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H-1B Visa Extensions, Explained

Learn how to extend your H-1B visa past its initial three-year period

H-1B Visa Sample

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa category which allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. Widely used by U.S. employers to fill skilled positions where there is a shortage of qualified American workers, the H-1B program is popular across a variety of industries in the U.S.

H-1B visas are typically granted for an initial period of three years, with the possibility of extension for up to six years. In this guide, we’ll cover how to file an H-1B visa extension and other important information to know about the extension process.

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How to File an H-1B Visa Extension

Filing an H-1B visa extension involves several steps and requires careful attention to deadlines and documentation. Here’s a general overview of the process:

  1. Confirm Eligibility for Extension: Before beginning the extension process, ensure that you are eligible for an H-1B visa extension. Typically, H-1B visa holders are eligible for extensions beyond the initial three-year period, up to a maximum of six years, provided they continue to meet the requirements for the visa category. You can find more information on the six-year limit in the section below. 
  2. File Early: Begin the extension process well in advance of the expiration date of your current H-1B visa. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends filing the extension petition up to six months before the current visa expires.
  3. Employer’s Role: The sponsoring employer is responsible for initiating the H-1B visa extension process. They must file Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) with USCIS on behalf of the H-1B visa holder. The petition should include all required supporting documents and fees.
  4. Required Documents: The following documents are typically required for an H-1B visa extension:
  5. Submit the Petition: Once all required documents are gathered, the employer or their authorized representative should complete and submit Form I-129 along with the supporting documents to USCIS. Ensure that the correct filing fee is included with the petition (more on filing costs below). 
  6. Wait for USCIS Decision: After submitting the petition, USCIS will review the application and make a decision.
  7. Receive Approval Notice: If the H-1B visa extension petition is approved, USCIS will issue an Approval Notice (Form I-797). This notice extends the beneficiary’s authorized stay in the U.S.
  8. Maintain Status: It’s essential for the H-1B visa holder to maintain lawful status while the extension petition is pending. This includes refraining from unauthorized employment or overstaying the expiration date of the current visa.

Boundless Tip

USCIS is rolling out new changes to improve the H-1B program. Learn more about what updates to expect here.

H-1B Extension Processing Time

The H-1B extension processing time currently averages between 1.5 months and 3 months. Processing times for H-1B visa extensions vary depending on the USCIS Service Center where the petition is filed. Be sure to check USCIS’ processing times tool for the latest H-1B extension processing time. 

If your H-1B status is set to expire soon, it may be possible to speed up your extension with Premium Processing. Premium Processing guarantees a decision from USCIS within 15 calendar days, for an additional fee. Learn more about Premium Processing and how to apply in Boundless’ guide.

H-1B Extension Cost

H-1B extensions typically have the same filing costs as initial H-1B applications. The sponsoring employer must pay $780 to file the Form I-129 extension petition. 

Beyond the Form I-129 filing fee, extension costs can vary depending on the size of the company,  whether or not Premium Processing is being requested, and whether or not the H-1B applicant is changing employers.

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Understanding the Six-Year Limit

U.S. immigration law sets a limit on how long a foreign worker can stay in the country under an H-1B visa. Generally speaking, H-1B visa holders are allowed to stay in the U.S. for a maximum of six years. Once this period is up, they must either go back to their home country for a specific duration or explore other visa options if they wish to stay in the United States.

Learn more about the H-1B six-year limit and potential strategies to extend your H-1B status past this period in Boundless’ guide.

Stateside Visa Renewal Pilot Program

The U.S. Department of State recently launched a pilot program that will allow H-1B visa holders to renew their status in the U.S., rather than have to travel to their home countries to secure visa stamps. NOTE: This is a separate process from H-1B extensions. Be sure to consult with your employer or immigration attorney to determine whether an extension or renewal is required for your H-1B status. 

Stateside renewals are just a pilot program at this time, and the process has not been rolled out officially under U.S. immigration law. If implemented on a wider scale, the program could simplify the renewal process for H-1B visa holders and their employers. 

You can learn more about the pilot program in Boundless’ guide.

H-1B Extension FAQs

Many H-1B visa holders choose to file for an extension up to 6 months before the expiration of their current H-1B visa. Early filing can help prevent potential lapses in your H-1B visa status and save you/your employer on additional Premium Processing costs. 

No. H-1B visa holders filing for an extension of their status do not need to re-enter the H-1B visa lottery. Extensions are not subject to the H-1B visa cap.

Traveling outside the U.S. with a pending Form I-129 can pose a risk to your H-1B visa extension petition. If you need to travel outside of the country before your extension is approved, be sure to speak with your employer and consult an immigration attorney to determine the best path forward.

Yes. If your H-1B extension is filed in a timely manner for the same employer, your work authorization will typically extend for 240 days beyond the expiration date of your current visa.

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