Every year, on April 1st, USCIS opens the filing window for the H-1B visa for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts on October 1st of the same year.
USCIS releases 65,000 H-1B visa spots for all applicants and an additional 20,000 spots for those with US masters degrees or higher.
Due to the limited number of H-1Bs available and the exceptionally high demand for the visa, there are often more applications received within the first few days of April than there are spots available. As a result, USCIS is forced to conduct a lottery of all the applications received within the first five business days of April to determine which of the applications they received will go on for further processing.
For example, below is an overview of the first few days of April over the past couple of years:
- 2014 (Fiscal Year 2015): USCIS reported that as of April 7th they received 172,500.
- 2013 (Fiscal Year 2014): USCIS reported receiving 124,000 applications as of April 5th.
As you can see, the number of H-1B petitions received with the first few days of April over the past couple of years has far exceeded the number of spots available.
As a result, USCIS has been forced to conduct a lottery in order to select the petitions that will go on for review. The lottery is random, and all applications received within the first five business days of April are subject to the lottery.
However, it should be noted that there are actually two separate lotteries – the first being the “masters cap lottery” and the second being the “regular cap lottery”.
The masters cap lottery is only conducted from those who have a US masters degree or higher whereas the regular cap lottery is conducted based on all other applications that don’t fall within the masters cap lottery and masters cap cases that were not selected as part of masters cap lottery. This means those with a US masters degree or higher (the degree must me A) a masters degree or higher AND it must be B) from a US institution).
If you are lucky enough to make it through the lottery, you’re not 100% in the clear yet as your application will then go on for review and it must be ultimately approved in order for you to be approved for an H-1B. If your case is not selected as part of the lottery, it will be returned along with all filing fees.
So, the big question is, what can one do to guarantee their selection in the H-1B visa lottery?
Unfortunately, there is nothing one can do to technically “guarantee” their selection! Like any lottery, the only thing you can do is play when the lottery is open. However, there are things you can do to ensure that you have prepared a strong application that will be submitted within the first five business days of April, such as the following:
- Start working on your application as early as possible. We often start working with clients on their H-1B cap petitions as early as the fall of the previous year. For example, at the time of this blog post we’ve already started connecting with clients on moving the process forward.
- Make sure you and your employer or you and your employee (depending on who’s reading this) are well informed as to what information, documents and fees will be required.
- Iron out any issues pertaining to the position, wage, work location, etc.
- Ensure that the role is a “specialty occupation” and that the foreign beneficiary meets the H-1B educational requirements.
- Find a good lawyer to work with who is well versed and experience with matters pertaining to the H-1B visa process.
The bottom line is that while there’s nothing you can do to guarantee a selection in the H-1B lottery, there are things you can do to ensure the preparation of a strong and timely application.