In the H-1B visa program, employers can hire foreign workers with specialized skills to work in the United States for a defined period of time as nonimmigrants. Typically, the roles require a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. H-1B visa recipients often work in fields such as technology, finance, engineering, architecture, or more.
H-1B Visa Eligibility
The following requirements must be met in order to qualify for an H1B visa:
- Valid job offer from a U.S. employer for a position that requires specialty knowledge
- A bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience in the field is required
- There must be a lack of qualified U.S. applicants for the job, according to your employer
Understanding The H-1B Visa Cap
In order to enter the United States under the H-1B classification and begin work, you may need to register with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Due to high demand, the number of visas issued annually is limited. For fiscal year 2023, the cap stands at 65,000. Fortunately, individuals with a master’s degree from a U.S. institution have an advantage: an additional 20,000 visas are reserved for them. Furthermore, if the employer sponsoring you falls under certain categories – such as a higher education institution or government research organization – the visa cap does not apply.
To enter a lottery for an H-1B visa if your occupation is subject to the cap, you will need to register with USCIS electronically. To do this, you will need to create an online account with USCIS. Creating a separate account for the registration process is required even if you already have a myUSCIS account.
The next steps are to pay the registration fee and provide basic information about the company sponsoring you as well as a few details about yourself. Alternatively, you can have an attorney or representative create an account on your behalf.
If you do not register and your occupation is not exempt from the cap, you will not be able to apply for the H-1B visa.
As soon as you have registered, you will be able to see your status in your USCIS account. Your attorney or representative will also be able to see your status.
The account will show your status as one of the following:
- Submitted: Your registration has been submitted and is valid.
- Selected: You are eligible to apply for an H-1B visa if you are selected.
- Not Selected: Your application for an H-1B visa was not selected.
- Denied: USCIS will consider all your registrations invalid if you apply for an H-1B visa with the same employer multiple times.
- Invalidated-Failed Payment: You registered but your payment failed.
You will be informed if you have been selected once the registration period has ended by USCIS. If you wish to apply for an H-1B visa, you must select your registration. If you are not selected, USCIS will notify you or your representative once the H-1B cap has been reached.
How Much Does the H-1B Visa Cost?
For the H-1B lottery, there is a $10 fee to register. If the applicant is selected, the employer will have to pay $460 to file Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers). Besides that, costs can vary depending on the size of the company, costs to expedite the application, whether or not the H-1B applicant is switching employers, and legal fees.
The H-1B Visa Process
Once you have been selected to apply for the H-1B visa, your employer can begin the process by filing a petition on your behalf.
To do this, your employer will need to submit a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the Department of Labor (DOL) for Certification. Your LCA confirms that your employer will pay you the same wage as other similarly qualified workers in the same geographical area and that your working conditions won’t affect other workers.
You and your employer will need to file both the LCA and the I-129 to USCIS, along with any fees and additional documentation, once your LCA has been certified by the Department of Labor. Among these documents are proof of your education, any training certificates or professional memberships, your resume, confirmation letter of employment, support letter, and any necessary fees.
Depending on whether you are already in the United States or not, you have two options if your Form I-129 is approved.
If you are within the United States on a different visa category, you must wait until your H-1B visa status becomes active in order for you to start working.
It will be necessary for you to apply for consular processing if you are outside of the United States. You will need to fill out Form DS-160, which takes around 90 minutes to complete. In addition to paying the application fee, you will need to schedule an interview at an embassy or consulate.
Once you have arranged an interview, you will need to bring documents such as:
- Your passport. This should be valid for at least six months beyond your intended date of entry to the United States
- A printout of the confirmation page from your Form DS-160.
- A copy of your approved I-129 petition and your I-797 approval.
- Receipts showing you have paid your application fees.
- A passport-sized photo of you that follows U.S. State Department requirements.
During your interview, you may be asked questions about yourself, the job, your experience, the employer, and your travel history.
H-1B Visa Holders: Options to Work in Canada
While providing a promising avenue through which skilled foreign nationals can come work in the United States, the H-1B program is plagued with issues, making the US a less attractive option for foreign workers. For example, H-1B visas have a limited duration; they can be granted for three years and then extended for three more years, after which the foreign national must remain abroad for one year at a minimum.
In light of these and other problems frequently encountered with H-1B visas, many foreign nationals look to Canada for their next job.
There are several work authorization options available in Canada, either of which have similar eligibility criteria as the H1-B visa, or of which the foreign national may continue their career in North America.
The following options are summarized:
Global Talent Stream
Stream of Global Talent: This work permit is geared towards foreign nationals working in the information technology field. It is easier to transition to a Canadian work permit because many of the occupations eligible for this work permit are classified as “specialty occupations” under the H-1B program;
Certain categories of foreign nationals on H-1B visas can be eligible for a facilitated Canadian work permit through an Intra-Company Transfer;
In order to establish a Canadian presence, foreign nationals working for U.S. companies can apply for facilitated work permits that will allow them to work in Canada to start up a Canadian branch, subsidiary, or affiliate;
CUSMA (Formerly NAFTA)
Through the Canada-US-Mexico Agreement, Mexican citizens with an H-1B visa can apply for a facilitated work permit if they are qualified to work in a particular occupation and are working in Canada in that capacity. A complete list of eligible occupations can be found here;
When H-1B visa holders need to come to Canada for work-related reasons, they can qualify as business visitors and do not need a work permit.
H-1B visa holders are currently able to apply for a green card, but there may be lengthy delays. Therefore, any children who moved with you may age out of their visa status, which is tied to your H-1B visa. If they turn 21 before their green card is approved, they will need another visa to stay, such as a student visa, under the current system. This may be removed by the Biden administration, along with making it easier to obtain work authorization for dependents of H-1B visa holders.