Employers who need to hire foreign-national professionals for temporary assignments often rely on H-1B visa status to authorize that employment. This status can be used to obtain work authorization for up to six years for employees filling “specialty occupations.” A “specialty occupation” is an occupation that requires a Bachelor’s degree or higher as a minimum requirement for entry to the field, and includes such professional-level positions as lawyers, engineers, teachers and accountants. To maximize the chance of success, however, an employer must act quickly because the annual filing window for this type of petition can be quite short.
By statute, there is an annual cap of about 85,000 on the number of people who can initiate a six-year period of eligibility for H-1B status. (Employees who are extending prior grants of H-1B status do not count against this statutory cap.) Of those, 20,000 are reserved for employees who have a Master’s degree or higher, and the remainder are available for those who have at least a Bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. Petitions to be counted against either the Master’s cap or the Bachelor’s cap can be filed no earlier than April 1 of each calendar year for employment that will begin no earlier than the start of the federal fiscal year on October 1.
In 2013, United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) received more petitions than slots available to fill the 20,000 slots available for the Master’s cap and the 65,000 slots available for the Bachelor’s cap. As a result, USCIS closed the filing season after only five days and ran lotteries to determine which petitions, of those filed during the April 1 to April 5, 2013 window, it would adjudicate. Petitions filed after USCIS closed the filing season and those not selected in the lotteries were rejected.
In light of the increasing strength of the economy, we anticipate a similar short filing window for this year’s H-1B cap season, opening April 1.