April 1, 2016, is the first day U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will accept H-1B cap-subject petitions for next year's allotment of visas for foreign national professionals in specialty occupations. Cap-subject H-1B visas become available each year on October 1 — and filings with USCIS can be made no sooner than six months in advance.
For the past three years, USCIS was required to conduct a random lottery for available H-1B visas. USCIS predicts another record year of H-1B cap filings this year, and that another random lottery will be conducted. Based on last year’s record number of 233,000 H-1B cap cases filed, many predict a similar number of H-1B cap cases will be filed this year.
As stated in its March 16 announcement, USCIS expects to receive more than 65,000 cap-subject H-1B petitions and more than 20,000 H-1B petitions for individuals holding a U.S. master's degree or higher when the H-1B filing period opens on Friday, April 1. See USCIS Release about FY 2017 H-1B Cap. Last year, on April 13, 2015, computer-generated random lotteries for both the master's cap and regular cap were conducted. After these lotteries were conducted, USCIS began notifying applicants who were selected in the lottery process. USCIS will use the same system this year. USCIS will accept all H-1B petitions properly filed during the first five business days before conducting a random selection process, so that petitioners need not file H-1B petitions exactly on April 1. USCIS will conduct the anticipated random lottery (if needed) after April 7 (the fifth business day after April 1 this year).
USCIS has also announced that premium processing for H-1B cap cases will begin no later than May 16, 2016. Last year, USCIS announced that premium processing would start on May 11. However, in practice, USCIS started to process cases (including sending premium processing email receipt notices) immediately after the random lottery on April 13, 2015. Keep in mind that cases filed without premium processing will take longer to be processed, and it could take two months or more to receive the receipt notice from USCIS.
More information about the H-1B cap can also be found in our previous legal update from January 5, 2016, “H-1B Cap-Subject Petitions Will Be Accepted by USCIS Beginning April 1; Employers Urged to Start Process Now as Lottery Is Anticipated.” As more information is released from USCIS about this year’s H-1B cap, we will provide additional updates.