There is an annual cap on the number of H-1B visas issued. The current annual cap is 65,000. Additionally, there are 20,000 H-1B visas issued annually to professionals with a master’s degree or higher. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) begins accepting H-1B applications for the next fiscal year in early April (start date in early October). Because the number of available visas is limited, it is extremely important to get started on the process as soon as an employer decides to hire an alien worker.
In 2013, USCIS reached the statutory H-1B cap of 65,000 for fiscal year (FY) 2014 within the first week of the filing period, for the first time since 2008. USCIS received approximately 124,000 H-1B petitions during the filing period, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption. On April 7, 2013, USCIS used a computer-generated random selection process (commonly known as a “lottery”) to select a sufficient number of petitions needed to meet the caps of 65,000 for the general category and 20,000 under the advanced degree exemption limit. For cap-subject petitions not randomly selected, USCIS rejected and returned the petitions with filing fees.
If the organization misses the filing period, both the employer and the employee may have to wait another year for the next cap season to file the petition. However, there are cap exemptions for certain types of organizations, for example nonprofit research organizations and universities. Cap-exempt organizations can file H-1B petitions all year round and are not bound by cap season limitations.