The USCIS has begun accepting H-1B “cap” (quota) petitions today for employment beginning on or after October 1, 2016. More than 172,500 petitions are expected this year and the cap of 85,000 is expected to be reached quickly. The first five business days of April (April 1 through April 7) constitute a single filing period. If, as expected, cap petitions exceed the quota during this period, the USCIS will conduct a computerized lottery to select cases randomly for processing to completion. Due to the high petition volume, it may take up to six weeks before employers find out whether their petitions have been selected. The filing volume for this year will likely exceed last year’s volume of 172,500, when the odds of being selected were 42% for bachelor’s cases and 60% for master’s cases. Cases not selected will be rejected and returned with their government filing fees.
Once the cap has been reached, USCIS will not accept any further cap petitions. Employers can, of course, continue to file H-1B cases that are exempt from the cap, such as extensions, amended petitions, changes of employer, and concurrent filings for existing H-1B workers. (As well, petitions sponsored by institutions of higher education and their related or affiliated nonprofit entities, government research institutions, and nonprofit research institutions are exempt.)
The 15-day premium processing clock will start running no later than May 11 and premium processing cases that are selected should receive email filing receipts by that date. Regular processing cases that are selected should begin receiving hard copy receipts by mail by mid-May, with USCIS processing of those cases beginning by late May or early June.