H-1B visas are non-immigrant visas issued to employees in specialty occupations and who hold at least a bachelors degree. There are currently 65,000 H-1B visas set aside for each fiscal year (which starts from Oct 1 to Sept 30). Additionally, 20,000 H-1B visas are set aside for those employees with a U.S. masters degree or higher. Employers hiring a new H-1B employee may petition on behalf of the employee six months in advance of the start date of employment.  For example, for employment that begins on October 1, the employer may petition as early as April 1.

For the 2014 FY (October 1, 2013-September 30, 2014), when the filing period opened on April 1, 2013, the standard 65,000 and the “masters” 20,000 caps were reached by April 5, 2013. USCIS had to hold a random computer-generated lottery to choose from the 125,000 petitions it received up to that point (i.e., in 5 days) to adjudicate.

The 2015 FY runs from October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015, and new H-1B filings will begin on April 1, 2014. An even higher number of petitions than last year is expected to be received by USCIS by the first week of April, due to a number of factors, including re-filing of petitions by employers who missed the cap last year, stricter USCIS scrutiny of other work visa categories (for example, L-1 intra-company transferrees), an improving economy, and increased workforce hiring.

Therefore, now is the time for employers to begin assessing their H-1B needs. Employers and their immigration attorneys should start working now on position offered, job description, wages offered, and location of employment, and on identifying the right candidate for the job. The prevailing wage needs to be determined; a Labor Condition Application needs to be certified by the DOL, before the USCIS petition may be submitted on April 1.