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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Job change H1b visa transfer safer process

A while ago, a friend of mine took up a new job and the new employer filed for a H1b transfer. Upon insistence of the recruiter he served a 2 weeks notice to his employer as soon as he accepted the Offer. He was hoping the new employer would start the visa transfer immediately. But the new employer filed the transfer and got the receipt notice on the day of joining. Meanwhile, my friend moved places and showed up at new work. Unfortunately, the transfer which was filed in premium, went into a RFE and eventually denied.

At this point he cannot continue to work and the recruiter stopped communicating with him. He was stranded. But luckily, he contacted the old recruiter and they still held his visa and were ok to take him back but not before hard balling him on the offer etc. But, this whole bad experience would have been totally avoided had my friend been little bit more vigilant and be aware of cardinal rules of H1b transfers. While my friends case ended more amicable there are situations described in forums where the previous employer refused to take them back. Why would they?

So, if you are looking to transfer your visa, better to be risk averse. Only serve notice to your current employer after the new employer transfer goes through. Insist upon filing it in premium processing, even if that means paying the premium fee from your pocket. I think it’s worth it for the peace of mind it brings. Recruiters mount pressure on you to serve a notice as soon as you accept the offer. They may even belittle you if you insist on serving the notice only after the approval. I have been in the same situation. I just stood my ground and they eventually filed for premium processing albeit grudgingly. Hiring people with good fit is hard. And in the long run it doesn’t matter. If things take a wrong turn, you have more to loose than them. But if you still have to join, atleast don’t send the notice to your current employer unless you get the transfer receipt from the new employer.

Be safe than sorry!

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H1 extension with H1 to H4 EAD conversion concurrently

As you already know, last year USCIS started allowing dependents of certain H1b visa holders with approved I140 eligibility to work with a EAD. And along with the EAD application, the rule also lets people on other visas to apply Change Of Status (COS) to H4 visa. So, many spouses on H1b visa want to take advantage of this COS. Because, EAD offers more flexibility than a H1b visa does. For example, EAD doesn’t have restriction on the type of jobs that needs to be performed or restriction on the number of jobs one can perform. And if one is more enterprising they can also start their own business. Also, it doesn’t restrict on the continuity of a job, i.e., one can take a break and restart work after a break with no restriction as long as the primary H1b visa is still valid.

However, even with all these advantages, the response to the H4 EAD has been lukewarm as reported by USCIS. The number of applicants has been lower than initially anticipated. But, still there are lots of people out there who wants to convert from H1b or even F1 visa to H4 EAD. And for most people who are already working, they want to make this transition as seamless as possible. This post describes how to apply COS with minimal disruption to your work.

First, we need to understand all of the steps involved

  • H1(or another visa) to H4 change of status needs to filed (form I-539)
  • EAD needs to be applied for the new H4 status (form I-765)

Independently, the above steps are time consuming steps. However, as mentioned earlier the steps can be combined. You can send all the necessary forms and supporting documents to USCIS as one packet and USCIS is able to process them concurrently. Event with concurrent processing, it may take up to 90 days for USCIS to process your application. And currently USCIS doesn’t offer premium processing to expedite the process.

However, if your primary H1b applicant is applying for an extension you may be in luck. Because, you can combine your COS and EAD with the primary H1b’s extension application with a premium processing. Even though there is no rule to process all the three concurrently, USCIS in practise processes all the 3 steps within the premium processing window which is 2 weeks.

To summarize, these are the steps you can accomplish in parallel

  • H1b extension of the primary applicant
  • H1(or another visa) to H4 change of status needs to filed (form I-539)
  • EAD needs to be applied for the new H4 status (form I-765)
  • Premium processing for the H1b extension

The key here is to send all these applications in one packet to USCIS. Your employer is the one who will file for H1b extensions. So you can fill the COS and EAD forms and request your employer to include them as part of the package. If the would be dependent is already working then, the COS dates and EAD can be requested for a future date in line with the expiry of current H1b visa. So, they can continue to work on H1 until H4 becomes effective and at that point, your EAD should have started. Unless there are other issues like RFE etc, there should be no break in their work.

And this process is not restricted to just H1 to H4 visa COS. You can also change from other visa types like F1 to H4. And people have found success by combining with H1 extension, but also with H1b amendments (Change of location etc).

Here is an time line to give you an idea from such a similar application.

  • 10/05/2016 Sent primary’s H1b extension, dependent’s F1 to H4 COS, EAD application, premium processing in one packet
  • 10/10/2016 Received receipt notice for H1 extension
  • 10/12/2016 Received two separate receipts, one for H4 and another for H4 EAD
  • 10/18/2016 All the 3 got approved
  • 10/24/2016 Received approval notice for H1b
  • 10/27/2016 Received approval notices for the other 2
  • 11/25/2016 EAD Card received

Hope this is helpful for people who are in the same boat. And remember, USCIS does all within the premium processing window as a courtesy, so your mileage may vary.

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