During its first H-1B cap registration season, USCIS received nearly 275,000 FY 2021 registrations between March 1, and March 20, 2020. Of these, approximately 46%, or 126,500, hold advanced degrees from U.S. institutions of higher education.
Last year, the agency received 201,011 filings during the April 1-5 cap filing period. The previous record for H-1B cap submissions was in 2016, when 236,000 filings were submitted for the FY 2017 H-1B cap.
Odds of Selection in the Cap Lotteries
On March 27, the agency completed two cap lotteries to select the beneficiaries on whose behalf an H-1B cap petition can be filed. The first lottery contained all registered H-1B beneficiaries. USCIS used this lottery to select enough registrations to meet the regular H-1B cap of 65,000. The second lottery contained all registered “master’s cap” beneficiaries who were not selected in the first lottery. USCIS used this lottery to select enough registrations to meet the H-1B cap exemption of 20,000 for holders of U.S. advanced degrees.
This year, the overall odds of selection in the lottery were approximately 31%. The odds for advanced-degree cases are somewhat higher because these filings get a second chance for selection if they are not chosen in the initial lottery.
H-1B Cap Petition Filing Period Begins
USCIS will today begin to accept H-1B cap petitions on behalf of lottery selectees. The petition filing period will end no earlier than 90 days from today.
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.
Receipting and Adjudication
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.
Impact of COVID-19 Emergency on Case Processing and Premium Processing
As previously announced, the agency has temporarily suspended premium processing of all I-129 and I-140 petitions, including cap cases, due to the COVID-19 crisis.
In light of the emergency, USCIS will also accept I-129 petitions, including H-1B cap petitions, with reproduced original signatures. For forms that require an original “wet” signature, per form instructions, USCIS will accept reproduced original signatures for the duration of the National Emergency. This temporary change only applies to signatures. Individuals or entities that submit documents bearing a reproduced original signature must also retain copies of the original documents containing the “wet” signature. USCIS may, at any time, request the original documents, which if not produced, could negatively impact the adjudication of the immigration benefit.
Because the COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly, employers should be prepared for delays and other impacts on case processing in the weeks ahead.