America has been at the forefront of innovation for the last few decades and continues to be the leader. To innovate, many of these American companies need talent with specialized skills. Many a time, it can be hard to find talent with these specialized skills within the US. To bridge this talent shortage, the US immigration system provides many temporary work visa options. As part of those non-immigrant temporary work visa options, the most popular visa type for specialty occupation areas is H1B Visa.
Getting a H1B Visa is not easy. Due to very high demand for this visa type, USCIS has been conducting H1B lottery for the last 9 consecutive years. You can check H1B Cap reach Dates History from 2000 to 2022 to get an idea of the demand. In this article, we will review everything that you need to know about H1B Visa, its requirements, how to get it, fees, what is H1B LCA process, steps with USCIS, steps for US visa stamping, H4 dependent visas, latest news and many other common FAQs. We continue to update this article with new updates.
Before we look at the step by step guide to apply for H1B Visa, let us review the basics of H1B Visa like what it means, requirements, fees, lottery process, etc.
What is H1B Visa ?
H1B Visa is a non-immigrant visa category that allows a foreign national to work in a specialty occupation in the US. The H1B visa program was created as part of the Immigration Act of 1990 to hire high skilled foreign workers on a temporary basis by US employers. To work on H1B Visa, the foreign worker must possess specialized knowledge and skills and work in a specialty occupation in the US.
The H1B Visa is also used to hire foreign nationals to perform specialized services that are exceptional in nature related to the US Department of Defense cooperative research and development project. It also is used to recruit someone as a fashion model with extraordinary merit or ability. In fact, previous first lady Melania Trump worked on H1B Visa under the fashion model option.
If a US Company is sponsoring H1B Visa for an individual to work for them in the US, they would take care of all the H1B visa filing fees, documentation, expenses and work with USCIS to get the necessary H1B petition approval. After the H1B petition approval, they will also assist the applicant to get H1B Visa stamping at a US consulate that allows the applicant to enter the US on H1B visa to work for them.
What are H1B Visa Requirements
To be qualified for H1B Visa, the applicant has to meet all the requirements as outlined by Congress in the H1B program. Below are the requirements :
- The applicant needs to have a bachelor’s degree or higher degree from an accredited University or College. If the bachelor’s degree is from a foreign country, it must be equivalent to US Degree. Typically a four-year bachelor’s degree or equivalent, including a Master’s or Ph.D. will meet this requirement.
- The applicant needs to have advanced knowledge to be classified as a high skilled worker in the required field for the job.
- If the applicant works in an area that requires a license or official permission in that state, then they need to have an unrestricted state license or permission to fully practice the specialty occupation. These license requirements are usually for someone working in roles like a physical therapist, architect, surveyor, etc.
- If the applicant does not have a 4-year degree, then each year of education can be equated with 3 years of specialized training or professional work experience. So, the applicant needs 12 years of specialized work experience, if they need to apply without a bachelor’s degree.
What is H1B Visa Cap, Quota ? Duration ?
H1B Visa program has an annual limit set by the US Congress. The annual limit on how many H1B visas can be issued is called H1B Visa cap. The US Congress has set the H1B Cap to be 85,000 per year. The annual limit is further split by quota as regular quota and Masters quota. Below are the details of the regular vs masters quota.
- Regular Quota Cap : The regular quota cap is 65,000 visas. It includes all the general applicants with a bachelor’s degree or higher. There is no specific requirement other than meeting general H1B visa requirements as in the above section. One important thing to note is out of this 65,000 count, there is a separate carve out of 6,800 count for Singapore and Chile under the Free Trade Agreement. Anything that is unused from the 6,800 count from the previous year is added up to the regular quota.
- Advanced Degree or US Master Quota Cap : The advanced degree quota cap is 20,000 visas. To be counted towards the advanced degree quota cap, you need to have a Master’s Degree from an accredited US University.
The quota caps are very important during H1B Lottery situation, where someone with a US Master’s degree has higher chances of getting selected as they are part of both pools during lottery and the order also matters. For more info on quota caps & limits read: Complete guide to H1B Quota Caps – Regular vs Masters
H1B Cap Exempt Petitions
When people talk about H1B, they primarily talk about H1B cap subject petitions, where there is a limit set by the US Congress. But, there is an exception that is setup as part of the regulation that gives additional provisions for Universities and non-profit research entities to hire H1B workers without any numerical limit set by the US Congress. The H1B petitions filed by based on this exception that do not fall under the 85,000 annual limit are called cap-exempt H1B petitions.
Univerities, non-profit research entities, and other government research organizations do not have any limit on H1B Visas and they can file for H1B petition for an applicant anytime of the year. These petitions do not have to go through any lottery.
The only catch is, you cannot trasfer from a cap exempt H1B to a cap subject H1B entity. Meaning, you cannot trasfer your H1B filed through a university to a normal corporate company to avoid the lottery process.
H1B Visa Duration – How many years ? Layoff ?
The initial duration for H1B Visa petition approval is usually given for up to 3 years by USCIS. The actual amount of approval time depends on the underlying H1B Labor Condition Application(LCA) duration. After 3 years, the duration of the H1B can be extended up to another 3 years by filing an extension petition with USCIS. In total, the eligible duration for H1B is 6 years.
You need to leave the US and spend one year outside of the country for the H1B visa clock to reset and go through the H1B quota cap again to be eligible for getting another term of H1B. To stay in the US after 6 years on H1B visa, one of the common options many pursue, during the 6-year term, is to apply for an Employment-Based Green Card and get I-140 approved as part of the green card process before the 6 year term expires. If you get I-140 approved, then you can continue to extend H1B until you get the green card and stay in the country as per AC 21 provisions.
Having H1B Visa valid for 3-year duration does not mean, you can stay in the country even without a job. You need to employed by the H1B Sponsoring company and maintain H1B Visa legal status by getting paid on time, paying taxes, etc. If for some reason, the company that sponsored your H1B does a layoff, then you have 60 days grace period to find another job or leave the country. Also, the company has to take care of all expenses related to your departure, if you need to leave the country.
What is H1B Visa Lottery ? Random Selection Process ?
When USCIS receives more applications than the annual limit of 85,000, they use a random selection process to select the required annual limit of 85,000 petitions. This random selection process is popularly called as H1B Visa Lottery.
As part of the H1B lottery selection process, USCIS first selects 65,000 applications from the entire pool of applications filed, which includes regular and US masters quota applications to meet the regular quota cap. After that, the unselected Masters quota applications are taken from the first step and a second lottery/random selection process is done to select the 20,000 applications to meet the US Masters quota cap.
The order of the lottery gives someone with US Masters an extra probability of selection as they get to be part of the lottery twice. You can read more at What is H1B Visa Lottery, What has USCIS done in past ?
What is H1B Visa Registration Process ?
USCIS in the past required anyone applying for H1B visa petition to submit a full application package on April 1st. They used to take all those packages and use basic details in the petition to run H1B Lottery as described above. But, starting from the year 2020, to reduce the burden for employers and USCIS, they introduced H1B Electronic Registration process.
As part of the electronic registration process, now employers do not need to send the entire H1B package to USCIS, rather they need to complete basic information about the applicant in the USCIS H1B Registration Online System. USCIS would open a registration period every year in March for two to three weeks for employers to register the H1B applicants. After the registration period closes, USCIS would run H1B lottery or random selection on the submitted H1B registrations.
Also, USCIS keeps the unselected registrations until the end of the fiscal year for running another round of lottery as needed. For FY 2021, USCIS conducted second-round lottery using the waitlist pool of registrations. For more details, read Complete guide to H1B Registration Process
H1B Visa Fee – USCIS, Attorney, Stamping
The employer filing for H1B on behalf of the applicant need to pay all the relevant H1B Visa related fees (except visa stamping fee), including attorney fee. Below are the various fees associated and cost of the same.
- H1B Registration Fee – $10 USD
- Base filing Fee (I-129 Form): $460 USD
- ACIWA Fee
- $750 USD – for employers with 1 to 25 full-time employees
- $1500 USD – for employers with 26 or more full-time employees
- Fraud prevention & detection Fee : $500 USD
- Public Law 114-113 Fee : $4000 USD ( applies to companies with 50 or more and 50% of the employees are on h1B or L1 Visas)
- (Optional) USCIS Premium Processing Fee : $2,500
- Immigration Attorney Fee : Ranges from $500 to $3000. If inhouse attorney, no fee.
- US Visa Stamping Fee at Consulate: $190 USD
Overall, the H1B fee can vary from $1,710 USD to $7,910 USD + Attorney fee + US Visa Stamping fee. For complete info, read H1B Visa Fee – How much? Who pays for What?
How to Apply for H1B Visa – Application Process
To work on H1B Visa in the US, there are multiple steps starting from finding a company that can sponsor you H1B visa to getting H1B visa stamped in the passport to enter US.
Below are the various steps involved to work in the US on H1B Visa. All the below steps are explained in detail at How to apply H1B Visa to work in US – Lottery to Stamping
- Step 1 : Find H1B Sponsoring Company, Get Job
- Find H1B Sponsoring Companies List
- Applying for Jobs at H1B Sponsors, Get Job
- Salary Negotiations, Verifying H1B Profile
- Decision Time – Finalize your H1B Sponsors, Submit Info.
- Step 2 : Employer Submits H1B Registration
- Step 3 : Employer files H1B Labor Condition Application(LCA)
- Step 4 : Employer files H1B Petition with USCIS using Form I-129
- Step 5 : USCIS Processing of H1B Petition, Decision
- (If applying from outside of US) Step 6: H1B Visa Stamping at US Consulate
- (If applying from outside of US) Step 7: Enter the US on H1B Visa, Work
Below is a high level H1B Process flow chart or diagram that shows the above listed steps
You may also check below articles
- H1B Visa Basics – Requirements, Filing Dates, Cap, Fee – FAQs
- H1B Visa Stamping Documents Checklist – Interview, OFC, Common FAQs
- H1B Visa Seasons History: Updates by Year – Lottery Dates, Numbers
- H1B Visa 2024 News: Third Round Lottery? Process, FAQs
- HOW to Apply H1B Visa to work in US: Lottery to Stamping Process
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