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Skilled Worker H-1B Visas Maxed out -- Now What?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 11, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For businesses both large and small, the H-1B Visa allows skilled non-citizen employees to work in the U.S. for three to six years. And whether you're adding international talent to an existing and established company or just getting started, the H-1B can be essential.

But availability is limited -- H-1B's are capped at 85,000 annually and they sell out fast. Like six days fast. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has already reached the mandated H1-B cap for this year, leading to many small business owners wondering what that means for sponsoring skilled foreign workers.

Gotta Be in It to Win It

Not only did USCIS reach the H-1B cap for the year, it also received more than 20,000 applications for the advanced degree exemption that allows foreign nationals who earned a master's degree in the U.S. to be exempt from H-1B requirements. USCIS will continue accepting other exemption and extension applications, but the standard H-1B filing period closed on April 7.

So what are employers left to do? Cross your fingers. USCIS announced it "will use a computer-generated process, also known as the lottery, to randomly select the petitions needed to meet the caps of 65,000 visas for the general category and 20,000 for the advanced degree exemption."

And when will this lottery take places? Not even USCIS knows: "Due to the high number of petitions, USCIS is not yet able to announce the date it will conduct the random selection process."

Luck or Skilled Labor?

Employers waiting on lottery info can get email updates from the H-1B Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Cap Season web page. And if you're filing an extension or a change for a current employee, you may still do so. Otherwise, you may be stuck with looking for American citizens to fill out your skilled employee roster.

And if you have other questions about the H1-B process or hiring immigrants, you may want to consult with an experienced employment attorney today.

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