I. FISCAL YEAR FOR 2015 H-1B CAP
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) will start accepting new H-1B petitions for Fiscal Year 2015 on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. As such, employers must start identifying current and future employees who will need to be sponsored for new H-1B petitions as soon as possible, as it is likely that this year’s H-1B quota (“H-1B cap”) will be met within one week of it opening and USCIS will then stop accepting new petitions until next year’s H-1B cap opens on April 1, 2015. Once the H-1B cap closes, employers will need to look at alternative visa options for affected employees to assess whether a viable option is available. Please note that only new H-1B petitions are affected; H-1B petitions involving someone who is already in H-1B status or has previously held H-1B status are not affected by the H-1B cap.
By way of background, U.S. businesses use the H-1B program to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields, such as scientists, engineers, or computer programmers. The number of initial H-1B visas available to U.S. employers (the “H-1B cap”) is 65,000, with an additional 20,000 numbers set aside for individuals who have obtained a U.S. master’s degree or higher. This year’s H-1B cap will leave employers unable to secure all of the highly skilled workers needed to remain competitive and will no doubt re-ignite the debate about the need to implement a comprehensive immigration reform.
The rate at which USCIS has received cap-subject H-1B petitions in the past few years has dramatically increased. The usage of the H-1B program is strongly connected to the health of the U.S. economy, and the increase in the H-1B usage rate corresponds with the economic recovery following the 2008 Economic Recession. In keeping with this trend, business immigration practitioners are predicting that the H-1B quota will be reached by the second quarter of 2014, if not much sooner. In fact, it is possible that initial demand for H-1B visas will exceed the 85,000 supply during the first week of the filing season, April 1, 2014 through April 4, 2014.
If USCIS receives more than 85,000 H-1B Cap Petitions during the first week of availability, then a lottery will be conducted to select the petitions that will be processed under this cap. Those petitions not selected in the lottery will be rejected. Should such a rejection occur, an affected foreign national seeking immigration and employment authorization sponsorship with an employer will be unable to obtain an H-1B petition until October 1, 2015 (with the filing season beginning April 1, 2015). Affected foreign nationals may also be required to forego employment with employers and possibly leave the United States.
II. HISTORICAL CONTEXT
As an historical example, in FY 2009 (October 1, 2008 – October 1, 2009), approximately 163,000 H-1B petitions were filed within the five-day filing period at the beginning of April 2008 and a lottery was needed to select the petitions which would enjoy processing under that year’s cap.
Last year, the FY 2014 H-1B cap was reached within the first week of filing. USCIS received a total of 124,000 H-1B petitions and therefore had to conduct a lottery in order to select the petitions needed to meet the regular cap of 65,000 and master’s cap of 20,000.00
The markedly higher demand for H-1B visa petitions in the FY 2014 season is indicative of an improving job market and economy in the United States, and the economy and need for highly skilled workers have picked up over the last year. Accordingly, we project that the demand for H-1B visas this year will be even greater than last year with up to 40% of all H-1B petitions filed by employers rejected by USCIS pursuant to a randomized lottery system.
III. RECOMMENDED ACTION
Based upon the above, we strongly urge employers to file H-1B cap-subject petitions with USCIS on the earliest possible start date in FY 2015: April 1, 2014. This will allow for the mailing of H-1B cap-subject petitions to USCIS on March 31, 2014, for delivery to USCIS on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, the very first day of filing. This will provide the best possible chance for acceptance of the H-1B petition. It can take two to four weeks or more to gather all of the necessary information and documentation and prepare the requisite forms and supporting documentation for filing of an H-1B petition. Therefore, we recommend that H-1B cases should be initiated immediately.