H-1B Visa Petitions Reach Cap, Go to Lottery

Just five days after opening the H-1B visa application acceptance process for fiscal year 2015, the United States Immigration and Citizenship Service (USCIS) announced it’s already reached its cap.

This is the second consecutive year in which these nonimmigrant work visa applications have reached capacity in only a handful of days.

The USCIS opened the H-1B application process for fiscal year 2015, which begins Oct. 1, 2014, on April 1. Each year, USCIS is limited by Congressional mandate to issuing just 65,000 of the visas, which let employers fill specialty positions. The USCIS can issue another 20,000 of the visas through the U.S. advanced degree exemption.

H-1B visas are especially popular among technology companies and workers. The H-1B is also one of the few visa categories that allows for “dual intent.” In other words, immigrants holding H-1B visas can declare their intent to obtain a green card and emigrate to the U.S. Applicants for student and tourist visas, by contrast, could be disqualified from the process if they declare an intention to immigrate to the country.

Because the number of petitions exceeds the number of H-1B visa available for issue, USCIS will move to a kind of lottery process in selecting applicants. According to reports, due to the high volume of petitions, USCIS hasn’t yet announced the date it will begin conducting the random, computer-selection process.

USCIS is still accepting and processing H-1B visas that are otherwise exempt from the cap. This includes petitions filed on behalf of current H-1B workers who’ve been counted toward the cap in previous years. Other exemptions include:

  • Extension of time a current H-1B worker can remain in the U.S.
  • Changing the terms of employment for current H-1B workers
  • Allowing current H-1B workers to change employers
  • Allowing current H-1B workers to work concurrently in a second H-1B position

Typically, U.S. businesses use the H-1B visa program to employ foreign workers in highly specialized fields, including science, engineering and computer programming.