The H-1B work visa is one of the most popular H-1 visa categories available to those seeking to work in the United States. The H-1B visa, however, is not an option to anyone. Typically, this visa is only given to highly specialized professionals, including those who work in specialty occupations where a graduate degree or unique training is required.

Because of these requirements, the H-1B work visa is also known as a Person in Specialty Occupation Visa.

What is the H-1B Visa?

The H-1B is a temporary, non-immigrant visa that allows you to work in the United states for a specific period of time. Like other work visas, the H-1B requires a U.S. employer to sponsor your visa.

The United States hands out a specific number of H-1B visas to employers across the country every year. Once this pool of H-1B visas is gone, no more visas can be issued for the year. Typically, there’s a visa cap of around 65,000 applicants, although the specific number varies every year.

The H-1B visa application process is initiated by a U.S. employer. Let’s say a U.S. employer has an open job position for a highly specialized profession. They cannot find an American employee qualified to complete the work. They receive an application from a foreign national willing to perform the job. Then, the employer begins the H-1B visa process by submitting a petition to USCIS.

How Does an H-1B Visa Work?

The requirements for an H-1B visa typically state that you need specialized education, training, or experience to perform the job. If your job requires unique training that cannot be performed by the average person, then you may qualify for an H-1B visa.

  • Some of the specific requirements for an H-1B visa include:
  • Possession of an advanced educational degree, including a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degree
  • Advanced training or vocational skills (i.e. unique on-the-job training)
  • Unique qualities that allow you to work in research and development projects of the U.S. Department of Defense and other governmental positions

If you meet the above qualifications, then you may wish to apply for jobs in the United States. Generally, if the job requires a higher education degree or is specialized to a point where few people can do it successfully, then it may qualify as an H-1B visa position.

Some of the common professions that qualify for an H-1B visa include:

  • IT specialists
  • Architects
  • Accountants
  • Professors
  • Doctors
  • Dentists
  • Journalists
  • Fashion models
  • Technical writers
  • Those involved in specialized research or employment in fields like science, biotechnology, computing, arts, and other areas

The U.S.-based employer will receive job offers from foreign nationals. Then, they will make a job offer. At this point, the employer can initiate the H1-B visa process by sending a petition to USCIS.

Typically, an H-1B visa is granted for three years, with renewal possible for a maximum of six years. As your three-year expiry date approaches, you might be granted a one-year or three-year extension, depending on your position.

The only exception to this rule is for foreign nationals working for the U.S. government. These individuals can work in the United States for a maximum of 10 years with an H-1B visa.

Requirements for an H-1B Visa

Both the employer and the employee are required to meet certain qualifications in order to qualify for an H-1B visa.

Requirements for Employers

The U.S.-based company must be a legal, registered company with an IRS number. The employer must verify that it meets certain qualifications before begin the H-1B visa sponsorship process.

Labor Condition Application (LCA)

All U.S. companies seeking to hire foreign workers will first need to file a Labor Condition Application (LCA). This can be begun by filling in Form ETA 9035E. In that form, the employer will state the number of years for which they wish to hire foreign workers. The form also guarantees that the employer has safe, adequate, and fair working environments for the foreign worker. To successfully file a Labor Condition Application, the employer must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Prove that they will pay the foreign employee a similar wage they would pay an American employee
  • Prove that they have adequate working conditions
  • Prove that they will notify the employee of any changes made in the labor agreement
  • Notify the government of the location of employment
  • Provide the name of the company and the number of employees
  • State the foreign employee’s job description and general duties

The U.S. employer will file the Labor Condition Application with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). This is typically the first step of the application process, and it’s recommended that the employer have an approved LCA before taking further steps. Even if other parts of the application are processed more quickly, the employee cannot begin working until a Labor Condition Application is filed.

Petition the USCIS

The U.S. employer will then need to initiate the actual H-1B visa application process by filing a petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This petition is known as Form I-129. USCIS will receive the request before verifying that the employer can hire foreign workers.

Form I-129 is required in all of the following situations:

  • When an employee is planning to work for two U.S. companies, each company has to file a Form I-129 petition to USCIS
  • If the employee wants to extend his or her visa, then the employer has to file a Form I-129 again
  • If the employee is transferring to a new company, then the new employer needs to file a new Form I-129

Fee Payments

There are a number of fee payments required with the H-1B visa application process, including all of the following:

Form I-129 Filing Fees: $460

American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act Fee (Also known as the ACWIA or Training Fee): $750 (for companies with fewer than 25 full-time employees in the United States); $1,500 (for employers with more than 25 full-time employees in the United States)

Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee: $500 per applicant

Public Law 114-113 Fee: $4,000 (for companies who have more than 50 full-time employees, with at least 50% of them being foreign workers on H-1B or L visas; this fee is not required when extending the H-1B visa)

Premium Processing: $1,410

Other Forms and Documents

If an attorney is representing the employer, then the employer may need to file an additional form called Form G-28, among other documents:

  • Form G-28
  • Copy of the H-1B applicant’s passport
  • Copy of the H-1B applicant’s diploma, training certification, or other education/training qualifications
  • Copy of the labor contract signed by the H-1B visa applicant and employer
  • Tax returns for the company
  • Report of wages paid to employees in similar positions to the position for the H-1B visa applicant
  • Photographs of your business premises

After receiving all of these documents, USCIS will review the petition to determine the validity of your H-1B visa application. The primary goal of USCIS’s application review is to determine that you have legitimate need for a foreign worker and can not hire a U.S. employee to perform the job. USCIS also wants to ensure that you will pay the foreign worker a competitive wage and provide a safe working environment.

If the employer meets all of the qualifications above, the employer is granted a Form I-797. Once this form is granted, the prospective H-1B visa applicant can officially begin the application process.

Requirements for H-1B Applicants (Employees)

Once the employer has met all of the qualifications above and has received Form I-797, the employee can proceed with the H-1B visa application process. This visa application process is similar to any other non-immigrant visa. You will fill out a DS-160 form and then schedule an interview at a nearby U.S. embassy or consulate.

Step 1) Complete Form DS-160: This online form can be found at the website of your local U.S. embassy or consulate. It’s the standard non-immigrant form for traveling to the United States.

Step 2) Schedule your Interview: H-1B visa applicants need to schedule an interview with a nearby U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country.

Step 3) Collect Required Documents: Prior to your interview, you will want to collect copies or originals of all required documents, including your current passport, a copy of your passport pages, all previous passports, a photograph that meets visa requirements, a visa interview confirmation letter, printed form I-129 and one copy, form I-797, a letter from your employer describing the position, and proof of your education or training certifications. Any H-1B applicants who have previously worked in the United States will also need to submit tax return forms, the names and contact information of previous employers and supervisors, a resume or CV, and paystubs for the term of employment. Other required documents may include a resume or curriculum vitae (CV), references for bosses or supervisors at previous positions, references for coworkers at previous positions, and photographs of the location of your work in the United States, among other documents.

Step 4) Attend the Interview: Arrive at the U.S. embassy or consulate to complete your interview. The goal of the interview is to ensure the information on your DS-160 application form is correct. The interviewer may also ask questions about your job, the position, and your unique qualifications. If you have never visited the United States before, or if this is your first time applying for an H-1B visa, then you may also have your fingerprints taken prior to the interview. Once the interview is complete, you can return home and wait for your H-1B work visa to be approved or denied.

Unlike a traditional non-immigrant visa, where the fees are paid by the applicant, with the H-1B visa, the fees are paid by the employer bringing the applicant to the United States. In fact, as part of the H-1B visa application process, visa fees need to be paid by the employer – not the employee.

How Long Does It Take to Process an H-1 Visa?

H-1B visa processing times vary widely between countries. Some H-1B visas can be processed in just 2 weeks – say, if your employer paid the $1,410 fee for premium processing. Other H-1B visas may take as long as 3 to 6 months to process – say, if your local U.S. embassy has a high workload.

Because processing times are unpredictable, it’s in your best interest to begin the H-1B visa process as soon as possible.

How Can I Extend My H-1B Visa?

The H-1B visa is typically granted for a three-year period. However, it’s possible to extend your visa beyond this period to a maximum of 6 years (or a maximum of 10 years for certain government positions).

To extend your H-1B visa, you will need to complete a similar process to your original application. Your employer is required to pay many of the same fees while also filing a new petition with USCIS.

You will also be required to submit the following documents to receive an H-1B visa renewal:

  • Your passport
  • Your original I-94 form
  • Form I-797
  • A letter from your employer explaining your position

Typically, it takes about 3 months to extend an H-1B visa, so you’ll want to begin the extension process at least three months before your original H-1B visa is scheduled to expire. You can apply for an extension a maximum of 6 months before your H-1B visa is scheduled to expire.

However, if your H-1B visa expires without receiving a response on your extension, then you are permitted to continue working in the United States for a maximum of 240 days or until your H-1B visa extension is approved or denied. If your extension is denied, or if you have stayed in the U.S. for the six-year period, then you will need to return home.

Can I Bring Dependents to the United States on an H-1B Visa?

If you are an H-1B visa holder, then you are permitted to bring spouses and qualifying children to the United States on an H-4 visa. The H-4 visa program is designed specifically for the dependents of H visa holders. The dependents who qualify for this program include:

  • Your spouse
  • Your unmarried children under age 21

H-4 visa holders are permitted to work in the United States if they file an EAD and abide by certain conditions. Additionally, H-4 visa holders can study in the United States.

Typically, the H-4 visa is granted for the length of the H-1B visa. The H-4 visa holder can arrive in the United States with the H-1B visa holder or after the H-1B visa holder. However, you cannot arrive in the U.S. before your spouse.