An H-1B visa is a great option for foreign nationals who want to work in the United States with a valid job offer. Every year, American companies employ thousands of foreign workers to come to the United States on H-1B visas.
If you want to learn more about the H-1B visa or if you have recently been granted an H-1B visa, this guide is for you. Read on to learn all about the H-1B visa!
What is the H-1B visa?
The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa for professionals that temporarily allows U.S. organizations to hire foreign workers with highly specialized experience in a certain occupation. H-1B specialized profession requires specialized knowledge and a degree or equivalent work experience in fields such as finance, information technology (I.T.), accounting, engineering, mathematics, sciences, medicine, etc.
This is a cap-based classification with an annual limit of 85,000 visas distributed among two main categories of applicants. 20,000 visas go to the master’s cap applicants, and the remaining 65,000 visas go to regular cap applicants. Master’s applicants are individuals with an advanced degree (master’s degree or above) from U.S. colleges or universities.
Due to the high number of applications each year, which usually exceed the stipulated numeric limit, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) uses a lottery system to randomly select from the registration pool.
The first lottery randomly selects 65,000 applications, and the second selects another 20,000 with an advanced degree.
What are the H-1B visa requirements?
Generally, H-1B visa applicants must possess certain academic qualifications and skills to work in specialized positions. To qualify for an H-1B visa, one of the following criteria must be met:
- Hold a foreign degree that is equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree or higher, required by the specialty profession from an accredited college or university.
- Holds a U.S. bachelor’s degree or higher in the same field as your specialty occupation from an accredited college or university in the United States.
- Hold an unrestricted state license certification or license that authorizes you to practice in the specialty occupation fully and be immediately engaged in that specialty in the intended state of employment.
- Have proven and recognized education, experience, or training in the specialty equivalent to a bachelor’s degree or higher.
H-1B Visa Electronic Registration Process
Employers must first complete the H-1B Electronic Registration Process if they want to obtain an H-1B visa for their prospective employees. USCIS implemented this process in 2020.
Employers are required to register on a USCIS website. They will provide all the relevant details regarding themselves and any prospective employees for whom they wish to obtain an H-1B visa. A $10 registration fee will also be paid for each prospective employee. Only those with selected registrations can apply for an H-1B visa.
H-1B visa Application process
There are four steps to applying for an H-1B visa, they include:
- The applicant must find an H-1B sponsor
- The Employer must submit a Labor Conditions Approval (LCA)
- The Employer must submit Form I-129
- The applicant completes the H-1B visa application
We’ll take a look at each of these steps in more detail.
Step 1: Find an H-1B sponsor.
The H-1B visa is a type of visa that requires the applicant to be sponsored by a U.S. employer to apply. Therefore, a person who wishes to enter the United States on an H-1B visa must first obtain employment from a U.S. employer who agrees to sponsor them into the United States.
When you are hired for a job in the United States, you must ensure the Employer is willing to sponsor you. To do this, make it clear from the start of the job application process that you will need sponsorship to enter the United States. Many employers ask this question when the candidate completes the job application, but if not, you should raise the question yourself.
Step 2: Employer Must Submit a Labor Conditions Approval (LCA)
After hiring you, a U.S. business will start the application process by electronically submitting an LCA to the Department of Labor (DOL) through the iCERT portal system. This application must be submitted six months before the employment start date.
The LCA provides the DOL with information about the job, such as salary, location, and working conditions.
The DOL will review the application within 7 business days. Employers with certified LCAs can then file H-1B petitions for their prospective workers. The purpose of the LCA is to certify that employers and employees meet the requirements of the H-1B visa.
Step 3: H-1B Petition Filing Process
The Employer will submit a Form I-129 petition to USCIS for a non-immigrant worker after the LCA has been approved. The Form I-129 petition must be submitted together with the DOL-certified LCA.
The processing time for the petition varies by the service center, and the wait can take up to 3 or 4 months.
Step 4: The applicant completes the H-1B visa application
The next step will depend on whether the employee is inside or outside of the United States after the petition has been approved.
- If you are outside the United States
Prospective workers from outside the United States will need to apply for a visa at the United States Embassy or Consulate in their country of residence. This is called consular processing. You will complete the Nonimmigrant Form DS-160 online for a fee. When you arrive at the U.S. port of entry, you will apply for admission in the H-1B visa status through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
- If you are in the United States
When the petition is approved, and you are in the United States, you must take the-approved I-129 to CBP at a U.S. port of entry. You will then need to complete the Form I-94 Arrival/Departure record and legally enter the country as an H-1B visa holder.
What are the H-1B visa application fees, and who should pay?
The U.S. Immigration National Act (INA) specifies that all USCIS fees associated with an H-1B filing must be paid by petitioning employers and cannot be paid by employees. This makes obtaining an H-1B visa difficult because the Employer must cover most of the application fees.
This makes the cost of bringing in a foreigner on an H-1B visa relatively high, so the Employer must be highly motivated to do this and go through the process. The following below describes the various fees involved and their amount:
Fee Amount Party Responsible
Basic Filing Fee $460 Employer
Visa Stamping Fees Varies Employee
Public Law 114-113 Fee $4,000 Employer
Registration Fee $10 Employer
Anti-Fraud Fee $500 Employer
Attorney Fee (Optional) Varies Employer or Employee
Premium Processing Fee (Optional) $2,500 Employer or Employee
Consular Processing (Form DS-160) $190 Employee
ACWIA Training and Education Fee $750 or $1,500 Employer
NOTE: Some important explanations about the h-1b visa bills:
ACWIA or American Workforce Competitiveness and Improvement Act of 1998 Fee
The ACWIA Act of 1998 imposed a quota on companies for hiring and training foreigners rather than American workers.
The ACWIA Act fee varies depending on the Employer’s number of employees.
For employers with 1 – 25 full-time employees, the fee is $750. For those with over 26 full-time employees, the rate is $1,500.
Some organizations are exempt from this fee. Examples are non-profit organizations affiliated with government research organizations and educational institutions.
This $500 fee is applicable when a prospective H-1B visa holder is filling a new application or changing employers; if the applicant is renewing their H-1B with the same Employer, this fee is not required.
The fee provides USCIS with the resources to track applicants and prevent fraudulent processing of applications.
Premium Processing Fee
The processing time for an H-1B visa can be long, which often causes problems for applicants who need documentation quickly. The premium processing fee allows applicants to skip this long waiting time.
This premium processing fee is an optional service available to anyone who wishes to speed up their visa application procedure. Employers must file Form I-907 and Form I-129 petitions to use the service. In addition, it guarantees a 15-day processing period for an extra $2,500.
Consular Visa Application Fee
Consular processing is required for prospective H-1B employees outside the United States. The online application fee for Form DS-160 non-immigrants is $190. There may be additional fees, which vary widely from embassy to embassy. The employee is usually responsible, although some employers may choose to pay it.
Visa Stamping Fees
Upon entering the country, H-1B visa holders must stamp their passport with the H-1B stamp to indicate that their application has been accepted and the visa has been granted. The cost of this stamp depends on the visa holder’s country of origin. The conditions for receiving the stamp are as follows:
- A 600 x 600 photograph of the visa holder
- Completed application payment
- Completed Form DS-160
- An interview at the American consulate
How can these payments be made?
As mentioned above, most fees incurred in the visa application process are the responsibility of the Employer or sponsor. For the fees that the applicants must pay, the I-29 immigration Form indicates that there are only two valid methods of payment: money order or checks. Each new visa fee requires a separate payment in this form.
Can my H-1B visa fees be reimbursed?
USCIS generally withholds the fee whether or not the request is successful. However, if an entry was entered into the annual lottery and was not selected, USCIS will refund the fee. Applicants may receive a refund even if:
- USCIS incidentally requested an unnecessary document and charged a fee
- USCIS charged the wrong amount
- An H-1B petition takes more than 15 calendar days after payment for Premium processing.
Frequently Questions and Answers
- Can my spouse and children travel to the United States with me on an H-1B visa?
Yes. When you qualify for an H-1B visa, your spouse and unmarried children under 21 can apply for an H-4 visa by providing proof of their family relationship with you.
- Can the H-1B visa holder’s spouse and children study in the United States?
Yes. With an H-4 visa, they can study in the United States.
- Can the H-1B visa holder’s spouse and children work in the United States?
No. They are not permitted to work in the United States as H-4 visa holders.
- How long can I stay in the United States on an H-1B visa?
As an H-1B visa holder, your visa is valid for three years and can be extended for up to six years. After this period, you must remain outside the United States for one year before another H-1B visa application can be approved.
However, suppose you have a Labor Certification (PERM) or I-140 Petition for an Immigrant Worker pending for more than 365 days. In that case, you may be eligible for a one-year extension beyond the six-year limit until a decision is made on your PERM or I-140 petition.
Additionally, if your I-140 petition has already been approved but your priority date is not yet updated (the immigrant visa is unavailable), you can apply for a three-year extension of your H-1B status.
Can an H-1B visa holder apply for a green card?
Yes, an H-1B visa holder can apply for a green card. Although it is a non-immigrant visa, the H-1B is a “dual intent” visa. This means the visa holder can have legal immigration intent (apply for and obtain a green card) without affecting their H-1B status. A green card may be obtained by employer sponsorship or family.
- When can I register electronically for the H-1B lottery, and when will I know the results?
Dates vary each year, but in 2021 USCIS announced that people can apply for the H-1B lottery in March and will notify them if they have been selected to apply for an H-1B visa by the end of March 2021.
- Is your previous H-1B visa (temporary occupation, temporary worker, or trainee) still valid?
Yes. Only if the visa is still valid.
- How can I check the H-1B lottery results?
To find out if you are eligible to apply for an H-1B visa, check your USCIS online account. The account will display the status of your request.