Employers need to plan now for new or recent hires that possess F-1 (student visas). These visas provide at least a year of employment authorization with school approval prior to graduation, but before that ends, they will need to convert to a full-time work visa or you may risk losing the ability to employ them in the United States. The most common work visa F-1 students change to is the H-1B visa.  U.S. businesses use the H-1B program to employ foreign workers in occupations that require highly specialized knowledge in fields such as science, engineering and computer programming. However, there is a limit on the number of new H-1B visas that can be approved each year. In recent years, the demand has far exceeded supply and eligible H-1B applications have been entered into a lottery, with only the “winners” getting their H-1B application approved.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H-1B petitions subject to the fiscal year (FY) 2016 cap on April 1, 2015. Cases will be considered accepted on the date that USCIS receives a properly filed petition with the correct fee. The congressionally mandated cap on H-1B visas for FY 2015 is 65,000. The first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of individuals with a U.S. master’s degree or higher are exempt from the 65,000 cap. USCIS anticipates receiving more than enough petitions to reach both caps by April 8th, 2015. If this occurs, a lottery must be conducted from all petitions received during the first five days of the filing “window” April 1, 2015 – April 8, 2015). USCIS will use a random selection process to meet the numerical limit. Non-duplicate petitions that are not selected will be rejected and returned with the filing fees. In recent years, USCIS has received more than 150,000 H-1B petitions during this five day window, each vying for one of the 65,000 regular H-1B visa numbers or the 20,000 H-1B visa numbers set aside for U.S. Master’s degree holders.

H-1B Cap-subject petitions filed before March 31, 2015 or after April 7th 2015 will not be included in the lottery and employers will have to wait until April 1, 2016 to file a new H-1B petition. Prior to filing an H-1B petition, an employer must complete a number of processes and forms, including a labor condition application (LCA) certified by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). If an employer has not filed an LCA before, the DOL may require them to complete time-consuming verification processes. Even seasoned employers who frequently use the H-1B program must wait for the DOL to certify their application, which normally takes a week or more. If ongoing funding for the DOL is delayed or stopped, the processing of LCA’s will too, and processing times will increase dramatically. Employers should identify now any employees that will need to convert to an H-1B visa prior to October 1, 2016 to maintain employment and enter them in this year’s H-1B lottery. With the five day filing window only occurring once a year, planning and timing are essential in this process. We encourage US Companies to contact us now to discuss your hiring plans and foreign national employees requiring immigration sponsorship.