What is an H1B Visa?

Did you know Indians started moving to America for the first time in 1965? And now, more than 3 million people of Indian origin account for up to 1% of America’s population, says an article on IndiaUSATravel.com. Moreover, about 8% of Indians working in the US are founders of big high-tech companies.

However, if you wish to relocate to the US and work there, the first thing you will need is a work visa or the H1B visa.

There are several myths surrounding international workers in the US. One of them is that the H1B workers are paid less than their US citizen counterparts. However, the statistics show that businesses tend to favor temporary foreign workers. But before you apply for an H1B, here’s a comprehensive guide to familiarize you with the entire process.

What is an H1B Visa?

The H1B work visa is a kind of non-immigrant, employment-based visa for temporary employees. In order to get this type of visa, your US-based employer must first offer your employment in America and then file a H1B visa petition with the US Immigration Department. After this petition is approved, you can get a work permit and visa and only then work in the the US.

There are some basic criteria that you need to fulfil before you apply for this visa. This visa type is issued for specialized occupations and thus requires theoretical and practical skills. The visa holder must have at least a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent training for that particular job.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS sets a limit on how many people can get an H1B visa each year, says an article in Path2usa. This number may change from time to time, but, usually, the cap is at 65,000. However, an additional 20,000 more visas are issued specifically for those who have completed their Master’s degree in the US.

Under this employment-based visa, you get approval to stay in America for 3 years, which can be extended for up to another 3 years. What is good about the H1B visa is that you can invite your spouse and dependent children to stay with you in the US with an H4 visa for each of them for the same duration. Moreover, you can apply for permanent residence status or a Green Card by filling Form I-485.

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What is H1B Premium Processing?

The USCIS takes care of H1B visa applications. The premium processing service offers advanced or speed processing for certain H1B applications. Generally, the USCIS guarantees 15 days processing time for applicants choosing this service. If they fail to do so, they refund the premium processing fee to the applicant. Even after the fee is refunded, the particular application will continue to receive fast processing.

You need to submit a request for the Premium Processing Service via Form I-907 at the service center allocated in the instructions. If you send the application to another service center, your petition is likely to be denied. The USCIS will send it to the right center and your 15-day processing period will start once your petition reaches the right center.

The fee for premium processing is $1,410. This is in addition to other application fees. The USCIS accepts debit card, credit card and e-transfers for the premium processing fees. However, if you choose to make the payment via check, pay it to the US Department of Homeland Security. For more details about the premium processing service, visit this website.

What is H1B Extension?

It is an undeniable fact that H1B visa is very valuable to those who aspire to work in the US, considering that it is a long process, involving finding an employer and being selected in the lottery. That is why most people also seek H1B visa extension or renewal. Generally, you are allowed to stay and work in the US for 3 years with an H1B visa. However, you can request for an extension, which will grant you stay for up to 3 more years.

Note: H1B1 visa holders from Chile and Singapore are permitted to work in the US only for one year.

To request for an H1B visa extension or renewal, you will need to submit the following documents:

  • Copy of your valid passport with the previous H1B visa stamp.
  • Form I-797 approval page and I-94 arrival or departure form.
  • Your résumé and all the necessary educational certificates.
  • Evidence of your employment in the US, such as salary slips, offer letter, etc.
  • Your bank statements for at least the last 3 months.
  • Copies of your tax returns.

What is H1B Transfer?

If you are working under a particular employer and wish to switch to another employer, your employer will have to file a petition for H1B transfer. However, there is nothing that is actually transferred from one employer to another, except the employee. The new employer has to file the H1B petition all over again, although the cap on visa holders remains the same.

Under the H1B portability rules of the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC21), you don’t need to wait for your renewed visa to arrive. You can start working with your new employer as soon as the petition for the H1B transfer is filed with the USCIS. There is no limit to the H1B transfer, and your employer can file this at any time.

These visa transfer allows applicants who have filed a petition for adjustment of status or individuals whose cases are pending for more than 180 days without affecting the validity of Form I-140. This is valid as long as the change of job classifies under the same occupation in which the previous H1B visa was granted.

Documents required to file H1B Transfer

  • Latest pay slips for up to 2-3 months.
  • Copy of your valid passport with previous H1B visa stamp.
  • Copy of the Form I-797.
  • Copy of form I-94 records.
  • Your latest résumé.
  • Copy of your Social Security Card.
  • Copy of your educational certificates.

How does the H1B Lottery Work?

The term “lottery” can be misleading. It stands for a computer-generated random selection process for H1B visa applicants. The fact that these visas are limited and the process involved is tedious, make its very valuable. And, you can’t actually buy a lottery ticket for an H1B visa. That is possibly why people refer to it as a lottery.

The way this lottery works is quite simple. First, the computer-generated selection process picks 20,000 individuals with a Master’s degree from the pool of requests. Those who are not selected are transferred to the regular cap for further selection. The second time, about 65,000 applicants are picked from the general pool. Among these, about 6,800 visas are reserved for applicants from Chile and Singapore.

Normally, the USCIS starts processing the H1B visa applications on April 1 of each year. In case your petition doesn’t get selected in the lottery, the USCIS will return your petition and refund your application fees. In case your petition is marked as “waitlisted,” your application will be selected in case any applications is denied or withdrawn.

And, even after your petition is selected in the lottery, there’s a long way to go. You will need to visit the consulate and submit your documents and biometrics. You will also need to attend the H1B visa interview.

H1B Visa Requirements

One of the most basic yet important criterion for an H1B visa is educational qualification. The potential candidate for H1B visa must have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree and must have sufficient work experience in the same field in which they wish to work in the US. The important documents required to file a petition for an H1B visa include:

  • Copy of your valid passport.
  • Copy of all the suitable educational certificates.
  • Copy of work experience.
  • A letter of recommendation from the current employer.
  • Copy of various achievements.

Other than all educational and work experience certificates, the candidate must have at least 12 points. These points are allotted on the basis of educational qualification and work experience, with one point for every one year that the candidate had studied at a college and one point for each year of work experience. And, you need to be of good character, with a clean criminal record.

Also, you need to show medical certificates proving that you are of good health and eligible to travel and work in the US. If you meet these criteria, you can certainly apply for an H1B visa.

Where to Get the Latest News on the H1B Visa

It is best to check the official USCIS site for the latest news regarding the H1B visa. Otherwise, you can keep yourself updated by visiting various sites and reading e-newspapers. Moreover, you can use the H1B visa status tracking system to check the current status of your visa application. This online tracking system is very fast and convenient. The USCIS assigns a 13-digit number to each applicant, which you can use this to track your visa status. You can also contact the USCIS service center regarding your H1B visa status.

The H1B visa application process is long and complex, consisting of various steps. So, it is better to learn as much about it as possible, so that there are no unnecessary delays or risk of rejection.

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Mani Karthik

About the Author

Mani Karthik

Ex “NRI” and Founder of the “Back to India” movement. I share my experience about immigrating to USA here.