Financial institutions and private investment funds should determine now whether any professional employee will require the filing of an H-1B petition. By way of background, the H-1B specialty occupation status permits professionals (including, for example, financial analysts, quantitative analysts, accountants and computer systems analysts) to work in the U.S.

For an individual to qualify for H-1B status, the employer must offer a position that normally requires at least a bachelor's degree in a specific field, and the foreign national must have earned at least this degree in this or a closely related field. Degree equivalency is permitted under limited circumstances to provide possible H-1B eligibility for persons lacking formal degrees, or for those who have foreign degrees unrelated to the position offered. As a general rule, three years of progressive work experience may be substituted for each year of university that is missing. Individuals may hold H-1B status for a total of six years, and possibly even longer if a permanent residence case has been commenced. The filing period for FY 2017 will begin on April 1, 2016, for requests for H-1B status effective Oct. 1, 2016.

The H-1B category is well-suited for financial institutions and investment firms alike, which routinely hire students or recent graduates of U.S. universities for a year of practical training. However, at the end of that year, in most cases, firms are unable to continue employing these recent graduates without having H-1B petitions approved on their behalf. Unfortunately, in the past several years, the demand for the annual allotment of 85,000 H-1B numbers (65,000, plus an additional 20,000 for those who were awarded U.S. master's or higher degrees) has far exceeded the supply. Last year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") received 233,000 petitions for the 85,000 H-1B slots during the first five days of the filing period. If the annual cap is reached in the first five business days, as it was in the past several years, USCIS will conduct a random lottery to select the 85,000 petitions that will be adjudicated. Filings that are not selected are returned with government filing fees.

Several factors contribute to the H-1B category being so heavily utilized. It doesn't require the employing entity to be owned by nationals of a particular country (as is the case with E-1 and E-2 visas), and it doesn't require previous experience abroad with the employer (as do L-1s); it doesn't depend on the nationality of the individual (TNs, H-1B1s or E-3s); and it doesn't (in most cases) depend on a shortage of qualified U.S. workers for the position (the standard for most employment-based permanent residence categories).

Due to the high demand for H-1B numbers, employers should begin planning for the upcoming H-1B filing period now to ensure their petitions are ready to file on March 31, 2016.

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