The H-1B Cap Lottery, Explained
Learn more about what U.S. employers and international employees should expect when it comes to the H-1B cap lottery
What is the H-1B Cap Lottery?
The U.S. government has set an annual cap on the number of new H-1B work visas that can be issued each fiscal year. When the demand for H-1B visas exceeds the available slots, a lottery system is used to randomly select petitions for processing.
The H-1B cap lottery is a result of the high demand for these visas, and it can be a source of uncertainty for employers and prospective H-1B visa holders.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the H-1B cap lottery, including the selection process, what to do if you or your employee isn’t selected in the lottery, and more.
The lottery registration window for the FY 2025 H-1B cap season will open on March 6, 2024.
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Understanding The H-1B Visa Cap
Before international employees can enter the United States under the H-1B classification and begin work, they will likely need to register with USCIS and be selected to apply.
Because there is a lot of demand for the H-1B visa, there is a limited number of visas that can be issued each year. In 2023, the cap was set at 65,000 visas per fiscal year. However, if an applicant has a master’s degree from a U.S. institution, they’re in luck: there are an extra 20,000 visas available for those who have a master’s degree or higher.
If the U.S. employer sponsoring an H-1B worker is an institution of higher education, a nonprofit organization connected to an institute of higher education, or a government research organization, then the H-1B lottery cap does not apply.
H-1B Cap Lottery At a Glance
We’ll dive deeper into each step of the process, but here’s a general overview of how the H-1B cap lottery works each year:
- H-1B Electronic Registration: All prospective H-1B applicants whose occupation is subject to the cap must register with USCIS electronically to enter the H-1B lottery.
- Random Selection (Lottery): If the number of H-1B registrations received exceeds the annual cap, a random lottery is conducted to select the registrants that will be allowed to apply for an H-1B visa. The 20,000 advanced degree petitions are selected first, and then any unselected advanced degree registrants are placed in the general pool for the 65,000 cap.
- Submission of Petitions: If a registrant is selected, employers can submit H-1B petitions on behalf of their prospective employees during a designated filing period, usually beginning in the first week of April each year.
- Processing of Selected Petitions: The selected petitions are then processed, and if approved, the foreign workers can obtain H-1B status and begin (or continue) employment in the United States.
How to Register for the H-1B Cap Lottery
For international employees hoping to file for an H-1B visa whose occupation is subject to the cap, they will need to register with USCIS electronically to enter a lottery. To do this, the prospective H-1B employee and sponsoring employer will need to create online accounts with USCIS. If a prospective employee already has a myUSCIS online account, they will still need to create a separate “registrant” account that is required for the registration process.
During the registration process, the prospective H-1B employee (or U.S. employer, representative, or attorney acting on their behalf) must pay a $10 registration fee. Registration also includes filling in basic information about the sponsoring company, as well as biographical details about the registrant.
The registration period only runs for around 14 days each year. If an applicant doesn’t register but their occupation is not exempt from the cap, they will not be able to apply for the H-1B visa.
USCIS provides detailed instructions on how to navigate the electronic registration process, including an instructional video and frequently asked questions here.
H-1B Lottery Selection Process
Once the registration window closes, here is a general overview of the H-1B lottery selection process:
- Random Selection Process (Lottery): The demand for H-1B visas often exceeds the available slots within the first few days. When the number of registrations surpasses the cap, a random lottery is conducted to select the registrants who will be able to file their Form I-129 for processing. The advanced degree cap is filled first, and any unselected registrants are then placed in the general cap pool.
- Selection Notifications: Selected registrants will receive an H-1B registration selection notice. Registrants that are not selected will not be notified until after USCIS has determined that they have reached the H-1B cap for that fiscal year.*
- Preparing and Submitting H-1B Petitions: If selected, employers must submit Form I-129 (Petition for Alien Worker), along with supporting documents, to USCIS during the filing period. Employers can opt for premium processing to receive an expedited adjudication of Form I-129, for an additional fee.
- Petition Filing Timeline: The H-1B filing period typically opens on April 1st each year, and employers must file petitions within the specified filing window (typically 90 days).
*Employers filing on behalf of an H-1B applicant will be able to see the applicant’s lottery status in their USCIS account. The account will show the lottery status as one of the following:
- Submitted: You have submitted your registration and it is valid
- Selected: You are able to apply for an H-1B visa
- Not Selected: You were not selected to apply for an H-1B visa this time
- Denied: If you register for the chance to apply for an H-1B visa with the same employer multiple times, USCIS will deem all of your registrations invalid
- Invalidated-Failed Payment: You registered but your registration payment didn’t go through
Alternative Options if Not Selected in the H-1B Lottery
The H-1B cap lottery can be a stressful process for H-1B workers and their sponsoring employers. If you (or your employees) are not selected in the H-1B cap lottery, it’s important to understand the implications on work authorization and to explore alternative work visa options.
Typically, if a registrant is not selected in the lottery and their current work authorization is set to expire, they will be placed in USCIS’ 60-day grace period. During this 60-day period, the individual will need to adjust status to a different visa type or prepare to depart the U.S. when their grace period is up, to avoid accruing any unlawful presence.
Boundless put together a detailed guide on alternative visas to consider in the event that you or your employees are not selected in the H-1B lottery.
H-1B Cap Lottery FAQs
The dates vary each year, and the registration period typically runs for 14 days. Be sure to check USCIS’ information page for the exact dates for the upcoming fiscal year.
There is a $10 registration fee per registrant. The fee is non-refundable, even if you are not selected in the lottery.
No, if an individual is not selected during this year’s H-1B registration, it will not impact their chances of being selected next year.
A selected applicant’s Form I-129 must be filed at the location indicated on their H-1B registration selection notice, which may be different from past Form I-129 filing locations for H-1B cases. Employers should be sure to file at the exact location indicated on the selection notice.
Employers must file Form I-129 and all of the required supporting documents at the filing location indicated on the selection notice during the filing window. The filing window typically starts on April 1 and is open for 90 days.
If your H-1B visa is under the cap and you have been selected to apply for a visa, your selection notice will let you know which USCIS address you can file your application at. If the H1-B visa cap does not apply to you, for example, if you are being employed by an institute of higher education, then you can file your application at the USCIS California service center.
Your H1B visa is generally valid for three years, and can usually be extended for up to six years. To do this, your employer will need to complete and file Form I-129 again on your behalf, along with any supporting documents, and pay the filing fee.
The H-1B visa is a dual-intent visa, which means that yes, you can apply for a green card. Find out more about how Boundless can help you through the process.
Any U.S.-based employer can sponsor the H-1B visa. As long as the employer has an IRS Tax ID Number, they can register to file a petition on your behalf.
Because the H-1B visa is an employment-based visa and you will need your employer to file certain forms for you, you will need a job offer before you are eligible to apply for the H-1B visa.
No. In June 2020, President Trump issued an executive order stopping H-1B visas from being processed. That executive order has now expired, and you can now continue preparing your H-1B visa application.
The H-1B visa is valid for three years and can be extended for up to six.
It depends. If your spouse holds an H-4 visa, they may be able to apply for employment authorization if you, the H-1B visa holder, is on track to get a green card. Learn more in our H-4 guide.
The government sets a cap on the number of H-1B visas it issues each year. Currently, the cap is 65,000 visas per fiscal year, with 20,000 additional visas available for those who have a master’s degree or higher.
The H-1B1 is a U.S. nonimmigrant visa for nationals of Chile and Singapore who work in specialty occupations. The annual cap for H1B1 visas is 6,800 — 1,400 from Chile and 5,400 from Singapore.
The employer filing the H-1B petition must show the Department of Labor (DOL) proof they will pay the employee the prevailing wage or the employer’s actual wage, whichever wage is higher. The prevailing wage is the salary paid to workers in similar occupations in the same geographic area, while the actual wage is the salary the employer pays to its workers in similar positions.
If you are on an H-1B visa and lose your job due to layoffs or an economic downturn in the United States, you will immediately fall “out of status.” However, there is a 60-day grace period from the time you were terminated until you’re required to return to your home country. Additionally, H-1B workers may be able to switch employers without losing their visa status under certain conditions. Learn about what to do if you lose your job while on a work visa.
Depending on the complexity of your case, or if you simply want additional peace of mind during the extension process, it may be helpful to enlist an immigration lawyer’s help for your H-1B extension application. Lawyers can help you navigate the extension forms and H-1B requirements from start to finish. If you’re not sure whether an immigration lawyer is the best option for your H-1B extension, Boundless put together a detailed guide on when to hire an attorney for your visa process here.
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