Everything You Need to Know About the H-1B Visa

The US H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ graduate-level workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields such as IT, finance, accounting, architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, medicine, etc.

Everything You Need to Know About the H-1B Visa
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An H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. Typically, these foreign workers are employed in jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree in an applicable field, and that is critical to supporting or maintaining U.S.-based operations. The visa allows international workers to live and work in the United States, which can be good news if you’re looking to immigrate to the United States with an H-1b visa!

The H-1B program applies to employers seeking to hire nonimmigrant aliens as workers in specialty occupations or as fashion models of distinguished merit and ability. A specialty occupation is one that requires the application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and the attainment of at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. The intent of the H-1B provisions is to help employers who cannot otherwise obtain needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce by authorizing the temporary employment of qualified individuals who are not otherwise authorized to work in the United States.

What is an H-1B Visa?

The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa in the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act, section 101(a)(15)(H) that allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. A specialty occupation requires the application of specialized knowledge and a bachelor's degree or the equivalent of work experience.

However, the duration of stay is three years, extendable to six years; after which the visa holder may need to reapply. Laws limit the number of H-1B visas that are issued each year: 188,100 new and initial H-1B visas were issued in 2019. Applying for a non-immigrant visa is generally quicker than applying for a US Green Card, therefore the H-1B visa is popular for companies wishing to bring in staff for long-term assignments in the US.  However, because of the lack of available visas employers frequently have to look at applying for other visa categories such as the L-1B for specialized workers, L-1A for managers and executives, E-2 Treaty Investor visa, E-1 Treaty Trader visa, E-3 for Australians, etc.

Eligibility Requirements for the H-1B visa

Moreover, in order to be eligible for the H-1B visa, you need the following:

  • 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

The H1B work visa is initiated by an employer in the United States. The employer must have an open job position and they cannot find an American employee who is qualified enough to complete the work. This can be any position that requires higher education degrees or that is specialized enough in skills that not many people can do it successfully.

Then, the employer receives applications from various candidates and if the requirements for the job are fulfilled by a foreign employee, then the US H1B visa process is initiated.

H-1B Visa Cap

H-1B visas are subject to an annual visa cap each financial year. US employers can begin applying for the H-1B visa six months before the actual start date of the visa. 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.

Current immigration law allows for a total of 85,000 new H-1B visas to be made available each government fiscal year. This number includes 65,000 new H-1B visas available for overseas workers in specialty (professional) level occupations with at least a bachelor's degree, with an additional 20,000 visas available for those specialty workers with an advanced degree from a US academic institution. In recent years the H-1B visa cap has been heavily oversubscribed near the beginning of April each year.  USCIS then holds a lottery for the available H-1B visas available.

H-1B Visa Application Process

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. Your employer will need to submit a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the Department of Labor (DOL) for Certification in order to do this. 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.

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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.

Meanwhile, during your interview, you may be asked questions about yourself, the job, your experience, the employer, and your travel history.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the H-1B visa is initially granted for up to three years, but may then be extended to a maximum of six years. Although the H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa, it is one of the few US visa categories recognized as dual intent, meaning the H-1B visa holder can apply for and obtain a US Green Card while in the US on an H-1B visa. If you are still in the US on an H-1B visa and wish to remain in the US for more than six years, you can apply for permanent residency in the US to receive a Green Card. If you do not gain permanent residency prior to the expiration of your H-1B visa, then you must live outside the US for at least one year before reapplying for another H or L visa.

Moreover, H-1B visa holders can bring their spouse and children under 21 years of age to the US under the H-4 Visa category as dependents. An H4 Visa holder is allowed to remain in the US as long as the H-1B visa holder remains in legal status. While an H-4 visa holder is not eligible to work in the US unless able to come under a non, they may attend school, obtain a driver's license and open a bank account while in the US. That's all we have on the H-1B visa, proceed with the link below for more information.

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