Each year United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is authorized by law to issue up to 65,000 H1B visas for US employers to fill specialty positions that require at least a bachelor’s degree as a minimum qualification for the position.  In addition, USCIS is authorized to issue another 20,000 H1B visas where the prospective employee has earned a Master’s degree or higher from a US university.  Employers are required to pay H1B employees the prevailing wage for the position and must comply with all other US labor laws.

The reality is the demand for an H1B visa, which authorizes an individual to lawfully work for the sponsoring employer for 3 years (and can be extended for another 3 years), far exceeds the supply.  As a result, the H1B quota is used up before the government’s fiscal year even begins!  In order to secure an H1B visa for a prospective employee, the US employer may file an application 6 months in advance of the date the H1B visa will be available.  Since the government’s fiscal year begins on October 1, April 1 is the first day that an employer can submit an H1B petition for the coming year.  However, even filing on the very first day – April Fool’s Day (is this a coincidence?) does not guarantee that an employer’s H1B petition will be processed.

This year is a perfect example.  USCIS announced on Friday, April 5, 2013, that it had received more than the available quota for both the regular H1B filings and the separate US Master’s degree quota.  As a result, USCIS announced that it will conduct a random lottery amongst all petitions received between April 1 and April 5 in order to choose which petitions will actually be selcted for processing.

If an employer’s H1B petition is not selected for processing, the employer will have to wait until next April Fool’s Day to try again or look to other potential visa options for qualified applicants.  Other possible employment related visa categories that are sometimes applicable include the L visa for multinational companies, the TN visa for professionals from Canada and Mexico, the E3 visa for Australians, and the H1B1 for citizens of Singapore or Chile.  In addition, for truly outstanding talent, the O visa category for individuals of extraordinary ability might be an option.

To read the USCIS H1B lottery announcement, please click:  H1B Quota Filled