Of late the H1-B visa has been constantly in news for one reason or the other. For those who don’t know, H1-B visa allows foreign workers to stay and work in the US while being employed in speciality occupations. These occupations require specific skills and are mostly related to STEM fields—Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. If you are a STEM-graduate you are eligible for an OPT extension. The United States Centre for Immigration Services (USCIS) website lists STEM courses and speciality occupations.
The US offers close to 85,000 H1-B visas to Indian nationals every year. Here are some quick and easy facts on the H1-B visa:
- H1-B visa is valid for 3 years and can be extended up to a maximum of 3 years i.e. total validity is for 6 years.
- This is a multiple-entry visa, meaning a person can travel in and out of the US for any number of times within the specified validity.
- The sponsoring employer must apply for your H1-B visa petition with the USCIS.
- H1-B work authorization is restricted to employment by the sponsoring employer.
- The H1-B visa has an annual cap of 65,000 visas each fiscal year.
- An additional 20,000 visas are reserved for applicants who have completed their master’s degree from the US.
- An immigrant may work only for the sponsoring employer. The sponsoring employer then may put the H1-B holder on the worksite of another employer.
- If the H1-B holder quits (or is fired from) their job, they should find a new employer and submit completely new paperwork or leave for their home country.
- An H1-B holder is eligible to seek permanent residency to the US i.e. they can apply for a Green Card.
H1-B Visa Eligibility Requirements
A person is eligible for H1-B visa category if he or she holds a US equivalent of 4-year bachelors (or higher) degree from an accredited university. If the foreign degree is a 3-year bachelors degree, a work experience of 3 years in the same or a similar field/occupation can be considered too.
In addition to academic qualifications, the person must be fully qualified to lawfully perform the described job roles. In occupations that require licensure or professional credentials (e.g. doctor, dentist, attorney, CPA, architect, nurse), the person must already hold such qualification before the H1-B visa petition can be filed.
H1-B Petition Process
If you are eligible for an H1-B visa, then you can start the petition process. The first step is to find an employer willing to sponsor your H1-B visa. Once you are done with that, your prospective employer would file for an H1-B petition with the USCIS. This petition is a two-step process:
Getting the labour clearance
The prospective US employer must file the Form ETA-9035, Labor Condition Application (LCA), with the Form I-129, Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker. An employer must submit LCAs electronically via the DOLS iCERT Portal System.
Filing the H1-B petition with the USCIS
Upon DOL certification, the employer would file with the USCIS Form I-129, the required filing fee and other supporting documents (including the approved LCA) to USCIS. Unless specifically exempt under the law, the employer must pay USCIS filing fees.
Your prospective employer would require certain documents from you for the purpose of the petition. You will be required to furnish:
- Copy of passport
- Copy of degrees /educational certificates / transcripts
- Letter of current employment
- Copy of previous employment /experience
- Copy of any certifications/achievements
Once the prospective employer receives approval from the USCIS to employ you, you must apply for the H1-B visa interview at the American Embassy at your home country. You would need to:
Fill in the DS-160 form online
The form DS-160 must be completed and submitted online at http://www.ustraveldocs.com prior to your visa interview. Once you have filled in all the details, take a printout of the confirmation page. The barcode number on the top right of the confirmation page is important; you will need it to book your appointment.
Pay the application fee
Next step is to pay the application fee which is USD 460. You may pay the fee online through NEFT or IMPS, or you may make cash payment at the counter of any branch of Citibank or Axis Bank.
Take appointment for the visa interview
Once you have paid the fees, you must schedule 2 appointments—one, at the Visa Application Center (VAC) to give Biometrics information that includes fingerprinting and photograph, and two, at the Embassy for a personal interview.
Go for visa interview at the Embassy
Make sure you have the following documents when you go for the interview:
- Your passport (and your old passports if any)
- Your photograph
- DS-160 visa application confirmation page stamped at the VAC
- Visa application fee receipts (applicable for application in US consulate in India)
- Visa appointment letter
- Petition-based visa applicants should also bring petition-related documents
Okay, I get it. But what if I’m already studying in the US?
If you are a student or are undergoing OPT in the US, you should start working on getting your H1-B visa at least 6 months in advance, keeping in mind that the USCIS begins accepting H1-B petitions from April 1 each year.
You should begin by searching for an employer who is willing to sponsor your H1-B visa. MNCs like Infosys, IBM, TCS, Wipro, EY, Microsoft, Deloitte, etc. lead the way in offering thousands of sponsorships each year. Shortlist at least 10-12 such organizations and apply to interview with them. Depending upon your profile and preferences, it should take you anywhere between 1 and 3 months to reach the offer letter stage. At the same time you should also prepare the documents that would be required during H1-B petition:
- Copy of all academic certificates—Bachelors (also Masters, if applicable) degree including mark sheets
- Copy of degree award certificates
- Copy of passport
- Copy of I-20
- Copy of I-94 (arrival/departure record from US Customs and Border Protection website)
- Copy of latest resume
- Work experience certificates (if any)
Once you accept the job offer, you would need to submit the above documents (in addition to some others that the company may specify) to the HR or to the attorney of the company. These documents would then be sent to the Department of Labour along with the Labour Condition Application. That’s it! Now all you need to do is to keep in touch with the company/attorney to keep a track of your application. And of course, hope that your application does make it through the lottery selection process!
What if my H1-B visa is denied?
This is a disappointing situation, no doubt, but take heart. The USCIS gives specific reasons for H1-B visa denial. You and your attorney/company would need to study and address them before you file the petition for the second time. For example, you might have been denied a visa on the grounds of incomplete documentation—may be the copy of your degree was missing—or some detail does not seem to match. In such a case, you should provide your attorney/company with the desired document and make sure that it goes forward when the re-petitioning is done.
You may also be denied an H1-B visa because the annual limit of petitions was already reached when you applied. In such a case re-petitioning would not be possible and you would have to wait for the next year to apply again.
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