Many of the lucky ones, selected in H1B Visa Lottery and have approved H1B Visa petition notice, might be wondering what are the next steps.. Our previous article covered the typical Steps After H1B Visa Lottery. Now the next questions are like what to do with the H1B approval notice, when can I apply for visa stamping, when can I work in the US, etc. We will look at the typical steps after the H1B petition is approved by USCIS.
Background : H1B Registration, Petition Filing, Approval
Typically, once the H1B registration was selected in the H1B registration lottery process, most of the applicants would file the H1B petition with USCIS. After they file the H1B petition with USCIS, they would receive the petition receipt number along with the receipt notice from their employer either email copy or scan copy of the physical receipt notice from USCIS. You would have used that receipt number to check the status on the USCIS website and got to know that your H1B petition was approved by USCIS.
Now, once you see that approval status, as described in H1B Case Status info and meaning on USCIS site, it tells you that they will send the approval notice copy to the petitioner or employer/ attorney. Once the employer receives the approval notice, they would typically send the actual copy of the approval notice from USCIS to the applicant. Let’s look at the next steps.
Next Steps after H1B Approval from USCIS
The steps after receiving H1B Approval notice fall into two scenarios based on the H1B petition filing, either Consular Processing or Change of Status(COS). Let’s look at each of these in detail
Steps for H1B Petition filed as Change of Status (COS)
If the H1B petition was filed as a Change of Status(COS), it means that the applicant is already in the US and trying to move from one status to another status. It could be situations like someone on an H4 visa, F1 Visa, or any other visa type trying to move to H1B status. Below are the typical steps
Step 1 – Verify COS Approval & I-94 : The H1B applicant needs to verify if the change of status was approved or not along with the H1B petition approval. If the COS was approved, the H1B approval notice comes with I-94 attached to it. The validity date on the I-94 arrival-departure portion of the approval notice would also be same as the H1B approval notice.
Sometimes, the H1B approval does not come with Change of Status approval. It could be for reasons like not maintaining proper status in the US in the past. In such cases, the COS portion of the H1B would not be approved. If COS was not approved, there would not be an I-94 attached with the H1B approval notice. In such cases, the applicant would have to leave the country and get H1B visa stamping at a US consulate to work on H1B.
Step 2: Wait for October 1st to Start working: If your H1B was approved with COS approved, there is nothing you need to do. All you need to do is wait for October 1st and then join the company that you plan to work on H1B. If you are already working for that company on F1 OPT or something else, you can inform them to switch your status to H1B for their tracking and update I-9 form accordingly.
One important thing to note is that you do not need apply for H1B visa stamping as you are already in the US and maintaining proper status.
Now, let’s look at the steps for second scenario, where H1B was applied as Consualr Processing.
Steps for H1B Petition filed in Consular Processing
If the H1B petition was filed in Consular processing, it usually means that you need to get H1B Visa stamping done in order to start working. Usually, most of the applicants, who apply for Consular processing are based outside of the US, when they applied for H1B visa petition. Below are the steps
Step 1 : Gather all Documents for US Visa Application : If you are applying for H1B visa stamping, you will need a lot more documents in addition to your H1B visa approval notice. You need to have all documents and information related to your passport, your family personal information, your education certificates info, your US travel itinerary, your recent passport photo, etc.
Step 2: Complete DS-160 Form, Pay Visa Fee, Schedule Biometrics, Interview Appointments : After you have all documents, you need to first complete DS-160 Form that is nothing but US Visa Online Application form. You will use all the details from the previous step to fill the form.
Once you complete the DS-160 form, you need to pay the required US Visa fee of $190 USD either online or at a bank. Using that, you need to book appointments for giving Biometrics and In-person visa interview. You can check the Step by Step Guide to apply for US Visa to know more
Step 3: Attend Biometrics, in-person Visa Interview: You need to carry all relevant documents required for Biometrics appointment and in-person H1B Visa interview. Below are key documents that you need to carry :
- H1B Approval notice ( I-797A Notice of Action )
- Employment Offer Letter
- H1B LCA Copy
- Education Certificates – Bachelors, Masters degree ( as applicable)
- Pay stubs ( if already working for the company)
You can check H1B Visa Stamping Document Checklist for complete details on the documents.
Step 4 : Wait for Decision, Collect Passport – Approve Visa : After the visa interview, you need to wait for the decision from the US consualte. If everything went well, your H1B Visa stamping would be completed and you get your Passport with H1B Visa foil glued in the passport. Sometimes, there may be additional processing required and consulate may issue 221g form for Administrative processing.
Step 5 : Travel to US Port of Entry, Enter US, Start Working : After you get your visa approved, your next step is to travel to US. Getting US visa stamping does not guarantee entry to US. The H1B applicant need to go through US Port of Entry Procedures and convince the CBP officer. Usually CBP officer would ask questions related to entry, do a quick security check, take fingerprints and let the H1B applicant into US, if no issues. Once you clear CBP at Port of entry, you are all set to start working at your company in the US office location.
Those are the steps after getting H1B Approval notice. Now, let’s now look at some common questions and situations.
H1B Sponsor Not giving the Approval Notice to Applicant
Sometimes, some employers from IT bodyshop consulting companies, withhold the actual copy of approval notice for some time so that they can send the same when they need the candidate to travel to US or have the leverage to bargain or terms, etc…again, it depends… Important thing to know is that, it is employer’s petition approval and you cannot really get it from anywhere else, only your employer can share that. They are not obligated to share that approval notice with you.
When can you apply for H1B Visa Stamping ? How many days Before ?
As per the US Dept. of State Consular processing website, for H1B work visa, you can apply for US Visa Stamping up to 90 days before the petition start date. If you went through H1B registration lottery, we can assume you are new cap-subject petition and your start date would be October 1st. So, if your start date is Oct 1, then you can plan and apply for H1B Visa Stamping anytime on or after July 1st.
As background on why October 1st is the start date for new H1Bs, you need to know that as per rule, one cannot file for an H1B petition before 6 months from the requested start date to work in US. So, as the new Fiscal Year starts from October 1st of that year, you can only file on or after April 1st, which is when USCIS accepts petitions after H1B registration.
Now, the visa slots at US consulates can be tricky with demand, I suggest you plan early and apply for your H1B visa stamping at US consulates as early as you can to avoid last-minute delays. Also, not all H1B stamping appointments result in successful stamping, some may get 221(g) query from the Visa Consular officer (blue, white, yellow) asking to submit documents, so plan accordingly, so that you get time to submit these documents and are ready to start working from October 1st. We have put up these steps in the below chart for your reference.
When can you enter US on H1B after Visa Stamping ?
As per US Department of State, You can enter US on H1B only 10 days prior to your H1B start date on your approval notice (I-797 form). Technically, what it means is that, if your H1B start date is October 1st, then you can enter America on or after September 20th on H1B Visa. These 10 days rule to enter US and 90 days rule for applying for H1B stamping has been same for the past few years, you can check our previous article indicating the H1B stamping details and US entering criteria to get some perspective.
It is always good to put it in a picture to understand easily. Below are the steps as a flow chart.
Pre-departure checklist for H1B Visa holders
If you are flying to America for the first time on H1B visa, there are quite a few things that you can do in your home country to make your life easy in USA and maybe save some money too…We have written an article covering booking tickets, health checkup, driving license, list of things to carry, etc. You should read the article Pre-departure checklist and Things to do before you enter US on H1B
What are your experiences ? Add your thoughts in comments below
Reference : US Dept of State official – US Travel Docs H1B Stamping FAQs