Form I-129, Explained
Learn more about the “Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker” USCIS form
Form I-129, officially known as the “Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker,” is a form used by U.S. employers who wish to bring foreign workers to the United States for temporary employment in various categories. Form I-129 is filed by a sponsoring employer on the employee’s behalf with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If approved, the foreign worker can then apply for the appropriate non-immigrant work visa at a U.S. Embassy or consulate in their home country.
In this guide, we’ll cover the details of Form I-129, including processing time, the cost for filing, and what documents to provide.
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Which Visa Categories Require Form I-129?
Here are some of the common nonimmigrant work visa categories that require Form I-129:
- H-1B Visa: For foreign workers in specialty occupations that require specialized knowledge (common in the tech industry).
- L-1 Visa: For intracompany transferees, allowing multinational companies to transfer employees from a foreign office to a U.S. office.
- O Visa: For individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in fields such as arts, sciences, athletics, education, or business.
- P Visa: For athletes, entertainers, artists, and their support personnel coming to the U.S. temporarily to participate in specific events or performances.
- R Visa: For religious workers seeking work in U.S. religious organizations.
- E-1 Visa: For treaty traders who engage in substantial trade between their home country and the U.S.
- E-2 Visa: For treaty investors who invest a substantial amount of capital in a U.S. business.
- E-3 Visa: For Australian citizens coming to the U.S. to work in a specialty occupation.
- TN Visa: For Canadian and Mexican professionals under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, previously known as NAFTA.
- H-2A Visa: For temporary agricultural workers.
- H-2B Visa: For temporary non-agricultural workers in industries with seasonal needs.
Form I-129 Processing Time
Important Filing Location Update:
USCIS recently updated the filing location for certain visa categories requiring Form I-129. Effective as of October 1, 2023, the following visa categories must file Form I-129 at the Texas Service Center (TSC): E-1, E-2, E-3, H-3, R-1, Q-1, P-1, P-2, P-3, O-1, O-2. USCIS will allow a 60-day grace period (ending December 1, 2023) for any petition postmarked to an incorrect service center.
The processing time for Form I-129 varies depending on where the petition is filed and the work visa category you’re applying for. Form I-129 is typically filed at one of USCIS’ Service Centers, again depending on which visa category and where the sponsoring employer is located in the U.S.
You can check the current processing times for Form I-129 for your specific visa category and USCIS service center here.
Form I-129 Cost
The current fee to file Form I-129 is $460, and it must be paid directly to USCIS at the time of filing. Since Form I-140 is typically filed by the sponsoring employer on the foreign worker’s behalf, the employer is responsible for the filing costs during the process.
As mentioned above, if you opt for premium processing, there is an additional $2,500 fee.
Form I-129 Supporting Documents
When filing Form I-129, the supporting documents required can vary depending on the work visa category you’re applying for. However, here are some common supporting documents and evidence all applicants can expect for Form I-129:
- Employment Offer Details: A letter from the U.S. employer explaining the job offer, including details such as job title, job duties, salary, location, and the intended period of employment. This letter should also attest to the beneficiary’s qualifications for the position.
- Labor Condition Application (LCA): For H-1B and E-3 visa categories, employers will need to include a certified LCA from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) confirming that the employer will pay the prevailing wage and meet other labor condition requirements.
- Employee’s Resume: You may need to provide a detailed resume or CV, including educational and professional qualifications.
- Educational Credentials: This could include copies of the foreign worker’s diplomas, degrees, and transcripts to establish educational qualifications, especially for H-1B and E-3 visas.
- Employment Verification Letters: For L-1 visas, letters from the foreign worker’s previous foreign employers verifying their qualifying employment abroad are generally required. Boundless put together a guide on Employment Verification Letters here.
- Additional Evidence for Specialized Categories: Depending on the specific visa category, additional evidence may be required. For example, for O and P visas, applicants may need to provide evidence of extraordinary ability or achievements, such as awards, publications, or media coverage.
- Proof of Relationships: For certain categories like L-1 visas, provide documentation establishing the relationship between the U.S. and foreign entities, such as organizational charts, articles of incorporation, and financial records.
Since required documents are specific to each visa category, it’s important to check the USCIS checklist of required initial evidence when filing Form I-129. Be sure to select the specific visa category you’re applying for.
Form I-129 Frequently Asked Questions
The “240-Day Rule” is a guideline in U.S. immigration that allows certain nonimmigrant workers to continue working for their employer for up to 240 days beyond the expiration of their work visas, provided that they have filed a new I-129 petition in a timely manner. Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. To be eligible for the 240-Day Rule, the foreign worker must have a pending Form I-129 extension or change of status application that was filed with USCIS before the expiration of their current visa.
Similar to the 240-day rule, if you’ve filed a Form I-129 petition to extend your nonimmigrant status or change to a different nonimmigrant status, and you submitted the application before the expiration of your current visa, you may be eligible to remain in the U.S. while your I-129 is pending. This is often referred to as “bridging” or “cap-gap” status. You can learn more about extending or changing your nonimmigrant status here.
Traveling outside the U.S. while your Form I-129 petition is pending can be a complex matter, and it depends on your current immigration status and the type of Form I-129 petition you filed:
If you have a valid, unexpired visa, you can generally travel outside the U.S. and return using that visa while your Form I-129 is pending. Keep in mind that you may still be subject to inspection and possible questioning upon re-entry.
H-1B and L-1 visa holders who have filed Form I-129 to extend their visa status can typically travel outside the U.S. while their extension petitions are pending and re-enter using the existing visa and the USCIS receipt notice for the pending Form I-129.
If you filed Form I-129 to change to a different nonimmigrant status and your application is pending, it may be difficult to travel outside of the U.S. and try to re-enter the country. Departing the U.S. before USCIS approves your change of status application can be viewed as abandoning your petition.
During the H-1B process, once your Form I-129 is approved, you will be required to attend an H-1B visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or consulate in their home country. During this interview, if the consular officer approves your H-1B visa, you will receive a visa stamp in your passport. In order to have your H-1B visa stamped, you may be required to bring a copy of your Form I-129 approval notice (I-797 Notice of Action), as well as a copy of the Form I-129 petition itself.
Form I-129 is used for employment-based purposes, specifically allowing a U.S. employer to sponsor a foreign worker for a nonimmigrant work visa in the U.S. Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) is used for family-based immigration purposes. Form I-130 can be filed by U.S. citizens and green card holders who wish to sponsor eligible family members for U.S. permanent residency.