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 2020 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 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 is the step-by-step guide to work in the US on H1B Visa.
Step 1 : Find H1B Sponsoring Company, Get Job
You cannot apply for H1B Visa yourself as an individual. Only a company that has US operations and registered in the US can sponsor you an H1B visa. Also, not all companies in the US sponsor H1B visa due to their policies or sometimes due to lack of resources or awareness. So, the key task to get H1B Visa is to find a company or employer that can sponsor you H1B Visa.
After finding a H1B sponsor, the main thing is to get a job at that company that is of speciality occupation, so that they can file H1B petition on your behalf. The overall process of finding H1B sponsors, getting job can be broken down into few steps as below.
If you already work for a company, as a student or employee overseas, that has sponsored H1B visas in the past, you can ask them to sponsor H1B visa for you to work in the US. You do not need to go through the below steps of finding companies and applying for job, you can go to step 2.
Our first task is to find the H1B Sponsoring Companies.
Find H1B Sponsoring Companies List
The information on which companies have sponsored H1B Visas in the past is available to everyone as part of public disclosure data from the US Dept of Labor and USCIS Data Hub. Websites like H1BGrader.com takes such data and provides a nice interface to find H1B Sponsoring companies by City, Zip code, or Job title. For detailed instructions, you can read the article How to find H1B Visa Sponsors.
You can find the H1B sponsoring companies using the H1BGrader.com website and create a list of of such companies based on your preference of location and role. Once you know the companies, then your next step is to apply for a job at these companies and get a job.
Applying for Jobs at H1B Sponsors, Get Job
Once you have the list of the potential H1B sponsoring companies, your next goal is to apply for jobs at these companies.
- If you are already inside the US, it can be a relatively easy process to work with the company do the interviews, and get a job. But, if you are outside of the US, this can be difficult to apply and get a job due to the uncertainties and employers may not be keen to take the extra work to get you into US.
- F1 Student: If you are a student already in US and doing a co-op or internship at a company, you should initiate the H1B process at the company. If you realize that the current company does not offer that option, time to make a decision and switch soon.
- Your primary goal is to get as many interviews and clear them to go to the offer letter stage.
- If you know the company you are interviewing with has done H1B sponsorships in past, you do not have to explicitly ask for it. But, if you are interviewing with a company that you are not sure about, if they have done H1B sponsorship in the past, you can ask about the requirement for H1B Sponsorship for you before you get hired, so that they know from the beginning your needs.
Salary Negotiations, Verifying H1B Profile
Once you are at offer letter stage, you should be getting close to a decision on what company you should be going for. This is your time to review the company profile, their H1B approvals, and green card data.
- Try to negotiate the best offer you can get at a company. It is all pretty transparent. You can see the details of a job on how much it pays for base salary in H1BGrader.com Salaries or other websites like Glassdoor.com.
- You should also verify the companies’ credentials like how many H1B filings were approved, denied at least from LCA perspective and USCIS side. You can use H1BGrader website to view the profile of the company to evaluate, how many were approved, how many were denied in the past. Some websites like myvisajobs.com ask you to pay you to see the details, but you should not pay to see this information. It is free as per public disclosure and we have websites like H1BGrader.com to help you avoid paying for such sites.
- You should also look at the Green Card data related to the company. You can check H1BGrader.com Green Card section to search for the company name and view their past data. This is important for you in the long run if you plan to settle down in the US.
- You should also try and talk to few people who are part of a company that you plan to join so that you get idea on the reality.
- You can also read What to Ask H1B employer before offer letter and How to Negotiate Salary & benefits in consulting for more info.
- If you are interviewing with multiple companies, try to negotiate and ask them to come up with final offer.
Decision Time – Finalize your H1B Sponsors, Submit Info.
Once you know the final offer for the job you are seeking, compare with other offers at hand, the H1B approval success rate, Green Card profile of these companies, and then make a decision. You can ask them about the future, if they would sponsor Green Card or if they have any specific policies in place on the same. This is important if you plan to settle down in the US.
Once everything is clear, make a decision on the company and get the offer letter from them. Now is the time to secure documents for the next steps of H1B Visa filing.
Step 2 : Employer Submits H1B Registration
Unless, the H1B sponsoring employer is a non-profit research entity or University, every H1B applicant need to go through the H1B Cap quota as we discussed before. Every year, USCIS opens up the H1B season quota for next fiscal year during March of current year.
USCIS fiscal year starts from October 1st of every year. For anyone to start working from October 1st of that year, USCIS opens up the H1B cap quota 6 months before in around mid March time frame. Employers need to submit the H1B applicant’s details with USCIS during this window in March of that year. If you miss the boat in March, you need to wait until next year March to apply for H1B visa petition.
As discussed in the above sections on the USCIS H1B registration process, employers need to submit the H1B Applicant’s details in the Online H1B Registration System. Your employer only needs to submit the below details in the H1B Registration System. So, you should share the below details with the company that is planning to file your H1B.
- Legal Name (First, Middle and Last name)
- Date of Birth
- Country of Birth
- Country of Citizenship
- Passport Number
If the H1B applicant does not have a passport, the employer can still submit the registration without the passport number. The initial H1B registration lottery results are usually announced by end of March and employers can file H1B petition for the selected applicants starting from April 1st.
H1B Petition Filing Documents Checklist
Many employers ask for all the documentation to be prepared ahead of time. They may even connect you to the attorney that the company works with. In such cases, you can send all your documents related to education. Some may ask you to share the documents after you get selected in the H1B registration. In either case, below are the documents to be shared with employer
No need to share Originals with Employer – Scanned Copies are sufficient
- Copy of Passport
- Copy of all Educational Certificates – Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree ( if applicable)
- Copy of Education Evaluation Certificate ( if the degree is from a foreign country)
- Copy of Transcripts, if the degree is from US University
- Copy of latest resume.
- Copy of offer letter
- Copy of signed employment agreement
- Work experience letters as applicable
- Copy of I-94, if you live in the US to show status
- Copy of Tax forms, if you live in the US and paid taxes
- Copy of SSN, if lived in the US
- Copy of US Visa, if you had any US visa in the past.
- Copy of OPT Card, if you worked in the US on F1 visa
- Copy of latest I-20 from DSO, if you are on F1 visa and applying for H1B
- Copy of payslips, if working in the US on OPT
- Copy of I-983 Training plan, if on STEM OPT
For complete details, read H1B Visa filing Document Checklist, What NOT to give. After you send the above list of documents, your work as the applicant is technically done. It is now the employer and their attorney to carry out the next steps of filing a petition with USCIS and LCA with DOL.
Step 3 : Employer files H1B Labor Condition Application(LCA)
If a US Employer would like to sponsor H1B visa, they need to have an approved Labor Condition Application (LCA) from US Department of Labor(DOL) for the H1B position. Employers are mandated to file LCA with US DOL as it is a legal requirement as per INA. The LCA basically has information about the H1B Job title, Location, Wage information, SOC Code, duration, and other info.
The requirement for LCA is to make sure the foreign workers on H1B visa have the same working conditions and wages as the US workers in a similar role. Employers used to file H1B LCA using iCERT system in the past, but now US DOL has migrated to Foreign Labor Application Gateway(FLAG) system. Now, Employers file H1B LCA online using FLAG System. The processing time for H1B LCA is 7 days. You need to get an approved H1B LCA to file H1B petition with USCIS. For more info, read H1B LCA Guide – What is it? Why File it? Minimum Wage?
LCA is tied to a H1B job position and not to a specific individual. So, employers can file the H1B LCA even before the H1B Registration process as well. It is totally up to them. Depending on the employer and their process, this step can happen before or after. But, logically speaking, many file it after getting selected in H1B registration as it avoids them the extra effort to withdraw the same.
Step 4 : Employer files H1B Petition with USCIS using Form I-129
An employer can file H1B petition for an applicant with USCIS only after they get selected in H1B Registration Lottery process and have an approved LCA. Assuming the applicant was picked in H1B lottery and got LCA approved, then employer would file the petition with USCIS. The Employer has 90 days from the date of H1B selection to file the petition with USCIS. Usually it is 90 days from April 1st, which comes to June 30th.
As part of the H1B petition filing process with USCIS, the employer would submit the documents as a package for the applicant at the filing location listed on the registration selection notice.
- Completed Form I-129, Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker
- Approved H1B LCA for the job offered
- H1B Registration Selection Notice related to the applicant
- H1B filing fee ( as listed in the above section)
- Applicant education & experience documents to qualify for H1B visa
- Bachelor’s or Master’s degree certificate
- Education Evaluation documents ( if the degree from non-US University)
- License Certificates( if any)
- Experience Certificates (if any)
- Employment agreement
- (optional) I-94 copies (if in the US)
- Applicant Resume
- Additional supporting documentation for the H1B petition.
Step 5 : USCIS Processing of H1B Petition, Decision
After the H1B Petition is received by USCIS, they would issue a receipt notice indicating the receipt of the application package and fees. The receipt notice would be sent in physical mail to the attorney or the company. It has a H1B Case Receipt Number that is 13 digits in length and starts with EAC, WAC, LIN or SRC depending on where it is processed. You can ask your employer to share the copy of your receipt notice to track the status of your H1B petition. Read How to check the status of H1B Petition on the USCIS website
If your H1B petition was filed in Premium Processing, you will get the decision in 15 days, if not it can take time. Sometimes, USCIS will suspend premium processing as well for the first few months. So, this all depends. You need to check with your employer on how it was filed like Premium or regular. You can read H1B Premium Vs Regular Processing time.
During the adjudication process of you H1B petition, you may see different statuses. Check USCIS H1B Online Statuses, meaning for details on the same. If everything goes well and your petition is approved, your employer would get copy of the H1B Approval Notice and you can see the status as approved online as well.
Depending on how the H1B petition was filed like Consular Processing or Chang of Status, you may need to get visa stamping done to start working from October 1st. If your H1B petition was filed as Change of Status(COS) and it was approved with I-94, then you do not need to travel out of the country. You can start to work from October 1st without leaving the country.
Below is a sample H1B Petition Approval Notice after USCIS approves the submitted H1B petition.
Sample H1B Visa Petition Approval Notice by USCIS
If your H1B was filed as Consular Processing, because you are currently outside of US or you wanted flexibility, then you need to get US visa stamping done in your passport at a US consulate and enter US on H1B visa to work in the US. The above sample H1B approval notice was filed as Consular Processing. Let’s look at that step now.
Step 6 : H1B Visa Stamping at US Consulate
If you are outside of the US, you need to apply for US Visa at a US Consulate or a US Embassy and get H1B Visa stamping in your passport to enter US and work on H1B visa. The process to apply for H1B Stamping is as below.
- Complete DS-160 form, Online Non-immigrant Visa Application form
- Pay US Visa Fee of $190 USD ( also called MRV fee) online or at a bank ( depending on the country)
- Schedule US Visa Appointments for Biometrics, Interview at CGI Federal website
- Give Biometrics at Visa Application Center (VAC) on the appointment date
- Attend H1B Visa Interview at Consulate or Embassy on the appointment date. Check H1B Visa Documents Checklist for the list of documents you need to carry for the interview.
- Check US Visa Stamping Status online
- Collect passport with H1B Visa Stamp glued in it ( assuming visa was approved)
If visa stamping is successful, you can enter the US on H1B Visa. However, if you get 221(g) Administrative Processing, you will need to submit relevant documents or what is needed to overcome that and get approval. Below is a sample H1B Visa that is stamped in passport, if your visa interview is successful and the Consular officer approves your visa.
Sample H1B Visa Stamped in Passport
Step 7 : Enter the US on H1B Visa, Work
Once you have your H1B stamped in passport, you are eligible to travel to the US to work on the same. You can only enter the US up to 10 days before the start date on your H1B petition. Let’s say your start date on the H1B petition is October 1st, then you can enter only after Sep 20th into the US. Read complete details at When can you enter the US on H1B visa, When can you get Visa stamp
The H1B Visa in passport only gives you permission to arrive at US Port of Entry(PoE) and go through entry procedures. It is up to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer to interview you and let you into the country. You need to carry all relevant documents supporting your H1B job and details of your employer, etc. Most of the time, there are no issues, if everything was good with your H1B filing and your company is genuine.
If the CBP Officer allows you to enter US, they will put a stamp on your passport page and add admit until date with H1B on it and the end date on the H1B petition. Also, the same end date would be reflected in the online electronic I-94 (arrival/departure record) that is issued for you. This online validity of I-94 with H1B status in it gives you the authorization to work in US on H1B Visa.
After you arrive in the US and report to your employer, they will onboard you. As part of they would fill out the I-9 Form and also give you a letter for you to apply for Social Security Number(SSN), if you do not have SSN. Once you get SSN, you are all set to be paid on H1B.