On April 1, 2016, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will start accepting new H-1B visa petitions for employment that will begin on October 1, 2016 or later. Many employers rely on H-1B visas if they plan on hiring foreign nationals to fill professional or “specialty occupation” positions that require a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, the federal law limits the number of new H-1B visas that are available each Fiscal Year.


Furthermore, each H-1B petition certification by the U.S. Department of Labor of a Labor Condition Application (LCA), which takes about seven business days to issue. As the April 1 deadline draws nearer, these certifications may take even longer to obtain. That’s why it’s critical to start preparing your H-1B petitions as early as possible.


Caps on H-1B Visa Petitions

The USCIS will continue to accept new H-1B petitions after April 1, 2016, but only until the H-1B cap is reached. The limit is 65,000 cap-subject H-1B visas with an additional 20,000 visas available for individuals who have earned master’s degrees or higher from accredited U.S. educational institutions. Although some applicants may be exempt from the cap (typically for institutions of higher education or for those who already have H-1B status), most applicants must adhere to the cap. Once the H-1B visa cap has been reached, employers must wait until April 1, 2017 to file new cap-subject H-1B visa petitions.


Last year, the H-1B cap was reached within the first week of April. As a result, this year’s requests for H-1B visas are likely to exceed the quota of available visas. If the number of petitions exceeds the amount available visas, unselected petitions will be entered into a random, computer-generated lottery. The initial lottery will only be for those applicants who have advanced degrees from accredited U.S. academic institutions. From there, any advanced degree petitions not selected during the first lottery will be included in a second lottery that includes all petitions.


If an employer’s petition for an H-1B visa isn’t selected, that petition—along with any filing fees—will be returned to the employer.