At the present time, the quota is 65,000 visas (out of which 6,800 are reserved for nationals of Singapore and Chile) for a fiscal year. The fiscal years runs from October 1st to September 30th the following year.
Exempt from this quota are certain classes of employers. Click here for more information on such exempt employers.
Further there are 20,000 visas available for holders of advanced (master’s or higher) degrees of US graduate schools.
H1B petitions can be filed up to six months ahead of the starting date, i.e., as early as April 1st. In the year 2007, the filing window available was just two days, and USCIS received 123,480 petitions, resulting in the use of the so-called H1B lottery to pick enough petitions to meet the quota cap. The master’s quota cap was reached much later. In 2008, USCIS kept the filing period open for the first five business days in April, and received a total of more than 163,000 petitions, including 31,200 against the advanced degree quota. Again the lottery was resorted to, this time for both regular quota and advanced degree quota petitions.
The petitions not selected in the H1B lottery were returned to the Petitioners (or their attorneys) along with the filing fees.
This year (2011), the scenario is totally different because of the downturn in the economy. The quota did not get capped during the initial filing “window” of the first five business days in April. The quota is still open as of the middle of September. According to the latest numbers put out by USCIS on September 9, approximately 32,200 petitions have been received against the general quota and about 16,700 for the U.S. advanced degree quota. USCIS continues to accept petitions against both quotas.
A word of caution to those who still plan to file against this year's quota: Substantial amount of time is needed to gather all the relevant information; prepare the petitions accurately and get them signed by the employer; make sure all evidentiary documents and checks are attached; and to send the petitions out so as to reach USCIS positively before the quota gets capped. It is extremely important to follow all of these steps with utmost care. USCIS could return a petition as incomplete for any number of reasons, for example, petitioner omitting to sign at one or more places, attaching the wrong amount of filing fees, post-dated checks, or even for the filing fee check amounts being different in numbers and words! If a petition is returned as incomplete and the quota gets capped before it can be re-filed, a precious year will be lost!
For answers to frequently asked questions, click here.