U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported in mid-April 2017 that it received 199,000 H-1B petitions for the 85,000 available visas. It ran the random selection process/lottery that has become its standard way of allotting this limited visa supply. It will next begin sending receipt notices for accepted petitions and returning the remaining petitions with the filing fees. For reference, last year (2016), USCIS received 236,000 petitions.
Only 65,000 H-1B visas are available each year. (There is a separate allotment for Chile and Singapore of 6,800, which actually reduces this number to 58,200.) An extra 20,000 are allocated for individuals with U.S. graduate degrees.
Employers may file April 1 of each year for the next year's quota, which begins on the start of the October 1 fiscal year.
When USCIS receives more than the 85,000 maximum petitions through the fifth business day of April, it conducts a random lottery to allocate the available visas. USCIS conducts the lottery in two steps.
Step one is to select the first 20,000 U.S. graduate degree cases. Any remaining graduate degree cases then will be placed into the remaining pool (individuals who do not have U.S. graduate degrees) to select the next 65,000. This means persons with U.S. graduate degrees essentially have two chances to get one of the 85,000 visas.
It normally takes several weeks or a few months to receive either filing confirmations (I-797 Receipt Notices) or the rejected petitions.
For Fiscal Year 2017 (October 1, 2016 - September 30, 2017), it was not until July 2016 that USCIS finally returned all of the rejected petitions. Unlike in years past, when premium processing ($1,225 extra for 15-day service), was available, USCIS this year has suspended premium processing for H-1B petitions as of April 3. It could be six months before it resumes.
An early way to determine whether a petition has been selected in the lottery, that is, before receiving the official I-797 Receipt Notice, is to monitor the bank account that was used to provide the filing fee. USCIS cashes the checks only for petitions that are selected for processing. For petitions selected in the lottery, the checks should clear by the end of May.
USCIS continues to accept H-1B petitions that are not subject to the cap. Those include petitions from employers that are filing on behalf of H-1B workers to extend or amend the terms of their status, to change employers, or to work concurrently for another H-1B employer. Additionally, cap-exempt employers such as universities and affiliated non-profits and non-profit research institutes may submit H-1B petitions at any time.
Effective Date: April 15, 2017