The H-1B visa allows foreign workers belonging to certain specialty occupations, to work for an employer in the USA who cannot find suitable U.S. workers for the position. In this sense, the visa functions as a work permit.
Who Can Apply?
- Are qualified to practice specialty occupations, or
- Offer services of exceptional ability or merit for a cooperative R&D project of the Department of Defense, or
- Have distinguished merit and ability as fashion models;
May be eligible to apply for the H-1B non-immigrant classification.
Specialty workers and models are sponsored for this visa by their U.S. employer – i.e. the employer submits the application and pays the visa fee on behalf of the worker.
Family members of the worker (spouse and unmarried offspring under 21 years old) can accompany them to USA by applying under the H-4 non-immigrant classification.
Duration of Stay
Initially, the visa is valid for a three year period. This duration can be extended to six years – or even further, in some cases. During this period, the employer could sponsor the worker for a Green Card USA, which grants permanent resident status. After completing five years as a permanent resident, the worker can apply for citizenship.
If the employee resigns or their employment is terminated while living in USA as a non-immigrant, they can:
- Secure another job within 60 days and file fresh paperwork, or
- Apply to change their status from ‘non-immigrant’ to immigrant or Green Card status; or
- Return to the home country (or be deported). If the employee was terminated, the employer bears the reasonable cost of return travel.
A maximum of 65,000 new H-1B visas can be issued every year, which indicates the demand and popularity for this visa. If the number of applications submitted exceeds this limit, a random selection process or ‘lottery’ is used to select candidates.
Over and above this limit, 20,000 H-1B visas are reserved for those who have completed their master’s degree or higher qualification from an educational institution in the USA. These candidates are also selected through a lottery system. Those who are not selected in the lottery enter the general pool, which has a cap of 65,000 visas.
Some other categories of workers (those employed at higher education institutions or affiliated non-profit organizations or government research organizations) are also exempt from this intake limit.
H-1B Visa Benefits
- This visa is open to people of all nationalities.
- Immediate family members can accompany the visa holder to USA, and work in the country.
- Social security for the worker and accompanying family members.
- Smooth transition from H-1B to Green Card or permanent resident status.
- Long duration of stay and option for extension of stay.
- After attaining a Green Card, the employee can also sponsor family members (H-4 visa holders) for permanent residence.
- Simple eligibility conditions – no managerial experience or investment requirements.
- Those who are skilled in specialty occupations – which are facing a shortage of workforce in USA – are likely to find a U.S. employer who is willing to sponsor them for this visa.
- The employee is not bound to a single U.S. employer – it is possible to switch jobs.
- H-1B premium processing – drastically reduces waiting period between application and visa grant.
- H-1B visa holders can open bank accounts in USA, and purchase or rent property and vehicles.
Eligibility Requirements for People in Specialty Occupations
The H-1B visa requirements differ for fashion models, prospective Department of Defense employees, and applicants belonging to specialty occupations.
A Specialty occupation is defined as one that:
- Requires practical and theoretical application of highly specialized knowledge
- Bachelor’s degree or higher qualification in the specialty or its equivalent, as a minimum requirement for entry to the position
- Fulfils any one of the following conditions:
- The normal minimum requirement for the role is a bachelor’s degree, or a higher qualification, or its equivalent.
- Degree requirement is an industry norm in such positions across similar organizations or the complexity/uniqueness of the job requires a degree.
- The employer typically demands that employees occupying the specialty position should have a degree or equivalent qualification.
- Typically, having a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification is associated with having sufficient knowledge to perform the complex and specialized job duties.
Some fields considered as ‘specialty occupations’ include medicine, engineering, business, law, journalism, and research.
Foreign workers must meet any one the following requirements to qualify for providing services in specialty occupations:
- Have a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification (as required by the occupation) from an accredited U.S. university or college.
- Have a foreign degree that is considered equivalent to a bachelor’s or higher qualification (as required by the occupation) from an accredited university or college outside USA.
- Have an unrestricted certification, license or registration authorizing the foreign worker to fully practice the specialty occupation and immediately engage in that occupation through the intended employment.
To be eligible, the prospective employee can also:
- Have specialized training, education, and/or progressive work experience that is considered equivalent to completing a U.S. bachelor’s degree or higher qualification in the specialty, and
- Have recognized expertise in the specialty occupation, gained by performing progressively responsible roles or positions that are directly related to the specialty.
Application Process, Fees and Processing Time
Step 1: The visa aspirant must find a U.S. sponsor who is willing to sponsor the visa application of a foreign worker, and conduct the H-1B visa process on behalf of the worker.
Step 2: The employer must apply to the Department of Labor for certification of a Labor Condition Application (LCA), to sponsor workers in specialty occupations or fashion models. The LCA is approved if the employer agrees to comply with labor requirements related to wage, working conditions, place of employment, etc.
Step 3: The employer has to submit Form I-129 (Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker), the certified LCA, supporting documents, and the form filing fees ($460 – which is the H-1B visa cost) – to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The processing time may last for 3 to 4 months, but candidates can pay an additional amount for premium processing ($1,440) to have the petition processed within 14 days.
Step 4: If this petition is approved by USCIS, the employee must complete the visa process by visiting the U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country and (if required) applying for the H-1B visa to USA’s Department of State. This typically requires 2-3 days, but may vary depending on the location. Subsequently, the worker must apply for admission to USA to Customs and Border Protection.
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