New H1b visa petition lottery process milestone and timelines

Every year the US allocates 85,000 (65,000 + 20,000 US Masters) new H1b visas for employers who want to bring temporary skilled workers to the US. The visas are in so high demand that USCIS uses random lottery to allocate the visas in the last 2 years. This is only for cap-limited H1b visas. There is a similar category of H1b visas available for non-profit organizations which are not subject to the cap and hence not bound to this time line.

If your employer is planning to file a cap-subjected H1b petition on your behalf and you are new to this whole process, it may be an intimidating process. Fret not, this post is a is a gentle introduction to people like you on what really to expect.

Following are the important milestones (rough timelines) to keep in mind,


  • Employers start preparing for the years H1b season. Details like job positions, titles, sponsorship etc are finalized. Make sure you are in the roaster


  • Gather necessary documents, File Labor Condition Approvals (LCA)


  • Employer prepares and finalize the H1b petition package. Review and make sure your details are accurate


  • (1st week) Completed petitions are delivered to USCIS
  • Almost always cap reaches at the end of the first week. Looks for USCIS announcement on cap
  • USCIS conducts computer aided random lottery to pick the petitions
  • Selected petitioners start receiving notifications
  • Selected petitions processing begins (starting with premium processing petitions)


  • Approval notices and Request for evidence (RFE) start arriving for selected petitions


  • Returned not-selected petitions start arriving


  • (1st week) Returning of not-selected petitions completed
  • Processing of selected petition is close to completion with majority of the selected petitions having a decision


  • H1b period begins. Those in the US with approved petitions can start working on H1b
  • People outside the country, prepare for Visa stamping
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