The 2011-2012 H-1B Season . . . Any Lottery Hype?

April 1st, 2011 marks the first day when prospective H-1B petitioning employers and prospective H-1B employees will be able to apply to the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) for and Labor Condition Application (“LCA”) and Petition to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“CIS”) for H-1B visa petitions for employment in the fiscal 2011-2012 year (“FY 2012”). Our advice to our H-1B employer clients continues to be that they need to think about filing H-1B petitions on (or very close to) April 1st for new and existing employees who will be eligible for a first-time H-1B visa to begin their employment on or after October 1st, 2011.

Each Fiscal Year, Congress has mandated an annual cap of 65,000 H-1B visas for “professional and specialty occupation workers” who possess the equivalence of a U.S. Bachelor’s Degree. There are also an additional 20,000 H-1B visas available for individuals who possess the equivalence of a U.S. Master’s Degree or other advanced degrees from U.S. Colleges or Universities. It continues to be the case that H-1B visa petitions filed on behalf of current workers who have been counted previously against the H-1B visa cap are not included in the annual cap established by Congress. Additionally, pursuant to the Chile and Singapore Free Trade Agreement, 6,800 H-1B visas are available exclusively to Chile and Singapore Nationals. This reduces the total allotment of H-1B visas available each fiscal year to 58,200.

For many years, our office assisted students who had to deal with the “cap-gap” issue. However, in 2008, there was some relief. In 2008, a regulation was promulgated that provided “cap-gap” relief for F-1 students with pending H-1B petitions. For example, F-1 student visa holders who received work authorization in Optional Practical Training (OPT) were permitted to extend the authorized period of stay and work authorization as long as they have received approved H-1B visas prior to the expiration of the OPT. Also, many Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (“STEM”) students continue to use the 19 month extension as a way to have the time they need to petition in the appropriate H-1B cycle. However, to get the STEM extensions, the employer needs to be enrolled in E-Verify.

For the last two (2) fiscal years, the H-1B allotment actually lasted for almost eight to nine months. This past year, the H-1B allocation lasted until late January, 2011. However, in previous years, the H-1B allotment was actually exhausted within three (3) days of the H-1B visas becoming available. This required the CIS to conduct a “lottery” and only one of three visas submitted was accepted for processing by the CIS. The demand for H-1B visas this fiscal year may be greater than it was for last year. We keep hearing that “economic recovery” is on the way. For this reason, we continue to advise our H-1B employers to consider filing on April 1st, or as soon thereafter as possible.