U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (“USCIS”) announced that as of May 18, 2012, it has received 42,000 H-1B regular cap cases (toward a cap amount of 65,000 visas) and 16,000 H-1B Master’s Degree Exemption cap cases (toward a cap amount of 20,000 visas). Employers should also be aware that 6,800 visas are set aside from the cap of 65,000 during 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.

At this point, the H-1B visas for FY2013 could be gone by the end of June 2012, if not sooner.

Until USCIS announces that the respective caps have been met, employers can continue to file H-1B temporary worker petitions for foreign nationals requesting an employment start date on or after October 1, 2012. Once the H-1B cap is reached, employers will not be able to obtain new H-1Bs until October 1, 2013. Therefore, we encourage employers to contact us as soon as possible if they would like to file an H-1B visa for a foreign national candidate who will be employed in a “specialty occupation.”

It is important to remember that the cap only applies to new H-1B cases, and not to extensions of H-1B status or a transfer of an H-1B visa from one employer to another. The cap does, however, affect those foreign nationals who are in H-1B status seeking to work for new employers, but who are currently exempt from the cap based on employment with an institution of higher education or not-for-profit or governmental research organization.

If you are considering the hiring of a foreign worker who will need H-1B sponsorship, we encourage you to contact one of our immigration attorneys as soon as possible to review your hiring plans. In the meantime, we will continue to provide you with the latest developments on the H-1B numbers.

USCIS Launches USCIS ELIS – The Electronic Immigration Benefits System
On May 22, 2012, USCIS launched the first phase of its electronic immigration benefits system, known as USCIS ELIS. The system has been created to modernize the process for filing and adjudicating immigration benefits.

Individuals, and attorneys acting on their behalf, can establish a USCIS ELIS account and apply online to file an I-539 Application to Extend or Change Nonimmigrant Status. Initially, the I-539 is the only application which can be filed electronically using USCIS ELIS, and can only be filed to change or extend B-1, B-2, F-1, F-2, J-1, J-2, M-1 or M-2 status.

USCIS expects to have future releases of ELIS that will introduce additional form types and functions to the system, and to gradually expand ELIS to cover filing and adjudication of all USCIS immigration benefits.

The benefits of using ELIS include filing applications and paying fees online, shorter processing times, and the ability to update user profiles, receive notices, and respond to requests electronically.

Interested parties can visit https://www.uscis.gov/file-online to take a tour of the new system, learn about eligibility and the benefits of using USCIS ELIS, and find frequently asked questions.

Please contact any of our immigration attorneys to learn more about the H-1B cap for FY2013 and USCIS ELIS.