The H-1B cap limits the number of new H-1B visas to 65,000 each year. Most years, too many people apply, and many are rejected without review.
Also, while H-1B extensions are not subject to this cap, they may be denied for other reasons. If you face either situation you may qualify for other visas.
How the H-1B cap and lottery works
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) starts accepting H-1B applications for the next fiscal year (beginning October 1) on April 1. It has to accept applications for at least the first five business days of April.
It almost always gets too many in that time, so it holds a lottery to pick 58,200 petitions at random. The remaining 6,800 visas out of the 65,000 available are reserved for workers from Chile and Singapore.
If your petition is not chosen, you must wait until next April to try again.
Cap exempt H-1B visas
If your job in is one of these kinds of organizations, your H-1B visa won’t be affected by the cap:
- Institutions of higher education
- Non-profits affiliated with institutions of higher education
- Non-profit research organizations
- Government research organizations
Also, the first 20,000 applications from people with a master’s degree or higher get reviewed separately from the regular pool of H-1B petitions.
H-1B renewals are not counted against the cap either.
You may qualify for a different work or training visa depending on your situation.
O-1 visa: Consider this visa if you have extraordinary ability in fields like science, business, arts, or education. Your employer must show proof of your ability and that you will be working in your field.
L-1 visa: This visa lets you transfer from a US company’s foreign office to its US location. In most cases you must have specialized knowledge of the company. It’s usually valid for 3 years and can be extended.
TN visa: You may qualify if you are a Mexican or Canadian national and work in a NAFTA-approved category. Like the H-1B, it’s usually valid for 3 years and renewable.
E-1 and E-2 visas: These visas may be an option if you are coming to the US for trade (E-1) or investment (E-2) reasons. You must be a citizen of a country that has a treaty of commerce with the US and meet other specific criteria.
E-3 visa: If you are an Australian national working in a specialty occupation you, your spouse, and your children may qualify for this visa.
J-1 visa: You may use this visa to travel to the US as an exchange visitor to teach, study or get training. An approved Exchange Visitor Program must sponsor you.
F-1 OPT visa: If you are a student on an F-1 visa focused on a STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) this visa may be an option. It usually expires after 17 months.
H-2B visa: To get this non-agricultural temporary visa the position your employer wants you to fill must be temporary and intended to last no more than one year. Only workers from certain countries (which change regularly) can get one.
H-3 visa: This visa lets you get needed training you can’t get in your home country. It must also help you in your career outside the US. It’s valid for no more than 2 years.
B-1 visa: This business visitor visa may be an option if a foreign company is paying for your work in the US. The criteria for qualifying are similar to the H-1B, but it’s not subject to the cap.
If you’re not sure which visa you qualify for, a lawyer can help you evaluate your options.