H-1B Visa Filing Deadline

by Anne Zachritz 

Beginning on April 1, 2016, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will accept petitions for H-1B visas for fiscal year 2017 (start dates of October 1, 2016).  An H-1B visa is not a green card, but rather is a nonimmigrant visa.  H-1B visas are intended only for foreign nationals working for U.S. employers in a specialty occupation, such as an occupation which requires a bachelor’s degree or higher as a minimum job requirement.  H-1B visas are “employer-specific”, meaning that foreign nationals can only work for the employer which sponsored them.  H-1B visas are good for three years and can be extended for an additional three years. 

There is a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas which can be issued each year.  The first 20,000 foreign nationals who possess a master’s degree or higher from an American university are exempt from the 65,000 cap under the “advanced degree exemption,” which essentially means that there are 85,000 H-1B visas available annually. 

The number of H-1B petitions has grown steadily over the last few years.  In fiscal year 2013, for example, the cap was not reached until June.  In fiscal year 2014, 124,000 petitions were filed the first week of April.  In fiscal year 2015, 172,500 petitions were filed the first week of April.  In fiscal year 2016, 233,000 petitions were filed the first week of April.  Due to the volume of petitions, for fiscal year 2016, the USCIS treated all petitions which were cap-subject and which were received in the first five business days in April as having been received on the same day.  Petitions were selected for processing by random lottery, beginning with a lottery of the master’s cap petitions.  After the 20,000 advanced degree exemption petitions were selected, all remaining petitions for foreign nationals possessing an advanced degree were added to the random selection process for the remaining 65,000 petitions.  There is no reason to believe that H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2017 will taper off.

There are steps an employer must take prior to filing a petition for an H-1B visa for the benefit of a foreign national, and the petition for an H-1B visa is lengthy and time-consuming to complete.  Based on the upward trending in filing, it is imperative that a cap-subject employer file an H-1B petition as soon as possible.  Best practices dictate that the petition and all supporting documents be overnighted to the USCIS by March 31st. 

For more information on H-1B visas, please contact Anne Zachritz at 272-9241 or aezachritz@andrewsdavis.com.

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