By law, up to 85,000 new H-1B visas may be issued every fiscal year. Of those, 20,000 are earmarked for applicants holding a masters or higher degree from a US university (the “Master’s Cap”), and 6,800 are reserved for applicants from Singapore and Chile (“H-1B1” visas). This leaves 58,200 available for the general pool.
For H-1B purposes, the fiscal year starts on October 1. By regulation, H-1B applications can be submitted no earlier than 6 months before the job’s start date. In prior years of low demand, employers could file H-1B petitions throughout the year as the number of available visas was slowly reduced. In years of high demand, however, all available visas are quickly snapped up, which means employers have to wait until the next fiscal year to hire new H-1B employees. Since the new fiscal year starts on October 1 and the earliest an employer can petition is six months before the job’s start date, in years of high demand many employers are ready and waiting on April 1 to apply for October’s fresh batch of H-1Bs.
By regulation, USCIS must accept H-1B petitions for the following fiscal year for at least five days. There is no distinction made between applications received on day one vs. day five. If USCIS has not received enough applications to issue all 85,000 H-1B visas during the first five days, they will continue to accept applications until all visas have been allocated. If they have received enough applications in that time, however, they will stop accepting new applications after five days and conduct a random “lottery” among the all of the petitions received to decide which petitions will be processed. In 2017, for instance, USCIS received more than 199,000 petitions in the first five days, at which point they stopped accepting applications for new H-1Bs for the fiscal year running from October 1, 2017 – September 30, 2018.
When the lottery begins, H1B petitions are first processed in the mailroom. Incomplete applications will be rejected outright. Reasons for outright rejection include improperly addressed filing fee checks, incorrect filing address, missing signatures, uncertified LCA, improper job start dates, and other simple clerical errors. Since making one of these small administrative errors can result in a rejection that will shut you out of the H1B lottery for a full year, it’s very important to make sure all of these little administrative details are correct on your application!! (In my office, we use detailed checklists to review final filings before mailing to ensure that all of these little details are correct. Two sets of eyes are better than one when it comes to tasks like this, so we always have at least one paralegal and one attorney complete the checklist review for each application.)
All petitions that make it past the mailroom rejection stage will be entered into the lottery. The master’s lottery happens first. All master’s cap applicants will be thrown into one pot, and 20,000 will be selected for processing. Any master’s cap applications not selected during the master’s lottery will be thrown into the general pool. 58,200 applications are then randomly selected from the general pool.
If your application is selected in the lottery, your employer will get a receipt notice in the mail assigning your case a tracking number. You’ll probably get this receipt sometime in late April or May. Your case will be assigned to a USCIS officer who will then decide whether your application will be approved or denied.
If your application is not selected in the lottery, your entire application package (including the checks for the filing fees) will be returned to your employer, along with an official notice from USCIS explaining that your application was not selected. This will likely happen sometime in June or July.
And that’s how it works!
If you have general questions on this topic, please leave a comment on this post and I will try to respond. Please note that I cannot respond to questions regarding the specific facts of your case on this blog, but I would be happy to discuss specific case questions with you over the phone or Skype! You can schedule a consultation here.