USCIS announced the status of the H-1B cap filings as of October 21, 2011 for the fiscal year that began on October 1, 2011. For background, the law permits 65,000 regular "cap" cases and 20,000 master cap (graduates of U.S. universities with an advanced degree) each fiscal year. Because filings are permitted six months in advance, the annual filing season begins on April 1 each year and continues until the cap has been reached.

As of October 21, 2011, the full 20,000 complement of masters cap cases has been exhausted, and 46,200 regular cap petitions have been filed. This leaves 18,800 remaining for the fiscal year that began this month. Although this is reduced by 6800 visas reserved for Chile and Singapore under Free Trade Agreements, additional visas not used under the agreements from last year are added back in to the total. This leaves approximately 19,000 visas for the remainder of this fiscal year. Employers can expect that that the H-1B cap will again be reached shortly before or after the first of the calendar year and should plan accordingly.

After the cap has been exhausted, cap subject petitions cannot be filed until the following April 1 for a start date on October 1, 2012. There are a myriad set of rules that help cover the gap caused by the shortage of H-1B visas. Individuals currently working with existing H-1B visas that have already been counted under the cap in previous years are not subject to the cap. Additionally, universities and certain affiliated non-profit hospitals and research institutes are cap exempt. Finally, recent graduates from American universities with Optional Practical Training may be eligible for the "cap-gap" extensions of work authorization under the USCIS regulations. However, if there is no exemption or alternative employment authorization, H-1B beneficiaries subject to the cap may not be able to begin work until the beginning of the next fiscal year (October 1, 2012).