H1B Visa: The Complete Guide
Posted by Frank Gogol
Updated on June 14, 2022
Each year, thousands of foreign workers are employed by American companies and come to the U.S. on H1B visas. The H1B visa for specialty occupations can be your ticket to working in the U.S., too,
If you’re looking to know more about the H1B visa or have recently been granted an H1B visa, this is the guide for you. Read on to learn all about the H1B visa!
Table of Contents
What is an H1B Visa?
The H1B visa is the authorization given by the U.S. government for a foreign worker to come to the U.S. to work for a U.S. 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 U.S.-based worker.
When applying for an H1B visa, the applicant is sponsored by their U.S. 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 U.S. so that they can work for their company.
Before we get into who qualifies for an H1B visa and how to apply, however, it’s important to understand the H1B Visa lottery and H1B Visa caps.
H1B Visa Lottery
The H1B lottery is a computer-generated random selection process that the U.S. 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 applications exceeds the annual visa cap, the USCIS will randomly pick the required number of petitions allotted.
H1B Visa Caps in 2022
For the H1B Visa Caps for Fiscal Year 2022, the caps are:
- 85,000 for the H1B regular pool
- 20,000 specifically for Master’s candidates
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.
What Happens if You Aren’t Selected?
If you are not selected in the H1B lottery, then 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.
Now that you understand the H1B visa lottery and H1B visa caps, let’s take a closer look at how to qualify and apply for an H1B visa.
H1B Visa Lottery 2022 Key Dates
There are a number of key dates to note if you are planning on applying for an H1B visa in 2022. They include:
- March 9 – The H1B registration period opens at noon EST
- March 25 – The H1B registration period closes at noon EST
- March 31 – Date by which USCIS intends to notify selected registrants
- April 1 – FY 2022 H1B cap-subject petitions may be filed
H1B Visa Requirements
The H1B visa applicant and employer 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)*
- Applicant must possess deep knowledge in the required field
- The degree requirement for the job is typical for the job**
- The work must be one that requires a professional in a specialty occupation
- 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
USCIS defines a specialty occupation as an occupation in 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, but are not limited to:
- Business Specialties
- Medicine & Health
If the above requirements are met by the applicant and the employer, the parties may move forward and apply for the H1B visa.
H1B Visa Application Process
There are four steps that must be taken to apply for an H1B visa, including:
- Applicant must find an H1B sponsor
- Employer must submit a Labor Conditions Approval (LCA)
- Employer must submit Form I-129
- Applicant completes an H1B visa application at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate
Below, we’ll look at each of these steps in more detail.
Step 1: Find an H1B Sponsor
The H1B visa is a work visa requiring the applicant to be sponsored by a U.S. employer to apply. Therefore, someone who wishes to enter the U.S. through an H1B visa needs to gain employment from a U.S. employer who will be willing to sponsor you into the U.S..
When being hired for a job in the U.S., it’s important to make sure that the employer is willing to sponsor you. To ensure this, make it clear from the start of your job application process that you will require sponsorship to enter the U.S. 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.
For more info on finding a sponsor: 6 Ways to Find an H1B Visa Sponsor for 2022.
Step 2: Submit a Labor Conditions Approval (LCA)
Once a U.S. 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. The LCA provides the DOL information about the 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.
For more in-depth info on LCAs, check out our guide, LCA for H1B Visa: What is it, How to File, and Processing Time.
Step 3: Submit Form I-129
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 pay the required fees and submit:
- The applicant’s resume
- The employment agreement
- An experience evaluation
- Proof of the employee’s education
- Relevant training certificates
- Any professional membership documents
- The required filing documents
- A 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.
Filing form I-129 can be tricky, so be sure to check out our Complete Guide to Form I-129 to get it right.
Step 4: Complete the Application at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate
Once the petition is approved, the last step is for the applicant to process their visa at their home country’s U.S. embassy office or consulate. This normally takes 2 to 3 days, but again varies based on the location.
The H1B Application is filled by the applicant. In addition to the employers, employees or H1B applicants also have to complete these steps:
- Fill out Form DS-160
- Schedule an interview
- Pay the H1B visa fees
- Submit required documents for H1B Visa.
- Attend the H1B interview
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
It’s important to note that Premium Processing can only be chosen and paid for by the applicant, not the employer. By law, the employer must provide proof that the applicant has chosen the Premium Processing option, to protect the employee should an employer try to force them to choose Premium Processing and to pay the fee. 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.
Reasons for H1B Visa Denial
Unfortunately, not everyone is approved for an H1B visa. Below are the four most common reasons applicants are denied an H1B Visa:
- The employer does not appear to be a real, established, operating U.S. company with the capacity to hire and pay an H-1B worker.
- The employer fails to establish that an employer-employee relationship exists
- The foreign worker does not have the required education or experience
- The offered employment does not meet the “specialized knowledge” requirement
H1B Visa Duration
If the H1B visa application is approved, an H1B visa is valid for three years and can be extended to up to six more years. There are also exceptions that can extend the visa for even longer, depending on the type of work being performed.
Quitting or Getting Fired in an H1B Visa
If you 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. If, after your deportation, you are hired by a U.S. company again, you can apply for an H1B visa again but will be required to undergo the H1B visa application process as a new applicant.
H1B Visa to Green Card Process
For an H1B visa holder who has reached their limit on their stay in the U.S., 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 U.S.
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 U.S. permanently. This allows the H1B holder to apply for their green card while still being a holder of an H1B visa.
To learn everything you need to know about moving to a green card from an H1B, check out our Complete Guide to the H1B to Green Card Process.
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.
1. 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.
2. 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. 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.
H1B Visa Frequently Asked Questions
Below we look at some of the most common questions H1B visa holders have, including questions about H1B visa insurance, processing times, H1B visa extensions, and more.
Can an H1B Visa Holder Bring Their Family to the U.S. With Them?
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 U.S. 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 for the U.S.
For more information on the H4 visa, check out our H4 Visa Guide!
What Kind of Health Insurance Am I Eligible For?
The type of H1B health insurance you are eligible for depends on how long you will be staying in the United States. As an H1b visa holder you can have:
- Short-term insurance
- Long-term (domestic) insurance
To learn more about your health insurance options, check out our article on health insurance for H1B visa holders.
How Long is H1B Visa Processing?
The regular H1B visa processing time is, generally, 1 month to 6 months, but depends on several factors, including the processing center, the applicant’s country of origin, and other factors.
How Long Can I Stay in the U.S. with an H1B Visa?
The H1B visa is initially valid for 3 years but can extend for another 3 years. In total, a person can stay and work in the U.S. for 6 years at most.
What is the Process for Extending an H1B Visa?
To extend your H1B visa, you will need to pay the same fees (except for the Fraud Prevention and Protection Fee) and your employer will have to follow the same procedures for getting certification from DOL and an approved petition from USCIS. You will also need to submit the following documents:
- Your passport
- Original I-94 Form
- Valid I-797 Form
- Letter from your employer
What is H1B Visa Amendment?
The H1B Amendment requires U.S. employers to file an amended petition in case the employee has any material changes. Material changes are defined as anything that impacts the employee’s eligibility for an H1B visa. The USCIS does not give a list of what qualifies as such a change, but examples include:
- Change in the corporate structure.
- Promotion to a different department of the employee.
- If the employee is required to move to a different location than what is registered with USCIS.
The amendment can be filed after the change has occurred. There is no universal guideline on the H1B amendment, so employers will have to contact USCIS to determine whether the change qualifies and requires an amended petition.
What is H1B Visa Stamping?
In case you are granted an H1B visa, you need to go on and apply for the H1B visa stamping. This is a process on its own, and you should check out the H1B visa stamping article for more details.
Learn More About H1B Visas
- 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?
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