USCIS will begin to accept H-1b visa applications on April 1st, 2015 for an October 1st 2015 start date. USCIS usually accepts petitions for the entire first week and then counts them to see if an H-1b lottery is needed. If USCIS receives more petitions than there are slots, they will conduct a lottery to see who gets their petition adjudicated. Even though the filing and adjudication takes place in 2015, these applications are considered part of the 2016 FY H-1b Cap, because the government’s fiscal year starts in October and that’s when the numbers are actually released.
Last year USCIS received over 172,000 applications in the first 5 days. They then conducted 2 lotteries based on these applications. First 20,000 H-1b petitions were chosen out of those eligible for the “Master’s Cap”. This includes individuals who received a U.S. Master’s or Doctorate degree. Then there was a second lottery for fewer than 65,000 slots. This included anybody not chosen in the Master’s Cap lottery and everyone else. The exact number is lower than 65,000 as 6,800 are reserved for individuals from Chile and Singapore (but any of these 6,800 slots not used from the year before are added back in).
Based on the overwhelming demand last year and the continued strong economy, I predict there will almost definitely be a H-1b lottery this year. It would not surprise me if there were again over 150,000 petitions filed during the first week.
A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill called I-squared that would increase the cap of regular H-1b visas to 115,000 from 65,000. Additionally, it would grant work permits to H-4 spouses and allow a grace period for foreign workers to change jobs and be out of status. This bill would certainly be a good start to the necessary reforms, but given Congress’ inability to do anything constructive in recent years, I’m not optimistic it will ever land on the President’s desk.
Regardless, of whether this bill passes, if you are consider applying for an H-1b visa for this year’s lottery, I recommend you discuss it with your employer (or prospective employer) now. It will take time to gather all of the necessary documents and for the immigration attorney to prepare the petition. Moreover, if your company has not filed an H-1b petition before in the last few years, they will probably need to go through the additional step of verifying their FEIN with the DOL.