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.
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.
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.
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.
Also read how delicate, the balance of keeping your visa status legal is, here in this article – What circumstances can lead to your Student Visa being cancelled and how can you get it reinstated?