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H-1B Registration Period Closes; USCIS Expected to Conduct Selection Lotteries and Notify Employers By March 31

The first H-1B cap registration period has now closed. USCIS will accept no further cap registrations against the FY 2021 quota. 

What’s Next? The Cap Lotteries

In the coming days, the agency will conduct two selection lotteries to choose the beneficiaries on whose behalf an H-1B cap petition can be filed. The first lottery will contain all registered H-1B beneficiaries. USCIS will use this lottery to select enough registrations to meet the regular H-1B cap of 65,000. The second lottery will contain all registered master’s-cap beneficiaries who were not selected in the first lottery. USCIS will use this second lottery to select enough registrations to meet the H-1B cap exemption of 20,000 for holders of U.S. advanced degrees.

Lottery Results Notification

USCIS plans to notify employers and immigration counsel of the lottery results by March 31. For each cap registration, USCIS should send an email to the employer’s authorized signatory and immigration counsel. The email will notify the recipient that there has been a change in the status of a cap registration. To learn the lottery results, your attorney and your company’s authorized signatory will need to access their account and review the status of each beneficiary.

If a beneficiary has been selected, the USCIS system will provide a selection notice for the case, which must be printed out for inclusion with the H-1B cap petition to be filed for the beneficiary. The notice will provide the USCIS address where the petition must be filed; this address may be different from the filing location where the employer’s petitions are usually filed. 

Petition Filing Set to Begin April 1

USCIS is set to begin to accept H-1B cap petitions on behalf of lottery selectees on April 1, 2020. The petition filing period will end no earlier than 90 days thereafter. All FY 2021 H-1B cap petitions must be submitted during this period.

Though in most cases a cap petition can be filed at any point during the filing period, some cases may need to be filed at specific times. If the beneficiary is an F-1 student working on optional practical training (OPT) who will need cap-gap protection, the petition must be filed before his or her OPT employment authorization document expires. If the beneficiary is awaiting completion or award of a required degree, the petition must not be filed until the degree has been issued or the beneficiary has obtained documentation from the appropriate school official that degree requirements have been satisfied.

The Adjudication Period and Availability of Premium Processing

USCIS is expected to begin receipting and adjudicating H-1B cap petitions as they are received during the filing period. Despite the 90-day duration of the filing period, the agency is expected to receive a large number of cap petitions on or near April 1, which could delay receipting.

As previously announced, the agency will temporarily suspend premium processing of cap cases. Petitioners filing FY 2021 cap-subject H-1B petitions will not be able to request premium processing when USCIS begins accepting cap-subject petitions on April 1. However, no later than May 27, 2020, the agency expects to begin accepting premium requests for H-1B petitions seeking a change of status from F-1. No earlier than June 29, 2020, USCIS expects to begin accepting premium processing requests for all other cap-subject H-1B petitions. The agency is expected to announce specific opening dates for its two phases of cap premium processing in the coming months.

Impact of COVID-19 Emergency on Case Processing

USCIS today announced that, due to the ongoing COVID-19 National Emergency announced by President Trump on March 13, 2020, they will accept all benefit forms and documents with reproduced original signatures, including the Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, for submissions dated March 21, 2020, and beyond.  To date, USCIS has not relaxed any of its other petition submission procedures in light of the emergency. Business immigration stakeholders are advocating for an easing of existing submission requirements and will provide updates if these efforts yield changes.

Because the COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly, employers should be prepared for delays and other consequences to case processing in the weeks ahead. 

What this Means for Employers

In the coming days, your organization’s H-1B registration leads should look out for emails from the USCIS registration system notifying them of action taken on the organization’s registrations. Your attorneys will also receive these notifications. You and your attorneys will need to log into the registration system to determine which beneficiaries have been selected.

To facilitate the submission of H-1B cap petitions, work closely with your legal team so that essential supporting evidence, including company documentation, beneficiary educational documents and the like, can be collected promptly if it has not yet been gathered.

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