1) Date Petitions Should be Submitted: April 2, 2018
USCIS begins accepting petitions on April 2, 2018. Given the enormous pent up demand for H-1B visas, the cap is expected to be quickly used up in just a few days. In the April 2017 season, the H-1B cap was reached on April 7th, just 4 days after applications started. It is critical that petitions be filed on time.
2) When Petitions Should Be Prepared: Asap
H-1B visa petitions must be completed before they can be submitted to USCIS on the April 2nd filing date. Given all the steps involved, petitions should be started asap to allow for completion in time.
3) The 2018 H-1B Visa Cap is 85,000 Visas
Congress has mandated the annual cap as follows:
H-1B Regular Cap: 65,000 (Less the Chile-Singapore Cap)
H-1B Master's Exemption: 20,000 (Requires a U.S. Master's degree or higher)
Chile-Singapore Cap: 6,800 (Deducted from the Regular Cap as used under the U.S. Chile and Singapore Free Trade Agreements)
The separate 6,800 H-1B petition quota for nationals of Chile and Singapore has never been exhausted. While this separate quota is deducted from the Regular Cap, any unused quota is added back to the Regular Cap the next fiscal year. There are similar treaty benefits for citizens of Canada (TN), Mexico (TN) & Australia (E-3). Here is a Guide to the different US Visa types.
In 2017 USCIS received 236,000 H-1B petitions for the 85,000 available visas within 4 days. A lottery is utilized to determine which petitions USCIS will process.
4) Some H-1B Employers & Jobs Are Cap Exempt
Employees employed by or at the following employers are exempt from H-1B visa caps:
Higher education institutions
Non-profits related to or affiliated with higher education institutions
Nonprofit research or governmental research organizations
5) The Process Should Be The Same As Last Year
Despite all the recent H-1B news, no major changes are being implemented for 2018. USCIS is not offering any pre-registration system and intends to utilize a lottery to select which of the petitions received will be processed. USCIS sources indicate it is likely they will impose a suspension of premium processing similar to that in 2017 for H-1B cap petitions (although not H-1B cap exempt petitions).
6) Employers Must File by April 2nd, 2018
Employers who do not file their petitions April 2, 2018 risk losing their chance to obtain H-1B visas. If 2017 is any guide, the cap will likely be used up in just a few days and employers will have to wait until April 1, 2019 for the next opportunity to file.
7) The Employment Start Date is October 1, 2018
USCIS allows filing H-1B visa petitions up to six months before the start of the government fiscal year on October 1 (April 1 of every year). Since April 1, 2018 falls on a Sunday, April 2nd is the earliest possible acceptance date for new H-1B petitions for employment beginning October 1, 2018.