U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced Thursday that it had completed the computer-generated lotteries to determine which H-1B petitions will be eligible for processing. The agency said it received 201,011 cap-subject H-1B petitions in the first week of filing and confirmed that it has received enough petitions to reach the cap of 20,000 visas set aside for individuals holding advanced degrees from U.S. institutions.

USCIS announced last week that it had received enough petitions to reach the 65,000 H-1B general cap for the 2020 fiscal year, but was still working at that time to determine whether the master’s cap had also been reached. This year, the agency reversed the order of the general and advanced degree lotteries to give advanced degree holders better odds of being selected for adjudication.

Employers whose petitions were selected will receive receipt notices and, if approved, employees will be eligible to begin work in H-1B status beginning Oct. 1, 2019, the start of the 2020 fiscal year. Petitions subject to the cap that were not selected in either lottery or that were received after the filing period closed on April 5 will be returned along with filing fees.

This was the seventh consecutive year that the H-1B cap was exceeded within the first week of filing. The number of petitions filed this year was up compared with the last two years. USCIS received 199,000 cap-subject petitions in 2017 and 190,098 in 2018.

While the filing period for cap-subject petitions has closed, USCIS will continue to accept H-1B petitions that are exempt from the cap. It will also accept petitions to extend the amount of time a current H-1B worker can stay in the country, to change the terms of employment for current H-1B workers, to allow current H-1B workers to switch employers, or to allow current H-1B workers to accept concurrent employment in a second H-1B position.

BAL Analysis: The number of H-1B petitions easily exceeded the H-1B cap again this year. The odds of success in the lottery remain relatively low, and companies may want to consider alternative visa options or overseas assignments for high-skilled employees whose petitions are not selected. Petitions that are selected may face close scrutiny. USCIS has dramatically increased H-1B denials and requests for evidence in recent years. Employers are reminded that USCIS only accepted concurrently filed premium processing requests for cap-subject H-1B change of status petitions and will begin premium processing on those petitions on May 20. For all other cap-subject petitions, USCIS will announce when premium processing will be available, expected June or later, at which time employers may upgrade petitions with premium processing requests.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice group. For additional information, please contact berryapplemanleiden@bal.com.

Copyright © 2019 Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. All rights reserved. Reprinting or digital redistribution to the public is permitted only with the express written permission of Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. For inquiries please contact copyright@bal.com