On April 1, 2014, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting new H-1B visa petitions for employment that will begin on October 1, 2014. The H-1B visa is a popular choice for companies that plan to hire a foreign national to fill a "professional" or "specialty occupation" position requiring a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a specific field. Candidates for H-1B status include current employees in student status (F-1 or J-1), potential new hires, or employees in a different immigration status (for example, TN or L-1 status).

Congress has placed a numerical "cap" on H-1B visas. For Fiscal Year 2015 (which begins October 1, 2014), the limit is 65,000 cap-subject H-1B visas, with an additional 20,000 visas available for individuals who have earned a master's degree or higher from an accredited U.S. educational institution. Although some exemptions from the cap may be available (principally for institutions of higher education), most employers are subject to the cap. As with last year, we expect the H-1B cap to be reached the first week of April. Once the H-1B cap has been reached, employers will be unable to file new cap-subject H-1B petitions until April 1, 2015.

Consequently, we advise employers to make H-1B sponsorship decisions within the next few weeks. It is important to prepare H-1B petitions as early as possible—and well before April 1st—so that a complete petition can be submitted to USCIS on the first day the quota opens. USCIS received more than 85,000 H-1B petitions during the first week of April, 2013, and established an H-1B lottery to determine which petitions would be accepted for processing. It is critical that H-1B petitions be received as early as possible so that they are included in the lottery, if one is required.

We strongly advise clients to finalize their H-1B petition decisions by February 28, 2014. Each petition requires a certification by the Department of Labor of a Labor Condition Application, which currently takes approximately seven days for issuance. As we draw closer to April 1st, we anticipate that these certifications will take longer to obtain. It is therefore important to begin work on new H-1B petitions as soon as possible.