H-1B cap filing opens; USCIS expects petitions to exceed caps

1 Apr 16


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting H-1B cap-subject petitions today. The agency has already said it expects the number of petitions filed to exceed the maximum number of H-1B visas available this year within five business days.

This would mark the fourth straight year that the H-1B cap is reached within the first week of filing.

Congress set the annual cap on H-1B visas at 65,000, plus 20,000 additional visas for people with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. university. For those filing for the first time or in need of a refresher, here is how the process is likely to unfold over the next few weeks:

  • USCIS will monitor the number of petitions it receives and make a public announcement when the cap is reached. The filing period will remain open for at least five business days, even if the cap is reached before then.
  • If the cap is reached within the first five business days, USCIS will conduct a two-step, computer-generated lottery. First, petitions for those with a U.S. master’s degree or higher will be placed in an initial lottery which will select 20,000 petitions. Those that are not selected in that phase will be placed in a second draw with all other petitions to select the remaining 65,000. Because the agency must count and confirm the number of petitions it receives, the lottery usually takes place a few days after USCIS stops accepting petitions.
  • Petitions selected in the lottery will be accepted for processing. Petitions that are not selected or that are filed after the cap has closed will be rejected.

Petitions that are filed with a request for premium processing are eligible for expedited 15-day processing. USCIS announced in March that premium processing would begin no later than May 16, meaning employers should expect to wait until late May for adjudication of those petitions.

BAL Analysis: The H-1B cap has been reached in the first week of filing in each of the past three years, and there is every indication that the same thing will happen this year. USCIS received nearly 233,000 H-1B cap-subject petitions during last year’s filing period, up from about 172,500 in 2014. BAL will continue to file H-1B cap petitions for the duration of the filing period, and will continue to report on the status of the cap and the lottery in the coming days.

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