F1 to H1B Visa Process: Procedure, stages, time, fees

The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows foreigners to be employed by U.S. companies in specialty occupations.

Students who go to the US on an F1 visa have to go through the gruelling task of having to find companies/employers ready to sponsor their H-1B so that they can continue working in the US after completing their studies. Even after finding a suitable employer, you’ve to be lucky enough to be the chosen one. Read on to find out why.

F1 to H1B Visa Process

The F1 visa (read this related post: Student visa requirements for USA) can be straightaway converted to H-1B or you may opt for the F1 to OPT to H-1B route. The latter would be a safer option as you can continue working on OPT (Optional Practical Training is a temporary work authorisation that allows students to work in their area of study for a twelve month period) after graduation before your H-1B is approved.

In either case, you’d need to have a job offer from an employer willing to sponsor your H-1B visa.
 

H-1B cap and cap exemptions

There’s an annual cap of 65,000 H1B visas in a year. The first 20,000 petitions from those with a U.S. master’s degree or higher are exempt from this cap. Beyond this, any more petitions received from those with an advanced degree would be counted against the regular cap of 65,000.

These numbers get filled up very fast, so you’ve to plan accordingly and apply on time. It may be noted that as per USCIS, those working for an institute of higher education, a non-profit research organisation or a government research organisation are exempt from the cap.
 

Pre-requisites to apply for H-1B

In order to apply for H-1B, you’d need to have at least a Bachelor’s degree or higher, your degree has to be related to the field in which you’re planning to work and your job should qualify as a specialty occupation (a position that would need specialised skills in your field).

You’d need to have a U.S. employer ready to file the H-1B for you. The employer is required to pay the existing or prevailing wage, whichever is higher in a similar occupation and job location.
 

H-1B visa validity

The H-1B visa is available for a period of three years and can again be renewed for an additional three years.

 

Procedure for filing the H-1B

Firstly, your employer is required to file the H-1B petition. When approved, this permits you to be employed for the employer who has filed the application on your behalf. If you happen to change your employer, a new petition would have to be filed by your new employer.

The employer should file the Labor Condition Application (LCA) and get it approved. The LCA contains information regarding the company like the wages, working conditions and the work location.

The employer must submit a certified LCA (Form ETA 9035) along with the required documentation while filing the H-1B petition (application) to the USCIS. The earliest date for filing the H-1B petition would be six months before your employment start date.

For example, for the current year, USCIS will start accepting H-1B applications from April 1, 2016 which means that the earliest you can start employment would be October 1, 2016.

 

H-1B fees

The basic fees for processing your H-1B is $325 (for Form I-129) for those subject to the cap, while for H-4 dependents, there’s a fee of $290 for each application of an H-4 dependent.

There are additional charges (related to factors such as the size of the company) that range from $150 to $4000. Plus there would be other related expenses including legal expenses.

The employer is expected to bear the expenses and fees related to H-1B application and not pass it on to the employee.

You’ll find more details of the H1B visa fees on this page.

 

H-1 B processing time

USCIS receives a lot of applications for H-1B. To give you an idea, for the fiscal year 2015-16, the number of applications received were 233,000.

The selection process is through a computer-generated lottery system which would randomly select the petition to reach the required cap limit (20,000 for advanced degree and 65,000 for the regular H-1B cap). The unsuccessful applicants would be refunded their application fees.

The time for the H-1B processing may vary greatly depending on the application and can go upto six months. You’d be able to track the status of your application through the online automated system of the USCIS.

 

H-1B premium processing

USCIS also provides expedited processing with a guaranteed turnaround time of less than 15 calendar days. This would require you to shell out an additional fee of $1225. The premium processing would, in no manner, improve your chances of being successful in the H-1B visa lottery process.

Unless you have any specific reason, there’s no point in bearing the additional expense (to be borne by the employer) for premium processing as first-time applicants would be able to work only by October 1.

 

H-1B transfer

As mentioned before, if you were to change jobs, your new employer /company would be required to file a new H-1B application.

However, this being a transfer, your application wouldn’t be counted against the cap. As soon as this new petition is submitted, you may start working with your new employer even before the petition is approved.

For this, the employee has to be in a lawful status and not be involved in any form of unlawful employment before the filing of the petition is done.

Have you gone through the H-1B process? How has your experience been? Please feel free to share your experiences.


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Swati //
Swati

After working for over a decade in technical and managerial roles in the corporate world, Swati now works as a freelancer and writes on a variety of topics including education, career guidance and self-improvement.

9 Comments

  1. Irene says:

    Hi,
    Are you sure about the fees? people say its more than 4-5 lac INR. Additionally the 20000 cap for students is it just first come first serve or is also lottery based ?

  2. Sameer Kamat says:

    Irene: The fee amounts have been taken from the official government site (USCIS.com).

    $325 is the basic fee. There are additional fees that we haven’t included in this article, since the official site (link shared earlier) has a detailed table listing them out. These charges are related to:
    – American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act
    – Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee

    The lottery system is used for both categories – general and advanced degree exemption (i.e. Masters) quota.

    Here’s the official update for 2017 quota: USCIS Reaches FY 2017 H-1B Cap

  3. Irene says:

    Sameer,
    Do you know any company which can help file a H1b for me ? not like infosys or TCS but somebody who has genuine work in machine learning or even analytics. Else i dont how could i go to US without an MS ?

  4. Sameer Kamat says:

    Sorry, Irene. Not much we can do to help in that space. Try connecting with placement agencies (with a good reputation) who recruit for companies that you are interested in.

    It’ll probably be a long wait though. Beware of agents who promise quick results. The H1B has got a bad reputation mainly because of how some companies misuse it.

  5. Pranav says:

    Hi Sameer/Swati,

    I am working in US on H1B. I want to know what will be the procedure if I plan to do my masters here. Would I have to convert my H1B to F1 and after my course is complete, again go through the lottery process or will I be able to leverage my current H1B visa?

  6. Sameer Kamat says:

    Pranav, yes you will have to drop the H1B and get an F1 student visa if you are planning to study full-time.

    I think I read somewhere that H1B holders who haven’t used up their H1 time may be able to skip the lottery process when you complete your graduation (on an F1) and try getting another H1B visa. If that’s true, you may have an easier time than others.

    Don’t rely on this though. Check with someone who’s more knowledgeable about visa matters. If you have any reliable source, do share it here to help others.

  7. Irene says:

    Hi think pranav you may be able to transfer you H1 status to somebody. If thats the case, am willing to take up your H1 status while you study and get your MS. If at all thats possible.

  8. Sameer Kamat says:

    Where did you hear/read that, Irene?

    Something like that will put the entire US work permit system out of control and turn it into a chaotic, free-for-all (black) market.

    Be very careful about rumours like these.

  9. PK says:

    Hello please urgent reply.
    I am on F1 visa completed my 1st Semester and earned total 16 credits . i am doing my MBA in finance from NEWYORK. I have an MBA degree from India. I have got sponsor who is willingly sponsoring my VISA work visa. Is it possible that he can sponsor me before i get MBA degree from USA? if yes then do i need to wait till march-2017?

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