Are There Exceptions To The H-1B Visa Cap?
Only certain number of H-1B petitions can be approved each year. There is an annual limit for new admissions in the H-1B category. An H-1B number must be available at the time of adjudicating a new petition, and USCIS will not approve an H-1B petition once the annual cap has been reached.
Annual H-1B Cap
Only 65,000 new H-1B petitions can be approved each fiscal year. However, it should be noted that this number is reduced under the US-Singapore and US-Chile Free Trade Agreements. Under these agreements, 6,800 H-1B numbers shall be available for citizens of Chile and Singapore each fiscal year. Hence, the actual annual cap is not 65,000 but 58,200. If any part of the number set aside for Chile and Singapore is not used during a fiscal year that number is added to the general annual cap for the next fiscal year. It is also worthy to mention that only initial H-1B petitions are subject to the annual cap. Petitions for sequential employment, concurrent employment, extensions of stay, and amended petitions are not counted against the gap.
US Advanced Degree Exemption
There is an exemption from H-1B annual cap for 20,000 foreign employees with advanced degrees from US universities. To fall under this exemption, the foreign employee must have a master’s or higher degree from a US university. A master’s degree is a degree for which a bachelor’s degree in any field is required. The place of the specific degree in the academic hierarchy of degrees should be considered in order to determine whether it qualifies as a master’s or higher degree or not. If the petition qualifies for another exemption, in addition to the advanced degree exemption, officers shall apply the exemption that does not include numerical limitations before applying the advanced degree exemption.
During the recent years the annual H-1B cap is usually reached within a few days after the start of the filing season. USCIS decides which H-1B petitions will be approved by conducting a lottery. The petitions received within 5 business days after the start of the filing season can participate in the lottery. USCIS first conducts lottery for petitions subject to the advanced degree exemption. After that USCIS conducts lottery for petitions subject to the regular cap. Petitions not selected during the first lottery participate in the second lottery as well.
Exemption for Educational Institutions and Research Organizations
In addition to the US advanced degree exemption, there is also an exemption for employees of certain organizations. Particularly, petitions filed by institutions of higher education, affiliated or related nonprofit entities, nonprofit research organizations, or government research organizations are exempt from the annual cap. Third party petitioners can also claim this exemption if the H-1B employee will perform job duties at the qualifying organization and directly and predominantly further the essential purposes of the qualifying institution.
As it can be seen, the annual number of available H-1B visas is very limited, and there are just a few exemptions from the general cap. During the recent years the annual cap was reached within a few days after the start of the filing season. Hence, employers, willing to hire foreign workers, must have their H-1B petitions ready by the beginning of the filing season in order to get a chance to participate in the H-1B lottery.
An immigration attorney can provide you with additional information regarding such matters.