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How to Switch Employers on a Work Visa

Here’s how work visa holders can switch employers while maintaining U.S. work authorization

Many U.S. work visa holders rely on their current employer for lawful immigration status in the United States. However, circumstances may arise that lead could lead a work visa holder to consider changing U.S. employers. 

Whether you’re seeking new opportunities or facing changes in your current workplace, understanding the process of switching employers while on a U.S. work visa is crucial. In this guide, we’ll cover how to switch employers on a work visa.

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Know Your Visa Type

Before diving into the process of switching employers, it’s essential to understand the specifics of your work visa. Different visa categories have distinct rules and regulations for the terms of your employment and your relationship to your sponsoring employer. It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of your visa, including any restrictions on changing employers.

Not all work visas permit a straightforward transfer between employers. For instance, the H-1B visa, and several other popular work visas, require the new employer to file a new Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) on your behalf.

Before attempting to switch employers on a work visa, ensure that your visa category allows for a change of employer and that you meet the eligibility criteria set by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Understanding Portability

According to the U.S. government’s “portability” rules, work visa holders are able to change employers while maintaining their original visa status. If you receive an offer for a new position, your new employer can file a new Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on your behalf. Once the LCA has been certified, the sponsoring employer can then file a new Form I-129 with USCIS to continue the process. Once USCIS approves the petition, your existing work visa will “port” or transfer to your new employer.

Portability simplifies the process of changing employers because you are generally not required to apply for an entirely new work visa, you can simply maintain your existing visa under a new sponsoring employer.

How to Switch Employers

  1. Securing a Job Offer: Before initiating the switch, you must secure a formal job offer from your prospective employer. Ensure that the new position aligns with the terms of your existing visa. The job offer should include key details such as job title, responsibilities, salary, and the start date.
  2. New Employer Involvement: Your new employer will play a crucial role in facilitating the transition. For H-1B visa holders, the employer must file a new LCA with the DOL and a new petition with USCIS on the worker’s behalf. The L-1 visa process involves submitting a new petition as well. Timely and accurate submission of required documentation is vital to avoid disruptions in your employment status. 
  3. New Employer Files Petition: Once the new employer has prepared the necessary employment offer documentation, they must file a new LCA with the DOL. Once the LCA is approved, the new employer can file Form I-129 (or other relevant petition) with USCIS. The petition should include Form I-129 (or other relevant forms based on your visa category), in addition to any required supporting documents that pertain to the new job offer. USCIS will review the petition and, if approved, issue a new approval notice.

Additional Considerations

Maintaining Status 

During the transition period, it’s crucial to maintain your lawful status in the U.S. to avoid any immigration issues down the road. Any gap in employment or unauthorized work can have serious consequences, including visa revocation. Work visa holders who are switching employers generally continue working for their current employer until the new petition is received by USCIS. 

Obligations to Your Current Employer 

Are you legally obligated to inform your current employer that a new Form I-129 petition has been filed on your behalf? The short answer is no. You are not legally required to tell your current employer that you are “transferring” your visa to a new employer. 

When Can You Start Working at Your New Job?

Unlike many other application processes, switching employers while on a work visa means you can start working for your new employer immediately, once USCIS receives your new petition. Under portability guidelines, you generally do not need to wait for USCIS to approve your petition to begin your new role. 

International Travel 

If you have international travel plans during the transition, it may be best to consult with an immigration attorney to understand the implications on any pending petition. Traveling while a petition is pending with USCIS can complicate the process, and re-entry may be subject to visa approval. 

Navigating Layoffs 

If you lose your job while on a work visa, it may be possible to “port” your current work visa to a new employer during your 60-day grace period. In general, if you lose your job while on a work visa, you will have 60 days to find a new employer and start the process of filing a petition for this new position. 
You can learn more about switching employers after losing your job in Boundless’ detailed guide

H-1B-Specific Considerations

H-1B Visa Cap Exemption 

One benefit about transferring employers on an H-1B visa is that you will not be subject to the annual H-1B cap. This means any H-1B visa holder who has already been selected in a previous H-1B visa lottery will not be subject to the lottery again when switching employers. 

Does Switching Employers Automatically Extend Your H-1B Visa Expiration?

It’s important to note that switching employers while on an H-1B visa does not extend your H-1B expiration date. You will still need to go through the H-1B extension process with your new employer when your current H-1B is set to expire.

Switching employers on an H-1B visa also does not extend the 6-year maximum period of stay. You can learn more about the 6-year limit here.

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