On Friday, April 1, 2016, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will begin accepting H1B quota-subject case filings for fiscal year 2017 (FY17). Yes, 2017 is correct. USCIS fiscal year covers a twelve-month period beginning October 1 and ending September 30. If USCIS selects and approves a case, the earliest effective date for the H-1B approval period will be October 1, 2016.
April 1st may seem far away from today, but employers and potential H1B workers would be well advised to start the application preparation as early as possible. Our law firm has already completed some H1B petitions in January (completed as in “ready for filing”). Past experience reveals that we become increasingly busy in February and March.
Background on H1B Quota Season
There are 65,000 regular H1B quota numbers plus 20,000 advanced-degree quota?exemptions?(U.S. master's quota) available per year. Each year, H1B quota-subject cases can be filed beginning on the first day in April. Under USCIS regulations, the minimum filing period for H1B quota cases is five business days. If there are still quota numbers available at the end of the first five days, the quota remains open until filled. If there are enough cases to meet or exceed the quota in the first five days, the quota closes. In that event, the USCIS stops accepting new H1B quota filings, and a lottery is conducted from the cases filed during the first five business days to randomly select the cases that the USCIS will adjudicate. The remaining cases are then returned as rejected.
Last filing season, USCIS announced on April 7, 2015 that they received enough H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap of 85,000 visas for fiscal year (FY) 2016. A total of nearly 233,000 H-1B petitions were filed during the filing period. On April 13, USCIS used a computer-generated random selection process, or lottery, to select enough petitions to meet the statutory quota. USCIS conducted the selection process for the advanced degree exemption first. All unselected advanced degree petitions then became part of the random selection process for the 65,000 limit. The agency then proceeded to return unselected applications, and this process continued well into summer of 2015.
A similar trend is widely expected to continue for this year’s quota filing.
It should be noted that once this quota is closed, the next H1B quota will not open until April 1, 2017, with an H1B start date of October 1, 2017.
Advantage of early planning and preparation
Starting early in the season allows the attorneys to identify potential issues that would take time to resolve. For example, the applicant’s foreign credentials may need to be assessed by a degree evaluation company. If the applicant held J-1 visa in the past, a waiver may need to be applied for as soon as possible. There may a gap in the approved dates for employment, and the company can plan for a workaround in advance. In some cases, early planning sometimes yields an alternative route that’s more efficient and more suitable. For example, the applicant may qualify for O-1 visa, or L1-A/B, or investment based applications.