Everything You Need to Know About the H-1B Cap Season

Another H-1B Cap Season has come and gone. This year, it ran from March 6-25 after getting a slight extension due to technical difficulties. The next Cap Season will not occur until next year. Do you understand the H-1B Cap Season and how it applies to you as an employer looking to hire nonimmigrant workers under the H-1B program?

We highly recommend working with an H-1B visa attorney if your company and HR department are unfamiliar with immigration law. Although the H-1B program is not difficult to understand in principle, it can be particularly challenging to navigate. Indeed, it can be a nightmare for practical purposes.

The Basics of the Program

The H-1B visa program allows U.S. employers to bring in foreign workers on a temporary basis. Said workers are for specialty occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) at minimum. It is not for more general occupations requiring little to no college education.

Also note that the program has participation limits. The current limit is 65,000 annually, with an additional 20,000 H-1B visas going to applicants who qualify under one of several exemptions. For example, some workers are eligible for the advanced degree exemption because they possess a master’s degree.

Annual Registration Period

Obtaining an H-1B visa requires applying with the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS). Applications are filed as a joint effort between employer and prospective employee. They are accompanied by program registration, which is where the annual Cap Season comes into play.

The Cap Season is that brief window of time when the USCIS accepts H-1B visa applications. It is typically held in the spring and lasts for about a month. However, USCIS is allowed to modify the schedule, as they did this year.

Despite the limited amount of time applicants have to register, USCIS typically gets more applications than it can approve. In the event there are fewer applications than available visas, registration can either be extended or the unused visas can be carried over to the following year. This has not happened for many year. Demand always exceeds supply, at least in recent history. 

Registering This Year for Next Year’s Visas

Applying for an H-1B visa in 2024 does not mean getting a visa this year. Rather, applying in 2024 is for obtaining a 2025 visa. USCIS is always working a year ahead. This gives them time to review and process all the applications. The government’s fiscal year starts in October, so new H-1Bs for FY 2025 will begin in October 2024. 

Following Up with a Petition

Once registration officially closes, USCIS begins selecting applications for approval. Selected applicants then follow up with either an online or paper petition. This year, the petition period began on April 1 and will close at the end of June. 

Filing a petition includes a fee designed to pay for processing. Note that there are a number of forms to file including Forms I-907 and I-129. Forms can generally be filed online, though there are some exceptions to that rule.

If a prospective employee’s application is not accepted, there is no point in filing a petition. An applicant can try for another visa or wait until next year’s Cap Season comes around. There is no guarantee that waiting for next year will result in obtaining an H-1B Visa.

We Are Here to Help

Although there is plenty to dislike about the H-1B lottery system, particularly the low number of 85,ooo new H-1Bs annually, it is still a system that works fairly well. Yet it is a complicated system in terms of paperwork, deadlines, etc. We are here to help if you or your HR department feel overwhelmed by it all.

Graham Adair employs highly skilled and experienced H-1B visa attorneys. We can help you navigate the system to what is hopefully a successful conclusion. Just contact us to learn more.

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