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San Francisco Bay Area Immigration Blog

H-1B Lottery Expected to Remain Open for only 5 Business Days in Early April 2017

With about a month left before USCIS begins accepting H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2017, the H-1B “rush” is in full force. Becker & Lee LLP is currently preparing cases for the H-1B lottery for fiscal year 2017. The H-1B visa is one of the most popular and highly sought-after visas for professional foreign workers in the US. Since Congress only authorizes issuance of about 85,000 new H-1B visas per year, it is very likely that USCIS will conduct an “H-1B lottery” in April 2016. This year, a higher number of H-1B petitions is expected than last year and the chances of getting selected in the lottery are likely to be even lower.

What is the lottery?

Congress limits the number of new H-1B visas to approximately 65,000 per fiscal year (“Regular Cap”) plus an additional 20,000 visas per year for foreign graduates of certain U.S. universities who earned Master’s or higher degrees (“U.S. Master’s Cap”). USCIS will likely receive more petitions than the number of H-1Bs that can be granted in one fiscal year. If more petitions are accepted than the limited number that Congress allows to be approved each year, USCIS will conduct an “H-1B lottery.”

1st Lottery for the “US Master’s Cap”

USCIS first conducts the “U.S. Master’s Cap lottery.” Essentially all H-1B petitions filed for foreign workers who have U.S. universities who earned master’s degree or higher degrees from qualifying institutions go into the first computer-generated random selection process. USCIS selects the first 20,000 petitions from the U.S. Master’s Cap pool. Any cases filed for workers with US master’s degrees or higher who do not make it into the first lottery are then placed into the second lottery.

                                                                                                                          2nd Lottery for all other cases

After the first 20,000 “U.S. Master’s Cap” lottery is complete, all remaining cap subject H-1B visa petitions that are timely filed go into the second computer-generated random selection process. For this lottery, there are approximately 65,000 visas available. If a case is not selected in one of the lotteries above, the petition is returned with the original filing fee checks to our office along with a notice explaining that the case was not selected in the lottery.

                                                                                                                         How likely is it that an H-1B petition will make it through the lottery?

Last year, USCIS received approximately 233,000 petitions for both lotteries during the first five business days in April, 2015. After the “U.S. Master’s Cap” lottery was conducted, there were about 213,000 petitions that were considered for the second, “Regular Cap” lottery. For regular cap cases, the chances of getting into the lottery were about 33%. For U.S. Master’s cases the chances of being selected were much higher, although some U.S. Master’s cases did not get into the lottery last year. This year Becker & Lee LLP expects more petitions to be filed than last year, but we will not know the exact number of petitions filed until USCIS releases this information, probably sometime in April 2016.