H1-B Annual Caps: Your Client’s Degree, Job, and Visa Status

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Talk of raising the H1-B annual cap from 65,000 visas to 110,000 will not come to fruition for the FY 2017 filing season. This means that the same number of annual H1-B visas will be available for a rapidly growing number of candidates. CIS is required to accept petitions for at least the first five days of the filing season. If the last two years are any indication of what is to come in April, those are the only five days you and your client will have to file. CIS is inundated with way more petitions than there are visas, and to make sure your client’s petition is one of them you need to be ready to file on April 1st.

However, your client may not be subject to the 65,000 annual visa cap. There are also an additional 20,000 H1-B visas available for candidates with Master’s Degrees. Some employers are not even subject to any annual cap at all. Some candidates aren’t either. So what category does your client fall into?

To start, let’s take a look at how many H1-B visas are available, and then let’s look at how candidates are selected for these limited number of visas. Finally, we will see which candidates and employers are cap-exempt.

There are 65,000 H1-B visas available annually for candidates with a US Bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, or higher levels of education. There are also an additional 20,000 H1-B visas available for candidates with US Master’s degrees or its equivalent or higher. After all of the petitions are in, CIS will hold a lottery to determine which candidates with Master’s degrees will get the additional 20,000 H1-B visas. This lottery is conducted via random computer selection. After these petitions have been selected, any candidates with Master’s degrees or higher who were not selected for these 20,000 will roll over into the regular lottery for the annual 65,000 visas for candidates with Bachelor’s degrees of higher. The same random computer selection process will determine who will be selected for these visa slots from the pool of petitions.

However, there are many circumstances in which your candidate may not be subject to the annual H1-B visa cap at all. This has to do with your client’s current visa status, and your client’s employer.

If your client is already working under H1-B visa status, he or she is probably cap exempt. Candidates filing for H1-B extensions and H1-B transfers are not subject to the annual cap. H1-B visa holders can also take on another concurrent H1-B job without being subject to the annual cap when they file for an H1-B visa to work this job as well. New jobs and concurrent jobs must also meet H1-B specialization requirements, and your client must also meet H1-B educational requirements, but their petition will not end up in a lottery. Candidates who must file a new petition because the terms of their H1-B job has changed are also cap-exempt. The new terms must still, however, meet H1-B requirements as must their education.

Some employers are cap-exempt, and if your client is employed by one of them, their petition will not be subject to the H1-B lottery. Non-profit organizations and non-profit research institutes are cap-exempt. Institutions of higher education and governmental research organizations are also cap-exempt, as are hospitals. Even if this is your client’s first time petitioning for an H1-B visa, if their job is for one of these kinds of employers, their petition will not be subject to the annual cap.

Before you and your client file their H1-B petition, here are three key elements you need to determine:

  1. What is your client’s degree?
  2. Is your client’s employer exempt from the annual H1-B cap?
  3. Is this your client’s first H1-B petition, or is it a transfer, extension, or additional H1-B job?

Answer these three questions, and you will find out what caps – if any – your client’s petition will be subject to.

If your client is cap exempt, this is NOT an excuse to file a shoddy petition. Just because a petition does not go through the lottery does not mean it can’t be rejected. RFE’s are on the rise for petitions subject to the annual cap AND cap-exempt petitions.

To qualify for an H1-B visa, your client must have a US Bachelor’s degree or higher, or its foreign equivalent. Whether or not your client’s job is cap exempt, RFE’s are on the rise. As you prepare to file, it’s important to keep in mind that your client’s foreign education will raise issues with CIS if it is submitted without a detailed credential evaluation in accordance with CIS education combination requirements and precedents. Talk to an evaluator with extensive experience in H1B cases, RFEs, and difficult cases. They know what works and what does not work to get your client’s visa approved.

About the Author

Sheila Danzig

Sheila Danzig is the Executive Director of TheDegreePeople.com, a foreign credentials evaluation agency. For a no-charge analysis of any difficult case, RFE, Denial, or NOID, please go to http://www.ccifree.com or call 800.771.4723.

This article was written by Rebecca Little

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