Employers who plan on filing for new H-1Bs this year shouldn’t rely on the flexibility experienced last year. Employer filings for FY2010 regular cap H-1Bs in 2009 did not reach the annual limit until late in December. Most employers who anticipated needing an H-1B worker for FY2010 filed on April 1. However, economic conditions resulted in substantially fewer H-1Bs being requested early. Thus, employers were able to hire H-1B employees throughout much of the year until the full FY2010 allotment had been requested. That’s unlikely to happen again in 2010.

H-1B visas generally are limited to an annual distribution of 65,000 per fiscal year. Immigration’s fiscal year begins on October 1, and petitions are accepted for the upcoming fiscal year beginning April 1. In recent years, substantially more petitions were received on April 1 for the upcoming fiscal year than H-1Bs available. In those situations, a lottery was held to determine which petitions would be considered.

Just as in years past, employers should plan to file for any needed FY2011 H-1Bs on the first day that petitions are accepted. Hiring should be planned in anticipation of a lack of H-1B availability, and employers should not depend on being able to hire H-1B employees as needed throughout the year like they were able to do last year.

Last year’s filing data reflects a dramatic increase in filings at the end of the calendar year. This certainly could indicate a change in hiring conditions that would result in a much shorter window of H-1B availability for FY2011.

Based on this increase, many predict that employers will not have the luxury this year of waiting until late December to obtain H-1Bs, although it is unlikely that a lottery will be held on April 1. So in anticipation, do not wait to plan your hiring needs, consult soon with your attorney, and file as soon as possible.