U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting H-1B cap-subject petitions today.

For companies that are filing for the first time this season or need a refresher on the process, here is what you can expect:

USCIS has already predicted that the quotas will be reached within the first five business days of filing, but within the first few days the agency should have a sense of the volume of petitions and how soon the cap will be reached. If the number of petitions exceeds the cap in the first five business days, as expected, USCIS will announce the news around April 7. The cap is set at 65,000 for H-1B candidates holding undergraduate degrees or equivalent, plus an additional 20,000 for those holding U.S. master’s degrees or higher. Even if the cap is reached before April 7, the regulations allow USCIS to accept petitions through the first five business days; if it receives an excess of petitions during that time frame, it will use a lottery system to randomly select the number of petitions required to meet the cap. Any cap-subject petitions received after the first five business days will be returned with their filing fees.

The lottery that USCIS is expected to run after April 7 may require a few days to prepare because the agency must count and confirm the number of petitions received before it can conduct the lottery. For example, last year, petitions topped 172,000 and the lottery was finished by April 10. The lottery consists of two draws: 20,000 petitions will first be selected from the pool of individuals holding U.S. master’s degrees or higher, and any unselected petitions from that pool will be placed into a second lottery from which 65,000 petitions will be drawn. Petitions for those holding U.S. master’s degrees or higher therefore have better odds, since they get two chances of being randomly chosen.

USCIS will issue receipt notices to those selected and will return all other petitions with their filing fees. For cases that were filed under regular processing, receipt notices may take longer than a month to be issued. For cases filed under premium processing, the agency has projected that it will begin adjudicating petitions no later than May 11; employers awaiting receipt notices may note that last year USCIS started premium processing earlier than its projected date. Employers will receive receipt notices via email for premium-processing cases accepted in the lottery, informing them that processing has begun. Rejected petitions will be sent by mail.

H-1B petitions that are not subject to the cap will continue to be processed regularly. Those exempt from the cap include current H-1B workers seeking to extend or change their stays who were subject to the cap in past years.

BAL Analysis: BAL will continue to file H-1B cap petitions through April 7 and will continue to report on the status of the cap and lottery in the coming days.

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