From the H.R. & Legal Experts on Immigration: What Is an H-1B Visa, and Why Is It so Hard to Get One?

4/2/2015
Fact of the Week

​Today marks the opening of the fiscal year 2016 filing period for H-1B visas. In order for many employers to be able to hire a foreign national on an H-1B visa on October 1, they must file within the first five business days of the April filing period to be eligible for a lottery that determines who gets one.

What Is an H-1B exactly? This visa is an option for employers hiring highly skilled foreign nationals for temporary work assignments. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), more than 50 percent of H-1B visa holders have a master’s degre​e, Ph.D. or professional degree. H-1B visa holders include scientists, engineers, doctors, teachers and mathematicians who complement the U.S. workforce, often after graduating from U.S. universities.

What Is the H-1B Lottery?
Historically, whenever the economy is growing, there is far more demand for H-1B visas than visas available. In fact, for fiscal year 2015, 172,500 petitions were filed for just 85,000 visas. USCIS selects petitions at random through the H-1B lottery, which gave employers a mere 49 percent chance of winning an H-1B visa last fiscal year. This stifles job creation, innovation and economic growth for America.

What Can Congress Do to Help? We anticipate historic demand for this coming fiscal year’s filings, meaning, once again, fewer than 50 percent of those who file will receive a visa. It is time for Congress to pass a market-based capthat responds to demand, like the one proposed in the Immigration Innovation Act (S. 153). Congress must also prioritize other H-1B reforms, many included in S. 153, including investments in U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and worker retraining.

Click here for more on the H-1B visa program. And click here for our comprehensive guide to the U.S. employment-based immigration system.


The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Council for Global Immigrationadvance U.S. innovation and job growth by assisting organizations with workforce and talent management issues. Learn how immigration will help employers and the economy at employerimmigrationsolutions.org.

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