The H work visa category is one of the most popular visas for visitors to the United States. The United States gives you approximately 500,000 H visas every year.
There are four types of visas in the H visa category, including the H-1 visa (for temporary workers), the H-2 visa (for seasonal workers), the H-3 visa (for trainees), and the H-4 visa (for spouses and dependents of H visa holders). Each category also has multiple subcategories. The H-1 visa, for example, has subcategory visas like the H-1B and H-1C visa.
Today, we’re focusing specifically on the H-1 visa, which is the broadest visa type within the H category. The H-1 visa is for foreign nationals who wish to temporarily work in the United States.
If you can find an employer willing to sponsor you, then you may be able to enter the United States with an H-1 visa. Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about the H-1 visa, how the H-1 visa application works, and how you can qualify for an H-1 visa.
What is an H-1 Visa?
An H-1 visa is a temporary work visa for the United States. With an H-1 visa, you can gain temporary employment with a U.S.-based employer. Your H-1 visa is typically valid for a specific period of time. Typically, an H-1 visa will last for a maximum of six years before it expires.
Types of H-1 Visas
There are five specific visas within the H-1 visa category, including:
H-1B Visa (Temporary Work Visa)
This is the most popular visa in the category. When someone is talking about working in the United States with an H-1 visa, they’re typically talking about the H-1B visa. The other two visa types in this category apply to only a small group of people.
H-1B1 Visa (Temporary Work Visa for Professionals from Singapore or Chile)
If you are a specialized professional with Chilean or Singaporean citizenship, then you may qualify for an H-1B1 visa. This visa was established as part of a free trade agreement between Chile, Singapore, and the United States. Under the H-1B1 visa system, certain specialists from Chile and Singapore can come to the United States temporarily to work. Unlike other H-1 visas (and most other work visas), the H-1B1 visa does not require an approved petition from USCIS, which means you do not necessarily need an employer to sponsor you.
H-1C Visa (Temporary Work Visa for Foreign Registered Nurses)
If you are a registered nurse with citizenship in a foreign country, then you may qualify for an H-1C visa. The H-1C visa allows qualified nurses from around the world to temporarily work in the United States. Nurses have a specialized visa category because they are typically in high-demand among U.S. employers.
H-1B2 Visa (Research and Development Employee for the Department of Defense)
Certain specialists will qualify for an H-1B2 visa, which is a specialized visa for researchers working for the Department of Defense. This visa is typically granted as part of a government-to-government agreement – say, a transfer of R&D workers with another country’s best researchers.
H-1B3 Visa (Work Visa for Fashion Models)
If you are a fashion model “of prominence”, then you may qualify for an H-1B3 visa. This visa is for fashion models of prominence, with “prominence” defined as having “distinguished merit and ability”.
All five of these visa types qualify for an H-4 visa, which allows you to bring your spouse and unmarried children under age 21 with you to the United States of the duration of your visa.
What Are the Requirements for an H-1 Visa?
The H-1 visa comes with a number of specific requirements. You will need to meet all of these requirements if you wish to qualify for a U.S. H-1B work visa.
Form I-129 is a petition form filed by your future employer on behalf of you. Your employer files form I-129 to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This petition must be approved by USCIS in order for you to move forward with the work visa process. When your petition is approved, USCIS will give you form I-797.
Department of Labor Certification
Employers who wish to hire foreign workers through the H-1 and H-1B visa program will need to be certified as such from the United States Department of Labor. Certification from the Department of Labor does not cost anything.
In order to qualify for the H-1B visa, you need to be a professional in a specialty occupation. For your profession to be categorized as a “specialty occupation”, it must meet one of the following criteria:
- Your profession requires a bachelor’s degree or equivalent as a minimum requirement
- The job must be so complex or specialized that only an individual with a degree would be able to perform it
- Your employer must typically require a degree for your position
Education or Training Requirements
To qualify for an H-1 visa, you are required to have specialized training, expertise, or experience. The applicant must meet one of the following criteria to be eligible:
- Obtained a U.S. bachelor’s degree or its equivalent as required by the given specialty occupation
- Obtained a foreign degree equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree as required by the specialty occupation
- Hold a registration, certification, or unrestricted government license authorizing legal practice of the specialty occupation
- Possess expertise in the practice of a specialty occupation, with that expertise coming from specialized training, education, or experience
You are not required to have a bachelor’s degree to qualify for an H-1B visa. However, you need specialized or unique training. The H-1B visa program is not designed to bring unskilled laborers to the United States (there are separate visa categories for unskilled laborers)
How to Apply for the H-1 Visa
The H-1 visa application process is similar to other non-immigrant visa applications. You are required to complete an online form from your local U.S. embassy’s website, gather required documents, and then attend an in-person interview at the embassy. Here’s what you can expect from each step of the H-1 visa application process:
Step 1) Receive a Job Offer: In order to qualify for an H-1 visa, you first need a job offer from a U.S. employer.
Step 2) Wait for your Employer to File the Petition: Once your employer has offered you a job, the employer needs to file a petition to USCIS. This petition is called form I-129. USCIS will verify that the position cannot be filled by an American worker. The agency will also verify that your prospective future employer is certified by the Department of Labor to hire foreign workers. If the petition is successful and approved by USCIS, then you will receive Form I-797. It costs $460 to file the I-129 petition with USCIS. Employers will also need to pay a fee of $750 to $1,500 (depending on the size of the company) for an “Education and Training Fee”. Certain employers may pay a petition fee of up to $4,000. Additionally, you can pay a premium processing fee of $1,410 to have your application filed more quickly.
Step 3) Complete Form DS-160: DS-160 is the standard application for all non-immigrant visas to enter the United States. Form DS-160 can be found on your local U.S. embassy’s website. The form is typically available in your local language, although you will need to provide the answers in English. Complete the application and answer all questions about your background, employer, and other relevant information. Then, submit the form.
Step 4) Schedule your Interview: After you have completed form DS-160, you will be able to schedule an interview with your local U.S. embassy or consulate.
Step 5) Collect Required Documents: Before your interview, you will need to collect your required documents for the H-1 visa, including all of the following:
- Valid passport
- Receipt number from the I-129 form petition from your employer
- Confirmation of interview appointment time
- Letter from your employer explaining your job position and intent to hire you
- Diploma proving you have a degree (or a certificate or other document proving your unique qualifications and education)
- Resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
- Proof of ties to your home country (may be needed to prove that you intend to return home once your work visa expires)
Step 5) Attend the Interview: Attend the interview at your local U.S. embassy or consulate. During the interview, the consular officer will ask questions to verify the information on your application. The main goals of the interview are to ensure that you intend to return home after your visa has expired and to verify that you are not a security threat to the United States.
H-1 Visa Fees
One of the nice parts about the H-1B visa process is that all fees are paid for by your employer. Typically, a U.S. visa comes with fees ranging from $160 to $300. The H-1 visa, however, is typically covered by your employer. In fact, U.S. laws require the employer – not the employee – to pay the H-1 visa fees.
Fees for the H-1 visa include:
Standard (Basic Filing) Fee: $460 (for the I-129 petition)
Transfers, Amendments, and Renewals: $460
ACWIA (Training) Fee: $750 (for employers with 25 or fewer full-time employees) or $1,500 (for employers with 26 or more employees); some organizations are exempt from this fee, including non-profits and educational institutions
Fraud Prevention & Detection Fee: $500; this fee only applies to employers filing an H-1B petition for the first time
Public Law Fee: $4,000; this fee only applies to companies that have more than 50 employees, with at least half of those employees being H-1B visa holders
Premium Processing Fee: $1,410
Attorney Fees: Typically, employers file an H-1B visa application through a lawyer if they do not have their own legal department; in that case, the employer will need to pay additional legal fees
The certification from the Department of Labor, meanwhile, does not come with a fee. All employers hiring H-1B visa holders are required to have a Labor Condition Application (LCA), although there is no fee attached to this.
How Long Does It Take to Process a U.S. H-1 Work Visa?
H-1 visa processing times vary widely depending on the workload at your local U.S. embassy or consulate. Standard processing can take 3-5 weeks, while employers who pay for premium processing may have their H-1 visa approved within 5 to 10 days.
Can I Extend My H-1 Visa?
The H-1 visa is typically given for a maximum of three years, regardless of your term of employment. Once your visa is expired (or close to expiring), you can choose to extend it. Extensions are awarded for either one year or three years.
You can only extend an H-1 visa so many times: you are permitted to hold an H-1 visa for a maximum of six consecutive years. If you had a three year H-1 visa and already extended it once for three years, then you may not be able to extend it again.
If your visa expires, you will need to return to your country of origin and begin the application process again.
U.S. immigration authorities typically recommend starting the extension process 45 days before your visa is scheduled to expire. Other conditions required for an H-1 visa extension include:
- Your visa must be valid at the time you apply to extend it
- You must not have committed any crimes while in the United States on your visa
- You must be a legal immigrant to the United States
- Your passport must be valid and it must remain valid for the duration of your stay
Can I Transfer My H-1 Visa?
An H-1 visa can be transferred. If you switch employers while in the United States on an H-1 visa, then you will need to transfer your visa. There are certain requirements behind an H-1 visa transfer, including:
Your new employer needs to file a new form I-129 petition to USCIS, although you do not need to file a new H-1 visa application
You need to submit all of the following documents:
- Copy of your I-94 form (your arrival form upon entry to the United States)
- Copy of your most recent I-797 form
- Copy of your current visa stamp
- Copy of your Social Security Number card
- Copy of your tax returns (if you have filed taxes in the U.S. already)
- Copy of your work experience and offer letters
- Copy of all pages of your passport
- Copy of all your degrees and certificates
- Updated resume
- Recent paystubs from your original H-1 employer
- A copy of your state license (required for medical professionals)
Can I Bring Dependents to the United States While on an H-1 Visa?
The H-1 visa is one of several visa types that allows you to bring dependents to the United States. Your dependents can file a request for an H-4 visa. The H-4 visa is designed specifically for the spouse and unmarried children under age 21 of an H visa holder.
If the H-4 visa application is approved, then your dependents will receive an H-4 visa valid for the duration of your H visa. Your dependents can accompany you to the United States, although they must arrive either with you or after you. They cannot arrive before you.