The earliest date to file for an H-1B start date of October 1, 2009, is April 1, 2009. Each fiscal year (October 1 to September 30), H-1B visas are capped at 65,000. In addition, 20,000 additional visa numbers are available for qualifying applicants with a US Masters Degree or higher. Employers planning to sponsor H-1B workers for the coming fiscal year should therefore prepare for filing as soon as possible to have a better chance of obtaining an H-1B number.
Although H-1B’s will likely be in lower demand for the coming year than they have been the last several years, it is still likely that the quota will be full. To prevent being locked out of the H-1B program until October 2010, employers should file H-1B petitions as soon as possible on or after the April 1, 2009, opening date.
Note that some H-1B sponsors are exempt from the annual H-1B cap, including institutions of higher education and their affiliates, and government research organizations. However, most private employers and some non-profits are cap-subject.