Guide to the H2B Visa

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • The H-2B visa is a non-immigrant visa designed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for foreign workers filling temporary non-agricultural roles in the U.S.
  • U.S.-based agents or employers initiate the visa process by filing necessary forms on behalf of prospective workers, subject to an annual cap of 66,000 visas granted on a first-come-first-serve basis, divided into two batches.
  • Distinguishing it from H-1B visas, H-2B visas cater specifically to temporary non-agricultural work, and they come with a shorter duration.
  • Eligibility criteria encompass nationality from specific countries, a temporary work necessity, and meeting employer qualifications. The application process includes obtaining a labor certification, filing Form I-129, and applying for the visa at the U.S. embassy with required documents, with processing times ranging from 60 to 120 days.

American companies (usually from the resort and landscaping sector) always have this unmet need of filling up their seasonal workforce. USCIS announced that the figure for application of H-2B Visa for 2019 New Year’s Day stood at 96,400, up from 81,600 last year. This also caused its server to crash as there were a lot of forms being submitted.

If you’re filing H-2B Visa, then you need to extra careful. Otherwise, rejection is just around the corner. In this article, we’ll explain what you need to know before you file H-2B.

What is an H2B Visa?

H-2B is a type of visa provided by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This is intended specifically for allowing companies to bring in aliens to work in the non-agricultural sector within the US for a certain time period. The form is filled by US-based agents or employers who want to bring in the temporary workforce from outside the US. The workers are then granted H-2B Visa.

The USCIS has capped the total number of H-2B visas to be granted at 66,000. The visas are granted on a first-come-first-serve basis. The Visa is granted in two batches (33,000 per batch), one during January and another during June. Most businesses looking forward to H-2B Visa apply on the first day of every year, i.e., New Year’s Day. The application thus granted begins from April 1st for six months.

Difference between H1B and H2B Visa

When you’re applying for H-2B Visa, you need to understand the difference between an H-1B and H-2B Visa. People often get confused between these two similar-looking forms. H-1B visas are for the employment of skilled workforce who possess university degrees and experience in a certain domain.

These applicants, if approved, are granted a period of three to six years. Whereas, H-2B visa holders are allowed for one year, with renewal for two years. Furthermore, H-1B visa holders aren’t required to leave the country after the position ends, but H-2B visa holders are.

There’s another form called H-2A, which is for temporary workers to be involved in the agricultural sector. This shouldn’t be mistaken for temporary employment in the non-agriculture sector.

Who Qualifies for an H-2B Visa?

The beneficiary in question who is supposed to be granted an H2B Visa should meet the criteria as specified by DOL (us Department of Labor). First and foremost, USCIS only permits workers from certain countries. This is revised and published in the Federal Register notice every year. Nonimmigrants who are considered temporary hires are permitted for H2B Visa.

The need can be a one-time occurrence, seasonal, or peak load need, but should be mandatorily temporary for a certain period of time. Next, they cannot be involved in agricultural or related services. But besides that, there is no educational or specific requirement for obtaining a Visa.

Employers’ Involvement

Employers are also part of the qualification process. They need to be a US-based entity and in possession of a temporary labor certification. Additionally, they’ll be asked to provide proof of the temporary work that needs to be done and that there are not enough US workers to fill the positions.

Lastly, the qualification will include consultation with employment agencies to make a final decision on whether or not to grant the H2B Visa. Please click here for complete eligibility criteria. Click on the “Who May Qualify for H-2B Classification”.

H-2B Visa Required Documents

Workers who will be sourced from outside the US need to visit the US embassy in their respective country and submit the form along with documents. The documents asked for are:

  • DS-156, the application form for Non-immigrant Visa
  • DS-157, supplemental Non-immigrant visa application (for males between the ages of 16 and 45)
  • Passport
  • Passport-size photographs
  • Notice of approval for H-2B Visa or Form I-129
  • Proof that you’ll be leaving the US as soon as your H-2B visa expires like an apartment lease agreement or deed to a house.
  • Filing fees

Note that online form DS-160 has replaced DS-156 and DS-157 to make it into a single form. So don’t get confused on this matter. Go with whatever the embassy asks you to do.

Aliens who are already living in the US are not required to apply for this specific visa.

H-2B Visa Application Process

The application process for obtaining an H-2B visa starts with the US-based employer. As an employer, you’d have to go through three main steps. These are:

Step 1: Submit a labor certification application

As the employer, you’re also the petitioner. Before you request an H-2B visa, you need to obtain a temporary labor certification from the Department of Labor. For complete information on this matter and eligibility criteria, visit this page. If you’re going to employ people in Guam, then visit Guam DOL.

Step 2: Submit Form I-129 to USCIS

After you’ve received the temporary labor certificate, you can head over to USCIS office for filing Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. You must submit the original certificate you received from the DOL. If you’re applying for Guam employment, then you’re required to submit a one-page final determination of H-2B. If you’ve already done that, then you’ll be asked to provide an explanation that contains the petition receipt number.

Step 3: Alien workers apply for a visa at the US embassy

As the last step, the worker(s) who will be employed are required to visit the US embassy in their own country and apply for the H-2B visa. Visit the US Department of State at the embassy or Consulate abroad to seek admission into the US through a US port of entry. You can seek direct admission where an H-2B visa is not required.

H2B Visa Fees

All applicants are required to pay the Machine Readable Visa fees when they visit the Embassy for an interview. This is non-refundable and will be used for processing your application. Nonimmigrant visa fees are fixed at $160. Fees vary based on various factors like whether you’re bringing in spouses or children. Click here for complete information.

H2B Visa Processing Time

Visas are typically processed between 60 days to 120 days. Applicants submitting on 1st January are given visas so that they can start working in the US from June.

H2B Visa Frequently Asked Questions

What is a one-time occurrence?

This means the task to be performed has not been performed by any worker before and will not require any further work in the future.

Is the extension available?

Visas can be extended for a total period of 3 years, but not more than that.

Are H-2B visas approved exclusively for temporary jobs?

The need should be temporary, not necessarily the job.

Is the change of status possible?

Visa holders who change jobs can apply for a change of status.

Does the H-2B visa has any travel restrictions?


Read More

Final Thoughts

Get ready, and follow the instructions given in this article to file your H-2B visa. Got any queries? Let us know in the comments below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What Is an H-2B Visa?

An H-2B visa is a temporary non-immigrant visa that allows foreign nationals to come to the United States to perform temporary or seasonal non-agricultural work. This visa is typically used by employers who need additional, temporary workers to meet seasonal or peak-demand labor needs.

2. Who Can Apply for an H-2B Visa?

Both employers and foreign workers can be involved in the H-2B visa application process. Employers must demonstrate a legitimate temporary need for foreign labor, while foreign workers must meet specific eligibility criteria, including having a valid job offer from a U.S. employer.

3. What Types of Jobs Qualify for H-2B Visas?

H-2B visas are typically issued for non-agricultural, temporary or seasonal jobs that cannot be filled by U.S. workers. Examples of qualifying jobs may include hospitality workers, landscapers, construction workers, and seafood processors, among others.

4. How Long Can You Stay in the U.S. on an H-2B Visa?

H-2B visa holders are typically allowed to stay in the U.S. for the duration of their approved employment period, which is specified in the approved petition. Extensions may be possible in certain cases, but H-2B visas are temporary in nature.

5. Can H-2B Visa Holders Bring Their Family Members?

H-2B visa holders can typically bring their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 to the U.S. on H-4 visas. However, H-4 visa holders are not authorized to work in the United States.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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