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H-1B Visa

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What Is the H-1B Visa?

An H-1B visa is an employment-based visa. It is for non-immigrant or temporary workers to legally enter the United States for an employment opportunity. Note, H-1B visa holders can thereafter apply for permanent residency (green card) while on the H-1B visa. To be eligible for an H-1B visa, the employer must offer a job in the United States and apply for the H-1B visa on the employee’s behalf. Essentially, an H-1B visa is a work permit that will allows a foreign citizen to work in the United States.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services considers a temporary worker as an individual who is seeking to enter the United States temporarily for a specific purpose. The H-1B visa allows the visa holder to temporarily live and work in the United States.

Who Is Eligible for H-1B Visas?

To be eligible for an H-1B visa, the applicant must be qualified for a specialty occupation and have specialized knowledge in the field they will be working. The visa holder must have at least a bachelor’s degree to apply for an H-1B visa.

The following jobs are some examples of occupations that qualify as specialty occupations and therefore eligible for an H-1B visa.

  • Engineer
  • Doctor
  • Financial Manager
  • Analyst
  • Business Manager
  • Sales Manager
  • Lawyer
  • CPA
  • Architect
  • Technician
  • Health Care Professional
  • Arts/Entertainment*

*Note, the Arts/Entertainment does not ordinarily qualify as a specialty occupation, unlike the other occupations that are listed above, unless the position requires specialized knowledge and a bachelor's degree.

Even if a person is eligible for an H-1B visa, they may not receive the visa because the USCIS limits the number of visas issued each year. Usually, this cap is 65,000 visas however that number is subject to change.

In addition to the normal 65,000 H-1B visas issued, the United States also issues an additional 20,000 H-1B visas to qualified people who hold a master’s degree.

H-1B Visa Requirements

To apply for the H-1B visa, applicants must meet various educational requirements. These requirements are as follows:

  • Bachelor’s Degree. The applicant must have a U.S. bachelor’s degree, higher degree, or the equivalent. The degree must be from an accredited college or university.
  • Work Experience. If the foreign equivalent to the U.S. bachelor’s degree is only a three-year degree, the applicant must have three years of work experience in their field.
  • Fully Qualified. The applicant must be fully qualified to lawfully perform the duties of the job they are seeking. If any licenses or credentials are necessary to work, the applicant must already have these qualifications to be eligible for the visa.
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H-1B Visa Application

The H-1B visa application begins by an employer filing an H-1B petition with USCIS on behalf of the potential employee. The employer must have this petition filed before a specific deadline that is set each year and the petitions are for the following financial year.

Once the petition is approved, the foreign worker can begin the visa application process in their home country. A foreign worker can follow the following steps to complete the process:

Step 1: The applicant must fill out the H-1B visa application which is Form DS160 online. This can be done at the Department of State website. After the application is completed, the applicant will receive a confirmation page with a 10-digit barcode. This document needs to be printed and will be required at the interview.

It is important to note that the visa application requires a digital photograph of the applicant. The photo must adhere to strict requirements so an applicant should be sure to meet all the photo criteria or else the application could be delayed or denied.

Step 2: A visa application fee must be paid to make an appointment for the visa interview. This can be done online using a bank transfer. The fee paid is good for one year from the date of payment so the applicant must schedule their visa appointment within that year.

Step 3: Applicants will have to schedule two separate appointments for the visa process. The first appointment is for biometrics (fingerprint and photograph) The second appointment is at the Consulate or Embassy for the visa interview. Appointments can be made online.

Step 4: When an applicant attends their interview, they need to make sure they have all their required documents. Refer to this checklist:

  • Passport
  • Photograph
  • DS-160 visa application conformation page with barcode
  • Visa application fee receipts (only necessary in some countries)
  • Visa appointment letter
  • Any other supporting documents

After your interview, if you visa has been approved, the officer will let you know immediately.

Filing Fees

The employer is responsible for paying the H-1B petition filing fee. This can range from $1,700 to $8,000. There is also the possibility that you will incur legal fees if you hire an immigration lawyer to help throughout the process.

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H-1B Visa Program Explained

There are a lot of rules and regulations that surround the H-1B visa program so it can sometimes be difficult to understand. An H-1B visa holder should understand the following information to ensure they are in compliance with the laws surrounding their visa.

Working: An H-1B holder does not have to be working at all times to maintain status. They simply need to maintain an employer/employee relationship. The visa holder can work full time or part time and is able to go on vacation, take sick leave, take maternity or paternity leave, and even go on strike.

Employers: An H-1B visa holder can only work for the employer who petitioned for the visa. Working for any other employer is illegal. An H-1B visa can however be transferred to a new employer.

Traveling: The H-1B visa is a multiple entry visa which means the holder can travel in and out of the United States as many times as they want as long as the visa is valid.

Family: If the visa holder has family like a spouse or minor children, these family members are allowed to be in the United States as dependents of the visa holder. Family members will have an H4 visa, and it will be valid so long as the H-1B visa is valid.

Green Card: A visa holder can fill out for I-485 to apply for a change of status and seek permanent residency.

How Long Is an H-1B Visa Good for?

An H-1B visa is good for a total of six years . After the first three years it can extended for an additional three years. There are certain exceptions and extensions beyond the six-year limit, such as if the H-1B visa holder has an approved employment-based green card petition.

If at any time during the valid duration of the visa, the visa holder is outside of the United States, the time outside the country does not count towards the six year maximum.

H-1B Visa Status

It is easy to check the status of your immigration application, petition, or request. You can log in the USCIS website and use the case status tracking tool. All you need is your receipt number to check the status of your immigration case.

Difference Between L1 and H-1B Visas

An L1 visa is also a type of temporary work visa available for entry to the United States. While the H-1B visa is for a U.S. based employer to hire a foreign national, an L1 visa is used to transfer employees within a company that operates in more than one country.

An L1 visa is sometimes called an Intra-Company Transferee Visa because it allows a company to shift employees in specialized positions to the United States for temporary work.

L1 visa holders do not need to have a U.S. degree or equivalent, they just need to have knowledge and expertise in their field.

One of the biggest differences between the L1 visa and the H-1B visa is that the United States government does not limit the amount of L1 visas that can be issued each year. That said, L1 visas do have other restrictions, such as the need for the petitioner and beneficiary to have a qualifying relationship and the requirement for the beneficiary to have worked for the foreign company for a certain period of time.

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