How Do I Get an H-1B Visa?

It’s a simple process that requires a lot of luck

The H-1B visa—like most other visas—is named for the section of the U.S. code in which it appears. It’s a temporary, non-immigrant visa for professionals, although some professionals qualify for other visa options too. And it is often associated with IT professionals in Silicon Valley, because the bulk of the approximate 450,000 current H-1B holders are employed in IT-related positions. But H-1B recipients are located across the U.S. in a variety of positions.

There is a cap of 85,000 H-1B visas granted each year, and 20,000 of those visas are specifically set aside for persons who receive an advanced degree in the U.S. Petitions are accepted at the beginning of April for each upcoming fiscal year. For example, petitions were accepted April 2018 for the 2019 fiscal year (Oct 2018 – Sept 2019).

The cap amount has been met every year since 2002. In 2018, the cap was reached within days of the date that applications were first accepted; there were 190,000 applications filed for the 85,000 spots within the first five days. That being said, applications were down from previous years: There were 199,000 in 2017 and 236,000 in 2016.

Because of the enormous demand, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must conduct a lottery for H-1B visas. Under current policy, those with U.S. advanced degrees have the best chances.

Must perform a specialty occupation

To qualify for the H-1B non-immigrant visa, the visa applicant must perform services in a specialty occupation that meets one of the following criteria:

  • Bachelor’s degree (or higher), or its equivalent, is normally the minimum entry requirement for the position
  • The degree requirement for the job is common to the industry, or the job is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree
  • The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position
  • 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

For an H-1B visa applicant to qualify to accept a job offer in a specialty occupation, the visa applicant must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Completed a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree required by the specific specialty occupation from an accredited college or university
  • Hold a foreign degree that is the equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in the specialty occupation
  • Hold an unrestricted state license, registration, or certification which authorizes the applicant to fully practice the specialty occupation, and be engaged in that specialty in the state of intended employment
  • Have education, training, or progressively responsible experience in the specialty that is equivalent to the completion of such a degree; and, have recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions directly related to the specialty

What is the application process for H-1B visas?

Much of the application process is completed by the employer, and most of the employer’s process is dedicated to obtaining labor certification. The purpose of labor certification is to ensure that U.S. employers pay a fair wage, and first offer that fair-waged position to U.S. employees. Paying a fair wage ensures that U.S. employees, if interested and qualified, will apply.

To begin the labor certification process, the employer submits a Labor Condition Application (LCA). If the employer receives labor certification and has found an interested foreign employee, the employer next files the petition for non-immigrant worker, which enters that employee into the lottery. If selected, the H-1B visa allows the foreign employee to work up to six years in the U.S.

How do foreign employees find U.S. employers?

Some websites provide information on employers that have previously petitioned for H-1B visas. Immigration law requires H-1B employers to post their positions to U.S. employees first on state job websites. Foreign employees can also reach out to U.S. employers, as there is plenty of information on top companies and top locations for H-1B employees.

Whether you’re an employer is looking for talent, or a talented foreign national that’s looking for opportunity, talk to an experienced Massachusetts immigration attorney to increase your chances of obtaining an H-1B visa.

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