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applying H1B

H-1B Complete Guide

Everything You Need to Know About Obtaining an H1B Visa in the U.S. & H1B Alternative Options 

What is an H1B Visa?

The H1B visa program was initiated in 1990 as part of the Immigration Act of the same year.  Through the H1B visa program, U.S. employers have the opportunity to hire foreign workers with specialized skills in fields like engineering, IT, medicine, education, etc.

Individuals who have an H1B can work and live in the U.S. for a set period, generally up to six years. This program aims to attract highly skilled workers from around the world, contributing to the U.S. economy and providing U.S. employers the opportunity to hire international talent amid a domestic shortage of qualified workers.

Additionally, certain institutions like higher education establishments and their affiliates, non-profit research organizations, or government research organizations, are exempt from the numerical cap when applying for Non-Cap H1B workers.

Upon completing six years of using H1B, if the H1B visa holder has not transitioned to another status (such as EB-2, EB-3, or another type of work visa), they must leave the United States.

 

🗒️NOTE: It's important to note that H1B status and the H1B visa are not the same. H-1B status refers to the legal working status in the United States, while the H-1B visa allows the holder to legally enter and exit the U.S. Once selected in the H1B lottery and approved, the applicant obtains H-1B status. If they plan to leave and re-enter the U.S., they need to apply for an H1B visa abroad.

This is why some individuals, after being selected and approved for H1B, can continue working in the U.S. without obtaining the visa, as long as they don't have immediate travel plans outside the U.S. Therefore, not having an H1B visa stamped in the passport is not a significant issue if there's no need for international travel in the short term.

 

 

H1B Eligibility 

First and foremost, you need to make sure that you are eligible for an H1B visa. To be eligible for the H1B visa, you need to fulfill the following criteria:

  1. Educational Qualifications: The applicant should hold at least a bachelor's degree in a specialized field such as engineering, computer science, medicine, or similar areas.

  2. Job Offer from a U.S. Employer: A degree alone is not enough. The applicant must secure a job offer from a U.S.-based employer willing to sponsor their H1B visa application.

  3. Labor Conditions Obligations: The sponsoring employer is tasked with demonstrating two key points:

    • There's a notable lack of qualified U.S. professionals for the specific role.
    • Hiring a foreign national will not adversely affect the wages or working conditions of U.S. workers in comparable positions.
  4. Relevant Skills and Experience: Applicants need practical experience and skills that match the job’s specific requirements.

Meeting these criteria allows an individual to proceed with an H1B visa application through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), initiated by a labor condition application. 


 

🗒️ NOTE: The H-1B visa has an annual cap of 65,000, which means each fiscal year only no more than 65,000 H1B visas are issued by USCIS. However, applicants holding a master's degree or higher from a U.S. institution have a better chance, as there are an additional 20,000 visas reserved specifically for them, given that their master's degrees were obtained from non-profit universities. 

 

 

H1B Visa Lottery 

From No Lottery to Lottery

Before 2020, the H1B application process was straightforward yet expensive. Employers were required to submit H1B applications for their employees and pay the substantial application fees in advance. USCIS would then review the documents to determine the applicant's eligibility for an H1B visa. At that time, there was no "H1B lottery" system in place.

Starting from the 2021 fiscal year, USCIS changed the rules. Employers were required to register applicants online first, pay a $10 registration fee, and wait for the lottery results before formally submitting the documents. This method was introduced due to the overwhelming volume of H1B applications received each year, consistently exceeding the set visa limits. Whenever the volume of applications surpasses the yearly visa cap (which has been every year ever since 2021), USCIS randomly selects the necessary number of petitions up to the quota. Only those selected in the H1B lottery are entitled to submit a formal application. 

H1B Lottery Statistics 

Fiscal Year Applicants Qualified Applicants Selected Applicants H1B Selection Rate
2021

274,237

269,424

124,415

45.37%

2022

308,613

301,447

131,924

42.75%

2023

483,927

474,421

127,600

26.37%

2024

780,884

758,994

188,400

24.13%

 

Who Can Sponsor Your H1B?

Technically, any U.S.-based employer can sponsor the H1B visa. As long as the employer has an IRS Tax ID Number, they can register to file a petition on your behalf.

 

🗒️ NOTE: The "On Your Behalf" requirement is crucial in the H1B application process. Self-sponsorship for an H1B visa is not permissible. If you are an entrepreneur or aspire to become one, it's essential to ensure that you are not the sole owner of your company. Additionally, you must demonstrate that your position within the company allows for the possibility of being terminated ("fireable")

 

 

How to Apply for an H1B?

Applying for an H1B visa involves several crucial steps. The process comprises five main stages: securing institutional approval, verifying the occupation, filing a Labor Condition Application (LCA), the final submission, and possible RFE. These include:

Stage 1: Find An Employer Willing to Sponsor Your H1B Visa

While many H1B visas are sponsored by large corporations such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, you can find additional employers in your field and preferred location by accessing one of many online databases such as H1B Grader. Other ways to find H1B sponsored job:

  • USCIS H-1B Employer Data Hub: USCIS's official database not only allows you to find out whether your dream company has sponsored H1B visas in the past, but you can also view the average salary paid by these companies to their H-1B employees.
  • Chrome add-ons: AiTou | Ultimate H1B Sponsor Checker: These add-ons enable you to discover companies registered with E-Verify and with a proven history of H1-B sponsorship
  • Non-Profit / Research Institutes: If you're keen on working with NGOs or pursuing teaching roles at universities, there's encouraging news: most of these organizations can sponsor an H1B visa, and their H1B applications are exempt from the lottery requirement. Once they agree to apply on your behalf, your chances of obtaining the visa are very high. Additionally, these "cap-exempt" H1B visas can be applied for at any time during the year, offering more flexibility.
  • H1B Salary Database: Many may not be aware that there is a minimum salary requirement when applying for an H1B visa. The higher your salary level, the more likely you are to pass the assessment if selected.

Stage 2: Electronic Registration 

The H1B registration process involves an H1B sponsoring company submitting an online registration and paying a $10 fee on behalf of an applicant whom they plan to file an H1B visa petition for in the future, contingent on selection during the registration process.

In this phase, the employer inputs only basic information about the applicant. There's no need for the employer to send any physical documents or forms to USCIS at this stage. This registration by H1B sponsoring companies serves as the initial step in the comprehensive H1B visa procedure. The entries made during this registration are the ones considered for the H1B Lottery.

After the Employer submits the H1B Registration, there is an option for them to print the confirmation with details. In the receipt, there should be a "Beneficiary Confirmation Number”. Sometimes, an employer will provide this number to their employees. If you have this number, you can check your H1B status on the USCIS platform by yourself. Often, H1B registration is managed by company lawyers or outsourced legal service providers, so employees may not be able to obtain this number and might have to wait for their employers to inform them if they are selected for the H1B.

Stage 3: Submitting a Labor Conditions Approval (LCA)

As applicants, you don't need to worry too much about the LCA, as it is typically applied for by your employer on your behalf.

Some employers may lack experience in applying for H1B visas for foreign workers. There's a chance that you might be the first foreign worker they have hired. If this is the case, you may need to conduct a bit more research and provide guidance to your employer to ensure this process goes smoothly.

Usually, after a U.S. company hires you, the employer initiates the H1B visa application process by submitting a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the Department of Labor (DOL). This is done electronically via the iCERT Portal System, setting the stage for your H1B visa approval. The LCA informs the DOL about various job aspects, including salary, location, and work conditions.

By completing the LCA, the employer pledges to the government that they will pay you a wage at least equal to or higher than the prevailing wage for the role in the area where the job is located. Additionally, they ensure that the work conditions will not adversely affect other workers in similar positions. This step is a vital component of the labor certification process.

Stage 4: I-129 Filing 

After receiving approval for the Labor Condition Application (LCA), the employer proceeds to file the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, using Form I-129. In this stage, the employer is responsible for paying the necessary fees and submitting the form. 

Stage 5: RFE 

After submitting Form I-129 and other supporting documents, the next step is to wait. Typically, USCIS responds within a few weeks. In some rare instances, applicants might receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) notice. However, there's no need for excessive concern, as H1B RFEs generally have a high rate of approval.

H1B Application Timeline 

Screenshot 2024-01-17 at 9.00.05 AM

What If You Didn't Get Selected?

H1B Backup Plans

O1 Visa

The O-1 nonimmigrant visa caters to individuals demonstrating extraordinary abilities in fields such as science, arts, education, business, or athletics, as well as those with a notable record of extraordinary achievements in the motion picture or television industry, recognized either nationally or internationally for their accomplishments.

L1 Visa

The L-1 visa is a U.S. non-immigrant visa specifically tailored for intracompany transfers. It enables multinational corporations to temporarily relocate select employees from their international offices to the U.S. for work purposes. This visa is a favored option among multinational companies for transferring essential staff to the United States. It facilitates the management of operations, supervision of projects, and the dissemination of specialized knowledge, all while sustaining the company's international footprint.  There are two types of L-1 visas: L-1A and L-1B. The former is intended for executives, while the latter is for technical talents. The maximum validity period for the L-1A visa is 7 years, and for the L-1B, it's 5 years.

EB-2 NIW

The EB-2 visa is a category of employment-based visa designed for individuals with either an advanced degree or exceptional ability. Those who qualify under these criteria and whose employment is deemed beneficial to the national interest of the United States can seek a national interest waiver (NIW) as part of their EB-2 application. Holding an EB-2 NIW visa grants the applicant lawful permanent residency status in the United States.

*Read More about how to apply NIW and possible reasons for RFE >>> H1B Alternatives: Is NIW for You?

Day 1 CPT

The most common fallback for those not selected in the H1B lottery is to enroll in a U.S. educational program (usually Day 1 CPT Programs), often at the master's level or higher. This option is popular due to its lower cost, expedited process, and relatively minimal requirements compared to other options. As a student, you will maintain your legal status in the U.S. under an F1 visa. The key distinction between Day 1 CPT universities and traditional ones is that the former integrate work experience into their curriculum from the start. This design allows students to apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at the beginning of their program. CPT serves as a legal work authorization, enabling students to continue to accumulate their work experience in the U.S. after their previous OPT expires.

 

H1B Backup Plans Compared

Visa Type Pros Cons
O1
  • Unlimited Issuance: There is no limit on the number of visas issued.
  • Diverse Professional Scope: Encompasses a wide array of professional fields.
  • Lenient Employer Requirements: Features more relaxed criteria for employers.
  • Indefinite Extensions: The visa can be renewed indefinitely.
  • Prompt Work Start: Permits immediate commencement of work following approval.
  • High Difficulty Level: It's one of the most challenging employment-based visas to acquire.
  • Advance Preparation Needed: Typically requires professional assistance for preparation.
  • Specific Field Requirement: Work and education background must be in a specialized field. Those in arts and entertainment have a higher chance of approval for O1 if they can demonstrate "extraordinary" ability. International students in other fields rarely receive O1 approval.
  • Employer Sponsorship Required: An employer sponsor is still necessary for the O1 visa.
L1
  • L2 Visa for Families: Dependents can apply for the L2 visa, which can ultimately lead to obtaining work authorization.
  • Dual Intent: The L1 visa allows for initiating the immigration process while on the visa.
  • High Approval Rate: With proper documentation preparation by the company, the approval rate is high.
  • Premium Processing: USCIS offers premium processing services for L1 visa applicants.
  • Time Restrictions: The L-1A visa has a maximum duration of 7 years, while the L-1B visa is limited to 5 years.
  • Annual Renewal: These visas require renewal every year.
  • Employer Specific: They are linked to your current employer and do not allow for easy transfer.
  • Potential Pay Cut: Transferring to work outside the U.S. often results in a salary reduction.
  • Your Employer has to be a multinational company
EB-2 NIW
  • Faster Process: Quicker than the labor certification process.
  • Pathway to Green Card: Sets applicants on track for obtaining a green card.
  • High Standards: Typically requires a PhD degree, making it unsuitable for most international students.
  • Slow Processing Time: The visa processing time tends to be lengthy.
Day 1 CPT
  • Ease of Application: The application process is straightforward and user-friendly.
  • Fast Track Option: Offers can potentially be obtained within a week.
  • OPT Opportunities: Provides the possibility of Optional Practical Training (OPT) opportunities upon completion of the program.
  • Selecting Legitimate Universities: Exercise caution in choosing universities and programs to ensure they are legitimate and accredited.
  • Tuition Fees: Be prepared to pay tuition for the chosen program.
  • Academic Requirements: Maintain a GPA of no less than 3.0 at all times to remain eligible for Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

 

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