H1B Visa Processing Times – Processing and Extension

One of the most popular US non-immigrant visas is called the H1B work visa. This visa is extremely competitive since only people with knowledge and advanced skills get approved. It allows citizens from all parts of the world to work in the United States for up to 6 years. It is also known as the Person in Specialty Occupation Visa. With this visa, these people work in the US and get sponsorships from companies.

One requirement for this visa is that the person must have a job offer before applying. These jobs require highly valued qualifications including the following:

  • An advanced educational degree such as:
    • A four year Bachelor’s Degree or a foreign equivalent;
    • A Master’s or Doctoral Degree completed in a foreign country or in the U.S;
  • Advanced training or vocational skills such as fashion modeling;
  • Skills and knowledge to work in Research and Development projects for the U.S Department of Defense or other governmental positions.

The H1B work visa has an expiration period of 3 years, but there is an option that this could extend up to 6 years. Furthermore, this does not mean that the employee must return to its country of origin and this is what makes this visa unique that it is a dual intent visa.

What’s interesting is that dual intent visas allow it’s holders to apply for a change of status to an immigrant visa. This means that after the time period of 6 years, if you have a valid job after that, you can apply for Employment-Based Green Card.

It is pretty obvious why this visa has such high demand, and the US Congress is aware of this. So that’s why the limit of 85,000 visas a year was set. Nearly a quarter of it, about 20,000 visas are meant for people with the highest educational degrees from US institutions. And the other visas are meant for all the other applicants.

In order to decrease demand, the US government has created a long process of applying. Also, there is an authentic way these visas get processed. We will go through the H1B visa processing time.

What are the Application Steps for the H1B Visa?

Before we get into the processing time for this visa, we will go through the steps of getting the visa for the foreign applicant as well as the employer.

Certification needs to be obtained by the employer, meaning the employer needs to get an approved Labor Conditions Application (LCA) from the US Department of Labor. This certification resembles that the employer is eligible to hire a foreign worker. This also states that the employer must hire a foreign applicant because the US worker is not qualified, available or willing to work for that job. Finally, it can serve as an oath that the worker will get fair treatment and compensation for that job position.

The second step is quite simple, and it is giving the job offer to the foreign applicant and file the Form I-129. This goes straight to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Form I-129, Petition for a non-immigrant worker is a must and USCIS is the authority in processing these petitions.

The documents must be signed with black ink and compiled in a file. The employer must include all fee checks, as well as supporting documents. Then the petition is sent to USCIS in one of the following locations:

  • Texas Service Center (SRC for Southern Regional Center);
  • California Service Center (WAC for Western Adjudication Center).
  • Nebraska Service Center (LIN for Lincoln, Nebraska);
  • Vermont Service Center (EAC for Eastern Adjudication Center);

The employer has to send the petition to the closest service center in the area which they are located. Once it is received, your case number will be issued. An example of a case number would be EAC-19-118-50132. This number is in a specific format and it is one of a kind, it is used to check your petition status.

EAC represents the service center in which your petition was received. Secondly, the number 19 is the year your petition was received in this case, 2019. After that, 118 represents the day of receiving the petition, from the days that the USCIS has opened its application period (not including weekends and holidays). And finally the number 50132 represents your specific case number, and USCIS doesn’t give any information on how this number gets numbered.

The following are the types of H1B visa processing:

  • Regular H1B visa processing;
  • Premium H1B visa processing;
  • Expedited H1B visa processing.

H1B Visa Processing Time

A specific time is set for when these petitions get processed. It starts at the beginning of April and lasts until the end of October. The USCIS fiscal year starts in October and lasts up to September next year. After the processing time has finished and it is finalized, workers can begin their work in the US in October.

The processing time depends on the service center, but the regular processing time takes from 1 to 6 months. The California and Nebraska Service Centers process H1B visas for an average of 2.5 to 4.5 months. However, the Vermont Service Center has a very slow processing time, from 12 to 15 months on average. So keep in mind that if you send a petition in 2019, you might start working in October 2020.

There is a random selection for H1B visa. It’s called the H1B visa lottery. There is no preference or order on who gets selected. Even though, USCIS start firstly with the 20,000 graduates from US institutions.

If there are more than the given number of 20,000 petitions, a random selection of 20,000 is processed. While the rest are entered to the other 65,000 petitions.

For regular petitions, only 65,000 get selected. If the number of petitions is higher than this, a random selection of 65,000 is made to finalize its number. The applications that didn’t get picked are returned to the employer with the fees.

It is strictly disallowed for employers to file multiple petitions for the same employee. If this gets detected by USCIS, the petition is denied and the fees are not returned.

Premium H1B Visa Processing Time

Employers who do not want to wait for months to process the petition have the option of getting the premium processing. With premium processing, the time is cut down to just 15 days of the day of submission. If the petition doesn’t get processed within 15 days, USCIS returns the fees paid to the employer.

This costs an additional $1,225. If this option is chosen, the Form I-907 needs to be attached to the petition.

Unfortunately, for the 2018 application period, USCIS is not accepting premium processing from April to September 2018. Employers can choose premium processing only from September to October 2018. USCIS did this to increase their processing of the H1B extensions.

Expedited H1B Visa Processing

This expedited processing is done only on cases that the USCIS finds eligible. The following are a few requirements to get this processing:

  • There is a severe financial loss to the U.S employer or foreign employee;
  • There is an emergency situation;
  • There are humanitarian reasons;
  • The petition is from a U.S Nonprofit Organization for the cultural and social interests of the U.S;
  • The petition is from a U.S government entity due to national interest from the U.S Department of Defense;
  • There was a USCIS error;
  • The petition is of the compelling interest of USCIS.

The employer needs to provide all the supporting documents he/she finds necessary to get expedited processing.

H1B Extension Processing Time

The extension processing type could take anywhere from 4 to 7 months for regular processing and 15 days by premium. Still, this varies on the service center the employer is based upon, so for a definite time make sure to check with the service center where you submit your petition.

What Happens After USCIS Processes of the H1B Visa?

After the H1B process time, USCIS might ask for some additional proof concerning the petition. The employer must provide the necessary proof, and then a decision will be made by USCIS.

If and when the petition gets approved, the foreign worker needs to apply for an H1B visa, in the US Consulate or Embassy in his/her country of origin. After that, they decide if the applicant is fit to work in the US. This takes up to 2 weeks of the day of submitting the application (this time depends on the Embassy or Consulate and its workload).

H1B Extension Length

After the initial 3 years of the visa have expired, and if the employer wants to keep the worker, an application needs to be submitted to USCIS for an additional time added to the H1B visa.

However, if the H1B visa is expired, the employee has only 240 days left to stay in the country. If this time passed, the employee is forced to leave the US and loses his status in the US.

In order for this not to happen, the employer and employee need to make sure that the 240 day period doesn’t pass before applying for an extension.