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Fiscal Year 2020 H-1B Lottery: Important Dates and Information for Employers

Employers in the U.S. that seek to hire foreign workers for temporary employment in a specialty occupation must submit their petitions to USCIS beginning April 1, 2019 for employment starting no sooner than October 1, 2019 (start of the 2020 fiscal year).

H-1B employment authorization, often the only available immigration option for highly skilled workers, is highly sought-after and increasingly difficult to receive. Each fiscal year, there are a finite number of “new” H-1B slots available for individuals who were not previously “charged” against the annual cap.

The annual cap limit for new H-1B petitions is 65,000, with an additional 20,000 allocated for foreign workers who have obtained a U.S. master’s degree or higher. In the 2018 filing season for fiscal year 2019, USCIS received more than 190,000 H-1B petitions within the first three days of the filing period, resulting in a lottery that occurs when demand exceeds supply.

With a strong economy and tight labor market, we expect an April H-1B lottery again, despite the significant increase in H-1B Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and denials from USCIS under the Trump Administration. For the best chance of obtaining a slot for FY 2020, we urge all employers seeking an H-1B sponsorship to immediately begin preparing H-1B petitions that are subject to the H-1B cap on behalf of their employees, and file them with USCIS on April 1, 2019.

What has changed this year?

Final rule

On January 30, 2019, USCIS posted a new final rule in the Federal Register, indicating that it would be amending the regulations governing H-1B cap-subject petitions.

Lottery order

For FY 2020, USCIS has reversed the selection order, and will first run the “regular” cap lottery to select H-1B petitions filed for all beneficiaries, which includes those eligible for the “master’s” cap. This means that the U.S. plans to increase the number of H-1B slots that go to foreign workers with a U.S. master’s degree or higher, since the 20,000 won’t have been “skimmed” off the top when the master’s cap was run first. Since those with advanced U.S. degrees will be included in the “regular” pool, they will have a better chance of receiving a slot. In fact, USCIS estimates that there may be an increase of nearly 16%, or 5,340 workers with advanced U.S. degrees.

Electronic registration suspended for FY 2020

Logistically, the USCIS is unable to implement electronic registration for this year’s lottery. Once implemented, however, employers will be required to first register electronically with USCIS during a designated registration period, and only those selected will be eligible to file an H-1B cap-subject petition. Once logistically feasible, electronic registration appears to be the future of the H-1B lottery.

What to do now

The stakes are high for foreign workers subject to and seeking employment under the H-1B cap. The time is now for employers to focus on preparing their FY H-1B cases for the April lottery. Unlike the IRS, USCIS offers no options to request an extension on the H-1B lottery deadline.

©2019 Pierce Atwood LLP. All rights reserved.


About this Author

Anthony Tony Derosby Immigration Attorney

Tony Derosby leads Pierce Atwood’s Immigration Practice Group. He has advised and supported business immigration clients on immigration and global mobility issues for more than 25 years.

Tony helps clients achieve business objectives in the recruitment, hiring, transfer, and retention of international personnel. He serves as immigration counsel for clients in a variety of industries, including health care, technology, education, finance, insurance, manufacturing, transportation, recreation, hospitality, forest products, and energy. His clients include publicly-traded and privately-...

Katie Nokes Minervino Employment Immigration Attorney

Katie Minervino has been practicing exclusively employment-based immigration law for the past ten years, helping employers and employees create and execute immigration strategies to meet their short- and long-term immigration needs.

Katie has a national business immigration practice that includes obtaining immigration benefits for workers in a variety of industries and in a wide range of immigration work authorized categories, and she works closely with clients to ensure their immigration needs are met in a timely and efficient manner by corporate immigration attorneys who are personally engaged in and invested in each process. Katie also has specialized expertise on employer compliance in verifying the employment authorization of US workers. She is the current Vice-Chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association Verification & Worksite Enforcement Liaison Committee and tracks closely developments relating to the Form I-9, E-Verify, and other enforcement-related developments. 

Honors & Distinctions

  • Recognized by Chambers USA 2018 as an "Up and Coming" attorney in Labor and Employment: Immigration

  • Received a 2013 Outstanding Service Award from the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Maine for pro bono representation of asylum seekers. Katie has been honored through the Katahdin Counsel Recognition Program (2012, 2013, 2014) created by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for her pro bono service.

  • Received the firm's first-ever Scribner Firm Impact Award for her work to keep pro bono and community service top-of-mind at the firm.

  • Co-chair of the Pierce Atwood Diversity and Inclusion Committee. 

Professional Activities

  • Current Vice-Chair (2017-2018) of the American Immigration Lawyers Association Verification & Worksite Enforcement Liaison Committee

  • Member, AILA, Verification & Worksite Enforcement Liaison Committee 2014-2015, 2015-2016, and 2016-2017

  • Frequent speaker on immigration-related topics

Civic Activities

  • Pro bono panel attorney, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project


  • University of Miami School of Law, J.D., cum laude (2007)

  • University of Notre Dame, B.A., magna cum laude (2004)


  • Maine

  • U.S. District Court, District of Maine

Kellie MacDonald Immigration Attorney

Kellie E. MacDonald is an associate in Pierce Atwood’s Immigration Practice Group.

Kellie has significant experience representing immigrants and immigrant family members living abroad and in the United States in a wide range of matters before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, including family petitions and applications for adjustment of status, naturalization, asylum, and U visas.

Kellie also has represented detained and non-detained immigrants in removal proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review, with a focus on asylum, criminal-immigration...