The H-1B visa is a popular choice for skilled foreign professionals to work in the United States. If you’re in the U.S. on an H-1B visa, it’s important to understand the visa’s limitations and what extension options you may have when your visa status is set to expire. In this blog post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the H-1B six-year limit and potential solutions to extend your status past this period.
What is the H-1B 6-Year Limit?
U.S. immigration law restricts the maximum duration for which a foreign worker can hold an H-1B visa in the U.S. Specifically, H-1B visa holders can remain in the U.S. for a total of six years under H-1B status. After reaching this limit, the visa holder must either return to their home country for a certain period of time or seek an alternative visa status to remain in the U.S.
Why is There a 6-Year Limit?
The H-1B visa program was designed to bring skilled foreign workers to fill temporary labor shortages in the U.S. job market. To maintain the temporary nature of the program, the 6-year limit was implemented.
How Does the 6-Year Limit Work?
The H-1B 6-year limit is not a continuous clock that starts ticking the moment you enter the U.S. Instead, it takes into account your time spent in the country while holding H-1B status. Here’s a general timeline for how it works:
- Initial H-1B Period: When you are approved for an H-1B visa, you are typically granted an initial period of three years to live and work in the U.S.
- H-1B Extension: After the initial three years, you can extend your H-1B status for an additional three years, for a total of six years.
- Beyond Six Years: If you reach the six-year limit and have not obtained a green card or other visa status, in general you are required to leave the U.S. However, there are exceptions and alternatives that may allow you to stay longer.
Exceptions and Alternatives
While the 6-year limit can seem like a strict deadline, there are some exceptions and alternatives that can enable H-1B visa holders to stay in the U.S. beyond the initial six years:
- H-1B Extensions: If you have a pending PERM Labor Certification, an approved I-140 (Immigrant Petition For Alien Worker), or are in the process of adjusting your status to a green card, you may be able to extend your H-1B status beyond the six-year limit. Get more information on work visas and the employment-based immigration process in Boundless’ detailed work guide.
- Change of Status: If you’re unable to extend your H-1B visa status, you may be able to remain in the U.S. by changing status to a different visa type. This could include changing your visa status to another category, such as an F-1 student visa, L-1 intracompany transferee visa, or O-1 extraordinary ability visa. You can learn more about changing visa status in Boundless’ guide.
- Time Abroad: In some circumstances, if you’ve spent at least one year outside the U.S., you may be able to reset the six-year clock and reapply for a new H-1B visa.
The H-1B 6-year limit is an important consideration for anyone looking to work in the U.S. under this visa category. If you find yourself approaching your sixth year of H-1B status, it may be a good time to explore your options and ensure a smooth transition to the next step in your immigration journey. For additional support, check out our new business immigration provider, Bridge. Bridge offers a wide range of business immigration services for H-1B visa holders, including immigration consulting, visa processing, and more.