February to April. It's the busiest time of the year for accountants -- and immigration lawyers. As CPAs work at a feverish pace to prepare their clients' tax returns, so must immigration lawyers rush to ready their clients' H-1B petitions for filing by the first week of April.
For immigration lawyers like myself, it's the narrowest of windows. The first five business days of April are when USCIS expects to receive enough H-1B cap subject petitions to reach the numerical limit for 2015. File sooner? No can do. H-1B petitions submitted to USCIS before April 1, 2014 will not be filed. Even those H-1B cap petitions submitted during the first week of April are not guaranteed to be accepted for filing.
The current quota is insufficient to satisfy the pent up demand for H-1B visas. If last year is any guide, and it probably will be, then employers submitting H-1B petitions should not only ensure their H-1B cap and advanced degree cap petitions are received by USCIS during the first week of April, but they should also expect that once enough cap subject petitions have been received, USCIS will resort to a lottery system to randomly select which petitions will be filed.
Of course it didn't have to be this way. If Congress had only taken up the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate last June, the numerical limit on H-1B visas would have increased, and the insane rush to submit H-1B petitions by April 1 might have been alleviated, if not eliminated. Unfortunately, the legitimate interests of the business community in securing more work visas got waylaid by a highly politicized debate over whether to create a so-called "path to citizenship" for the undocumented immigrant population.
Will we be in the same mess this time next year? Nobody knows for sure what Congress will do this or next year. The only certainty is that H-1B filing season is about to begin and it will likely be more fleeting than springtime in Poughkeepsie. So tell me, Do you feel lucky?
Timothy D. Widman is a San Jose Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman.