The H-1B visa allows for employers in the U.S. to hire temporary foreign workers in specialty occupations. The cap has been set by Congress to 65,000 for H-1B visas per fiscal year. 20,000 additional visas are available per fiscal year to H-1B cap-subject petitions with an advanced degree from a qualifying U.S. institution.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) made an announcement on March 19, 2019 about the start date of the H-1B cap season, the start date for premium processing for H-1B cap-subject petitions, and the start of the new H-1B data hub.
New changes in this year’s H-1B cap season highlight the executive order “Buy American and Hire American.” USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna stated that, “USCIS continually strives to improve the administration of the H-1B program and make it work better for employers, our agency, and U.S. workers.” He went on further to say, “We are also committed to fulfilling the president’s Buy American and Hire American executive order, one of the principal goals of which is to protect the interests of U.S. workers in the administration of our immigration system, in part by promoting the proper functioning of the H-1B visa program.”
Fiscal Year 2020 Cap Season
Beginning April 1, 2019, USCIS will be accepting H-1B cap-subject petitions for FY 2020. Any petitions filed before April 1st will be denied. It is suggested that anyone filing a petition should first review Form M-735, Optional Checklist for Form I-129 H-1B Filings, to check all statutory and regulatory requirements to help avoid any unnecessary delays in processing.
Premium Processing for FY 2020 Cap-Subject Petitions
To help better manage premium processing requests, USCIS has issued a two-phased approach this season. Phase one will include H-1B cap-subject petitions that are requesting a change of status. Phase two will include all other cap-subject petitions.
Beginning April 1, 2019, FY 2020 cap-subject H-1B petitions that are requesting a change of status on Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, can concurrently file form I-907, Request for Premium Processing. However, USCIS will not begin premium processing for these petitions immediately. Rather, it will begin processing no later than May 20, 2019, and will publicly announce when this processing begins. If a petitioner does not file their request for premium processing concurrently with their H-1B cap-subject petition, they must wait to file their request, form I-907, until the premium processing begins. Otherwise, their request for premium processing will be denied.
Premium processing for all other H-1B cap-subject petitions for FY 2020 will not begin until at least June of 2019. Petitioners not requesting a change of status cannot file their I-907 Request for Premium Processing concurrently with their H-1B filing. Once USCIS authorizes premium processing for this group, only then petitioners will be allowed to submit form I-907 to request premium processing. USCIS will notify the public once a date is confirmed for processing. However, premium processing is still available for H-1B petitions that are exempt from the cap (e.g. an extension of stay).
New H-1B Data Hub
USCIS has announced a new H-1B Employer Data Hub that will be available on the USCIS website on April 1. USCIS claims this new site is part of an effort to increase transparency of the H-1B program, allowing the public to search for H-1B petitioners, see which employers are using the program, and the percentage of denial and approval rates.
New H-1B Cap Selection Process
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a final rule in January 2019, reversing the order by which it selects H-1B petitions under the H-1B regular cap and the advanced degree exemption, giving priority to advance degree petitions.