H-1B visas are dedicated to temporary workers in speciality highly specialized occupations like biotechnology, engineering and mathematics, and the arts. They are given out yearly on a first-come, first-served basis. Employers start sending H1-B petitions at the beginning of March for the next fiscal year, which starts in April.
But with a limited number of visas, the result is a mad scramble. Employers claw to get their hands on a yearly total that can't supply overall demands. There are 85,000 given out a year— a cap of 65,000 plus 20,000 visas for foreign graduates with advanced American degrees — and they go fast.
“Fast” tends to be relative to the health of the economy. The Brookings Institute explains:
The demand for H-1B visas over the past decade fluctuated in response to both economic and political conditions. The trend has been one of growth, with the exception of significant declines in demand after the collapse of the dot-com bubble in 2001, September 11, 2011, and the Great Recession that started in 2007.
So in an improving economy how “fast” will these visas get snatched up? The government speculates it could be reached in five days. If that’s the case, who gets visas will be up to chance.
If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services receives more petitions beyond the 65,000 cap applications before April 5, the agency will “randomly select” petitions to grant visas.
If USCIS receives more petitions than it can accept, USCIS will use a lottery system to randomly select the number of petitions required to reach the numerical limit. USCIS will reject petitions that are subject to the cap and are not selected, as well as petitions received after it has the necessary number of petitions needed to meet the cap.