Obtaining H-1B visa or status is the most common method for professionals to obtain work authorization in the United States. U.S. businesses use the H-1B visa program to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge. You may be eligible for an H-1B if you are planning to work for a business in an occupation that normally requires a bachelor’s degree or higher in a related field of study (e.g., engineers, accountants, marketing analysts, software developers, teachers), you have at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a field related to the position, and the business petitioner has a bona fide need for an H-1B worker.

H-1B annual cap

There is an annual cap (or quota) on the number of first-time H-1B petitions that can be filed with USCIS. Specifically there is a regular cap of 65,000 H-1B visas. Not all H-1B visas are subject to this annual cap. Up to 6,800 visas are set aside from the 65,000 each fiscal year for the H-1B1 program under the terms of the legislation implementing the U.S. Chile and U.S. Singapore free trade agreements. Moreover, an advanced degree exemption is provided for the first 20,000 petitions filed for a beneficiary who has obtained a U.S. master’s degree or higher. Once that limit is reached, any petitions filed for beneficiaries with a U.S. master’s degree or higher will count against the regular cap.

In recent years, USCIS has received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions to reach the statutory cap of 65,000 visas. USCIS has also received more than the limit of 20,000 H-1B petitions filed under the advanced degree exemption. For fiscal year 2015, USCIS received about 172,500 H-1B petitions. When the cap is reached, USCIS will conduct a computer-generated random selection process, or lottery, to select enough petitions to meet the 65,000 general-category cap and 20,000 cap under the advanced degree exemption. For cap-subject petitions not randomly selected, USCIS will reject and return the petition with filing fees.