Every year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) opens up the filing period during which employers can submit petitions for new H-1B workers . . . and every year, the window of opportunity closes very soon after. This year, USCIS will begin accepting petitions for workers who are subject to the fiscal year (FY) 2014 cap on Monday, April 1, 2013.
The reason this timing is so important is that only 65,000 new H-1B visas (or status changes) can be given out per year, unless the worker falls into an exempt category. And of those 65,000, up to 6,800 are set aside for H-1B applicants under the U.S.-Chile and U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreements.
The most important exemption from this cap applies to the first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed for workers who have U.S. master’s degree or higher. Other widely used exemptions are available to H-1B applicants who will work at either institutions of higher education or related or affiliated nonprofit entities, nonprofit research organizations, or governmental research organizations.
Even with the exemptions, there is stiff competition for those 65,000 spots — more demand than supply. In fact, USCIS expects to receive more than 65,000 petitions within less than a week, by April 5, 2013. The agency will notify the public as soon as it has received 65,000 petitions subject to the cap, and reject petitions submitted afterward. For any petitions that come in over the 65,000 but before USCIS’s announcement cutting off filings, USCIS plans to use a lottery system to select which ones will be processed.
USCIS is also making a temporary change to its premium processing service. Petitioners may still request premium processing, but they won’t receive a USCIS decision within the normal 15-day period. Instead, USCIS will begin counting the 15-day promised speedy processing period starting on April 15.
One of the most important topics to consider if you are hoping to petition for or get a job as an H-1B worker is whether the cap will be an issue, or whether some exemption or alternative is available. For details on this, see Nolo’s article, “When the H-1Bs Run Out: Alternative Visas and Strategies.”
And for the USCIS press release on this topic and other information on H-1B visas, see http://www.uscis.gov/h-1b_count.