H1B Visa 2021: How to Get it, Processing, and Latest News
Posted by Frank Gogol
Each year, thousands of foreign workers become employed by American companies that are trying to fill positions that require special knowledge or education. For example, an American architecture company may need a technical writing expert and isn’t able to fill the position with a qualified American worker. Therefore, the company turns to an architectural school in another country for their job search and ends up employing someone from Germany, to include students moving from their F-1 student visas to H1B visas.
This new hire must first receive a visa to enter the US and start his work for the architecture company. However, he may soon find that like many other foreign hires, obtaining a visa can be a very confusing and complicated process.
The H1B visa for specialty occupations can be your ticket to working in the US, and for those who have recently been hired by a US company, but aren’t sure what to do next, this guide will give you everything you need to know to start your new job.
Table of Contents
What is an H1B Visa?
The H1B visa is the authorization given by the US government for a foreign worker to come to the US to work for a US company. Specifically, the foreign worker must work in a field requiring specialized knowledge and therefore is someone who meets the job requirements that the employer was not able to find from a US-based worker.
Along with specialized workers, the H1B visa also applies to fashion models and Department of Defense cooperative research and development project workers. First Lady Melania Trump is just one example of a fashion model who entered the US through an H1B visa and later became a US citizen.
When applying for an H1B visa, the applicant is sponsored by their US employer that has hired them. The employer will pay for the applicant’s visa fees and will submit the required documents on behalf of the applicant to bring them to the US so that they can work for their company.
An H1B visa is valid for three years and can be extended to up to six years. There are also exceptions to extend the visa for even more years depending on the type of work being performed. For example, a foreign US Department of Defense worker can extend their visa for up to 10 total years.
If you ever quit or are dismissed by the employer that sponsored your visa, you will either have to find a new employer and complete new paperwork, apply for a change of status, or be deported and have to return to your home country. There is a grace period of 60 days to find a new employer or submit your green card application for permanent residency.
If you are deported, your employer will be responsible for the costs of your return transportation unless you voluntarily left the company. In addition, if after your deportation, you become hired by a US company again, you can apply for an H1B visa again but will face the same application process as a new applicant.
Family Members of H1B Visa Holders
What happens to the family members of an H1B visa holder who moves to the US? Will they have to live away from that family member?
Fortunately, the answer is no! The H1B visa is one of the few visas that do allow family members to join the H1B visa worker during their length of stay in the US.
To do so, the dependent family members (spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age) must complete an H4 visa application which can be done at the same time as the H1B visa application, or after the H1B visa has already left to the US.
H4 visa holders can go to school, open bank accounts, get a driver’s license and even receive a social security number. H4 visa holders can also legally work while in the US after applying for an Employment Authorization Document while on the H4 visa. However, once the H1B visa holder’s visa expires, all of the dependent family members will have to return to their home country along with the H1B visa holder.
For more information on the H4 visa, check out our H4 Visa Guide!
H-1B Visa: The Latest News 2021
Below we take a look at the H-1B visa latest news of 2018. These include items on the Spring 2018 Regulatory agenda, a decline in H-1B visa approvals as well as an announcement on the suspension of premium processing.
May 2018 – Spring Regulatory Agenda
The US Federal Government Regulatory agendas are documents outlining the priorities of the current government on different regulations. Most of the changes relating to visas that have recently been proposed in the agendas are sparked by Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” Order.
When it comes to the H-1B Visa latest news of 2018, the following items relating to H1B visas are on the 2018 Spring Regulatory agenda which H1B visa holders should take note of:
- Pre-registration and Cap registration. Due to the excessive demand for H-1B visas, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to revive its 2011 H1B Visa Cap Registration Regulation. The purpose of this is to better manage the process of accepting applications and also the H-1B lottery process. This change might include a change in the selection process and might result in H-1B visas only being awarded to the most skilled or highest paid candidates in the pool.
- Change of Definition. The DHS plans to change the definition of the H-1B visa program. The purpose of this change would be to ensure that only the best and brightest foreign nationals are included. This will at the same time protect U.S. workers by ensuring that H-1B workers are only a supplementary part of the workforce. In the process, the fees for an H-1B visa might increase, as well as the paperwork required. This is also to reduce the amount of fraud in, and the possibility of abuse of, the H-1B visa process.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Fee Adjustments. This is just a basic review by the USCIS of their fees in order to ensure they cover all their cost. Such reviews usually result in fee increases.
July 2018 – H1B Approvals in Severe Decline and Possible Deportation
There have been two major changes in the H-1B visa process reported in the H-1B Visa latest news during July which H-1B visa holders should be aware of. The first is possible deportation and the second is a sharp decline in H-1B visa approvals.
On 28 June 2018, a policy memorandum came into the public domain which changed the landscape of the H-1B visa extension process completely.
Before this policy memorandum, you could easily return to your home country if your H1B visa extension was denied and your tenure of original H-1B had expired. Your employer would then just reapply in the next H-1B season.
The memorandum, however, states that the USCIS can issue a Notice to Appear (NTA) to H-1B visa holders whose tenure of original H1B has expired and whose application for visa extension or change of status is denied.
If you are issued with an NTA (which is the start of deportation proceedings), you have to wait in the U.S. until you can be heard by an immigration judge. This can take several months and in this time you won’t have a job or means of getting income. If you have been issued with an NTA, you are only allowed to leave the U.S. after the immigration judge has granted voluntary departure. If you don’t appear in front of the immigration judge, it can have the result of a five-year ban where you are not allowed to re-enter the U.S.
Decline in H-1B Approvals for Indians
It has been reported in H-1B news that there has been a large increase in the H-1B visa petitions being denied for Indians. Especially when compared to other nationalities. The largest number of Request for Evidence inquiries has also been received by Indian applicants.
A report compiled by the National Foundation for American Policy showed that there was a 42% increase in the proportion of H-1B petitions denied for Indian professions from the 3rd to the 4th quarter in 2017.
August 2018 – Suspension of Premium Processing Extended
On 28 August 2018, the USCIS announced the temporary suspension of the premium processing option on H-1B visas. This suspension is suspected to last until February 2019.
With premium processing, the USCIS has to respond to the petition within 15 days. This is a popular option used by companies who can afford to pay the extra $1225.
The purpose of the temporary suspension is to reduce the overall processing times of all H-1B petitions by being able to process the long-pending petitions. It has been unable to process these petitions due to the high influx of premium processing petitions. A big benefit of this suspension is also the USCIS being able to focus on petitions with time-sensitive dates and that is approaching the end of the 240-day tenure period.
H1B Visa Requirements
The H1B visa applicant must meet the following requirements to be eligible for the H1B visa:
- Applicant should hold a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree (or the foreign equivalent)*
- The degree requirement for the job is typical for the job**
- The work must be one that requires a professional in a specialty occupation
- Applicant must possess deep knowledge in the required field
- The employer must demonstrate the lack of qualified US applicants for the position
* The applicant can bypass this requirement if they have at least 12 years of specialized work experience
** For example, an M.D. for a surgeon
The USCIS defines a specialty occupation as an occupation of which “the nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.” These specialized fields for H1B visas include engineering, journalism, medicine and health, research, law, business specialties, and many more.
If a potential visa applicant meets these two qualifications, then they can go ahead and apply for the H1B visa!
H1B Visa Application Process
Step 1: Finding an H1B Sponsor
The H1B visa is a work visa requiring the applicant to be sponsored by a US employer to apply. Therefore, someone who wishes to enter the US through an H1B visa needs to gain employment from a US employer who will be willing to sponsor you into the US.
For more info on finding a sponsor: 6 Ways to Find an H1B Visa Sponsor for 2021.
When being hired for a job in the US, you must make sure that the employer hiring is willing to sponsor you. The last thing you would want is to be hired for a job, and then realize that the employer is not willing to help you move to the US.
To prevent this, make it clear from the start of your job application process that you will require sponsorship to enter the US. Many employers will ask this themselves when the applicant is completing the job application, but if they don’t, you should bring up the topic yourself.
Step 2: Employer Submits Labor Conditions Approval (LCA)
Once a US company has hired you, the employer will begin the application process by submitting an LCA to the Department of Labor(DOL) electronically using the iCERT Portal System. LCA stands for Labor Conditions Approval and tells the DOL the various factors of your job such as pay, location, and working conditions
In completing the LCA, the employer attests to the government that the employee will receive a wage that is either equal or greater than the prevailing wage for the position in the geographic area where the work will be completed and that the working conditions will not be harmful to other similarly employed workers.
The LCA is a complicated document which you will need to work with your employer to ensure that it meets the requirements of the DOL.
Step 3: Employer Submits Form I-129
For more in-depth info on LCAs, check out our guide, LCA for H1B Visa: What is it, How to File, and Processing Time.
Once the LCA has been approved, the employer will then file the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129.
To complete this step, the employer must include the fees, education and experience evaluation and documents, training certificates, any professional membership documents, the applicant’s resume, employment agreement, and letter of support.
The processing time for the petition to be processed varies depending on the service center, and the wait can take up to 3 or 4 months. However, there is premium processing available for an additional fee.
Step 4: Applicant Completes Application at a US Embassy or Consulate
Once the petition is approved, then the last step is for the applicant to process their visa at their home country’s US embassy office or consulate. This normally takes 2 to 3 days, but again varies based on the location.
Get all the details on the H1B Visa Filing Process:
- Why Am I Getting An H1B Request For Evidence?
- H1B Visa Regular or Premium Processing — Which is Better?
- Checking the Status of Your H-1B Visa After the Application Has Been Approved
- What Do You Do If Your H-1B Visa Is Revoked?
H1B Visa Fees
Filing an H1B application isn’t cheap, but fortunately, most of the filing costs are paid for by the employer who sponsors the applicant. Typical H1B processing fees include:
- $300 Base Filing Fee
- $750 ACWIA fee (for employers with 1-25 full-time employees)
- $1,500 ACWIA fee (for employers with 26+ full-time employees)
- $500 Fraud prevention and detection fee
- $1,225 optional premium processing fee
This last fee (premium processing) is the only fee for which you are responsible. If you do, the employer needs to prove that premium processing was chosen for personal reasons and not to benefit the employer.
This benefits the applicant since it prevents employers from forcing employees into paying the premium processing fee if the employer is the one who wants premium processing. As long as the employer wants premium processing, then they will be required to pay the fee and not the applicant. Fortunately, most employers do end up paying this fee as it shortens the processing wait time for the LCA to only 15 days maximum.
Don’t get lost in all the fees! Check out everything we’ve got to say on H1-B Visa Fees.
H1B Visa Lottery
The H1B lottery is a computer-generated random selection process that the USCIS uses to randomly pick H1B visa applicants to approve. This process was put in place in response to the high number of H1B applications that were annually received that way surpassed the visa quotas.
When the number of visa application exceeds the annual visa cap, the USCIS will randomly pick the required number of petitions allotted.
If you’re curious about the specifics of the H1B Visa Lottery Petition and want to get ahead of the curve, read here: What Does My H1B EAC Case Number Mean?
Master’s Degree Applicant Benefits
If you have a master’s degree, then your application will first be entered in a lottery pool full of other master’s applicants. After the cap on visas is met through that lottery pool, the remaining master’s degree applications that weren’t selected will enter the rest of the lottery pool and will go through that random selection process again.
Therefore, if you have a master’s degree, you will have two chances of being selected for a visa whereas those with only a bachelor’s degree will only enter the regular lottery pool.
Visa Caps in 2021
For the H1B Visa Caps Fiscal Year 2021, the cap on the H1B regular pool was 65,000, and the cap for specifically Master’s candidates was 20,000. However, the USCIS received 94,213 petitions for the regular pool and 95,885 for Master’s candidates.
Since the number of applicants was more than the cap, there was a lottery for both pools. This is expected for upcoming fiscal years as well.
What Happens if You Aren’t Selected?
If you do not get selected in the H1B lottery, then the USCIS will return your petition as well as the filing fee. You can submit your application the next year to try and be selected again; however, you will have the same chance of being selected as everyone else.
H1B Visa to Green Card
For an H1B visa holder who has reached their limit on their stay in the US, they may be wondering “what’s next?” At this point, H1B visa holders can choose to either return to their home country or apply for a green card to permanently reside in the US.
Unlike most other visas, the H1B visa is a “dual intent visa,” meaning that the visa applicant can also apply for the visa with the intention of wanting to reside in the US permanently. This allows the H1B holder to apply for their green card while still being a holder of an H1B visa.
The process of applying for a green card starts with the sponsoring employer who petitions for their employee to change from a visa to green card status. They must fill out PERM Labor Certification which needs to be approved by the Department of Labor.
After the PERM Labor Certification is approved, the employer then needs to file the Immigrant Petition for an Alien Worker, Form I-140. After completing the I-140 form, the applicant files Form I-485 to adjust their status from an H1B visa holder to a green card holder.
After this form is processed and approved, the applicant will receive their green card and be a permanent resident of the US!
Challenges Facing H1B Visa Holders
For people on an H1B visa, they often find limitations while living in the US due to their visa status.
Lack of Employment Mobility
H1B visa holders have no free employment mobility since their time in the US is sponsored by one employer. Therefore, if they lose their job, they risk losing their visa status and having to return to their home country. Many visa holders are also stuck in the same job since new paperwork is required to change employers.
Receiving a Loan
In addition, H1B visa holders face difficulty in getting loans in the US since they either have a limited or no credit history. A lot of lenders will not even consider non-US citizens for one of their loans or will charge high-interest rates if they do accept a visa holder for a loan.
Stilt is one of the few lenders in the US that offers loans to immigrants. In fact, they are dedicated to serving immigrants who are often underserved due to their citizenship status.
Stilt offers low-cost loans without a need for a cosigner to immigrants on an H1B visa, as well as other types of visa holders.
With Stilt, you can still get a loan with a low-interest rate despite having a low credit score or no credit score at all. They take a look at a variety of factors when deciding your loan terms so being a new immigrant with no credit history will not hurt your ability to get a low-interest loan. This holistic approach can be a lifesaver for many immigrants who have been given unfavorable loan rates by other lenders.
Stilt believes in helping immigrants build a better financial future and will work with immigrants to secure the best loan for their financial situation.