee which reduces the processing time to 15 calendar days. Upon approval, USCIS will issue an I-797 Approval Notice which authorizes the immigrant employee to begin work starting October 1, 2014.

Prepare to File At Earliest Date

To increase your chances of acceptance of your H-1B petitions, plan to get your petitions to USCIS on April 1, 2014, the first day of filing. Completing the forms takes some time and requires the employer to attest to certain salary requirements and conditions of work. This means that you must gather the necessary salary, working conditions and other information to get your documents in order now. Plan ahead so that you aren't caught scrambling to complete paperwork at the end of March to complete the petition in time for an April 1st filing.