On April 1, 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will start accepting H-1B visa petitions for the next fiscal year with a start date of October 1, 2019. The H-1B program allows companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty or its equivalent. There are 85,000 visas (the “H-1B Cap”) available each fiscal year with 20,000 of those reserved for individuals with a U.S. master’s degree or higher (the “Master’s exemption”).
For the last several years USCIS has held a lottery because there has been thousands more H-1B applications than available visas. For example, when H-1B season opened on April 2, 2018, USCIS received the following number of petitions in the first few days:
H-1B Regular Cap
H-1B Master’s Exemption
See here. Consequently, for the 2018 season, USCIS stopped accepting H-1B cap applications by April 6, 2018. USCIS then held a lottery on the timely filed applications to determine which petitions would be processed.
In late 2018, USCIS proposed changing how each year's limited number of H-1B visa petitions are chosen. The proposal would require employers to register online to be randomly selected before they submit visa petitions. It also would award visas to more people who have advanced degrees earned in the United States. The proposal aims to streamline the application process and take the burden off the employer. Specifically, instead of compiling lengthy petitions that may not even be selected in the lottery, employers would instead submit a simple, free, online registration form for each prospective employee in need of a visa and USCIS will randomly select enough registrations to meet the cap. While the agency proposed having the new system finalized and in place for this year’s H-1B season, members of the immigration community have called for a delay in implementation to provide time for comment and to ensure the system is ready.
Now that we are just over two months away from the April lottery season, it is looking less and less likely that these proposed changes will be implemented in time for this year’s lottery season.
Consequently, employers wanting to file an H-1B petition should plan on preparing a complete petition and start gathering the essential documents now to be ready for April 1, 2019.
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