What is the H-1B visa?
The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa that allows U.S. employers to hire foreign workers for specialty jobs that require a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. This can include occupations in fields such as IT, finance, engineering, architecture or more.
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In order to be eligible for the H-1B visa, you will need:
- A job offer from a U.S. employer for a role that requires specialty knowledge
- Proof of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in that field
- Your employer must show that there is a lack of qualified U.S. applicants for the role
Before you can enter the United States under the H-1B classification and begin work, you may need to register with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and be selected to apply.
Because there is a lot of demand for this visa, there is a cap on the number of visas that can be issued each year. Currently, the cap is at 65,000 visas per fiscal year. If you have a master’s degree from a U.S. institution, then you’re in luck: there are an extra 20,000 visas available for those who have a master’s degree or higher. If the employer who is sponsoring you is an institution of higher education, a nonprofit organization connected to an institute of higher education, or a government research organization, then the visa cap does not apply.
If you are hoping to file for an H-1B visa and your occupation is subject to the cap, then you will need to register with USCIS electronically to enter a lottery. To do this, you will need to create an online account with USCIS. If you already have a USCIS account, then you will still need to create a separate account for the registration process.
Then, you will need to pay a registration fee and fill in basic information about the company who is sponsoring you, as well as a few details about yourself. Alternatively, an attorney or representative can create an account and register on your behalf.
The registration period only runs for 14 days each year. If you don’t register but your occupation is not exempt from the cap, you will not be able to apply for the H-1B visa.
Once you have registered, you will be able to see your status in your USCIS account. If an attorney or a representative has filed for you, they will be able to see your status in their account.
The account will show your status as one of the following:
- Submitted: You have submitted your registration and it is valid.
- Selected: You are able to apply for a H-1B visa.
- Not Selected: You were not selected to apply for an H-1B visa this time.
- Denied: If you register for the chance to apply for an H-1B visa with the same employer multiple times, USCIS will deem all your registrations invalid.
- Invalidated-Failed Payment: You registered but your payment didn’t go through.
Once the registration period has finished, USCIS will let you know if you have been selected. Your registration must be selected if you want to apply for an H-1B visa, unless you are eligible for an exemption. If you are not selected, USCIS will let you or your representative know once the H-1B cap has been reached that year.
Once you have been selected to apply for the H-1B visa, your employer can begin the process by filing a petition on your behalf.
To do this, your employer will need to submit a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the Department of Labor (DOL) for Certification. The purpose of the LCA is to confirm that your employer will pay you the same wage as other similarly qualified workers in the same geographic area, and that your working conditions will not affect other their employees.
Once the LCA has been certified by the DOL, your employer will have to complete Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, and file both the LCA and the I-129 to USCIS, along with any fees and additional documentation. These other documents may include evidence of your education, any training certificates or professional membership documents if relevant, your resume, a confirmation letter of employment, a letter of support, and any necessary fees.
If your Form I-129 is approved, then there are two options for you, depending on whether you are in the United States already or not.
If you are within the United States on a different visa category, you must wait until your H-1B visa status becomes active in order for you to start working.
If you are outside the United States, then you will need to apply for consular processing. To do this, you will need to complete Form DS-160, which will take around 90 minutes to fill in. You will also need to pay the application fee, and schedule an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate near you.
Once you have arranged an interview, you will need to bring documents such as:
- Your passport. This should be valid for at least six months beyond your intended date of entry to the United States
- A printout of the confirmation page from your Form DS-160.
- A copy of your approved I-129 petition and your I-797 approval.
- Receipts showing you have paid your application fees.
- A passport-sized photo of you that follows U.S. State Department requirements.
During your interview, you may be asked questions about yourself, the job, your experience, the employer and your travel history.
Will my family be able to come with me, if I hold an H-1B visa?
Yes, your spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21 may be able to accompany you on H-4 visas.
How long will I be able to stay and work in the U.S. on an H-1B visa?
The H-1B visa is valid for three years, and can be extended for up to six.
Can my spouse work?
It depends. If your spouse holds an H-4 visa, they may be able to apply for employment authorization if you, the H-1B visa holder, is on track to get a green card.
Currently, H-1B visa holders may apply for a green card. However, there may be lengthy delays. This means that any children who moved with you may “age out” of their visa status, which is tied to your H-1B visa. Under the current system, if they turn 21 before your green card is approved, they will need to apply for another visa to stay, such as a student visa. The Biden administration may remove this, and also make it easier for dependents of H-1B visa holders to gain work authorization.
If you’re planning to transition from an H-1B visa to a family or marriage green card, Boundless can help you understand what to expect. Learn more about how Boundless can help you make the switch smoothly.
- When can I register electronically for the H-1B lottery, and when will I know the results?
The dates vary each year, but in 2021, USCIS announced that people could register for the H-1B lottery in March, and that it would let people know if they had been selected to file for a H-1B visa by the end of March 2021.
2. How do I check the results of the H-1B lottery?
To see if you are eligible to file for a H-1B visa, you can check your USCIS online account. The account will show the status of your application.
3. Can I expedite my H-1B visa?
Yes, premium processing is available for the H-1B visa. To request premium processing, you will need to submit Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, and pay the filing fee to USCIS. You can do this at the same time as you file your Form I-129 petition.
If you have already filed your petition, you can request premium processing at a later date by sending your form to the same service center as your original Form I-129.
4. Can I travel outside the U.S. on the H-1B visa?
Having a valid visa allows you to go to a U.S. port of entry and request entry to the U.S.. If you leave the U.S. for travel and return, as long as your H-1B visa is still valid, you may be able to be admitted on H-1B status. You may wish to bring evidence of your employment or your visa validity with you to present at the border.
5. When can I start filing my H-1B visa application?
If your H-1B visa is subject to the cap, you will need to register online first. You should keep in mind that being selected in the lottery allows you to apply for a visa for the following financial year.
If you are selected, you and your employer can petition for a H-1B visa on your behalf. You can expect to have around 90 days to apply for your visa, but the filing period and location will be on your H-1B Registration Selection Notice from USCIS. You can apply for your visa up to six months before your visa start date.
6. Where do I file my H1-B visa application?
If your H-1B visa is under the cap and you have been selected to apply for a visa, your selection notice will let you know which USCIS address you can file your application at. If the H1-B visa cap does not apply to you, for example, if you are being employed by an institute of higher education, then you can file your application at the USCIS California service center.
7. Can I extend my H-1B visa?
Your H-1B visa is generally valid for three years, and can usually be extended for up to six years. To do this, your employer will need to complete and file Form I-129 again on your behalf, along with any supporting documents, and pay the filing fee.
8. Can I transition from the H-1B visa to a green card?
The H-1B visa is a dual-intent visa, which means that yes, you can apply for a green card. Find out more about how Boundless can help you through the process.
9. Who can sponsor the H-1B visa?
Any U.S.-based employer can sponsor the H-1B visa and register to file a petition on your behalf.
10. Can I apply for a H-1B visa if I don’t have a job first?
Because the H-1B visa is an employment-based visa and you will need your employer to file certain forms for you, you will need a job offer before you are eligible to apply for the H-1B visa.
11. Is there a ban on H-1B visas?
In June 2020, President Trump issued an executive order stopping H-1B visas from being processed. That executive order has now expired, and you can now continue preparing your H-1B visa application.