1. What is an H-1B visa?
The H-1B visa is the most popular non-immigrant employment visa in the U.S. It is a temporary visa that allows you to work for a specific employer for a specific amount of time.
Companies use the H-1B program to employ qualified foreigners in positions that require a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent such as accountants, architects, engineers and physicians, among many others.
2. What type of job qualifies for an H-1B?
Your job must be in a “specialty occupation” position and it must be related to your field of study. A specialty occupation is one that requires specialized knowledge gained through a bachelor’s degree (or higher) in a specific area.
For example, a position as a Mechanical Engineer requires an employee to design mechanical devices, develop/test prototypes, and analyze test results. The worker must have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a related field which provided them with specialized knowledge in the field. The H-1B applicant’s education must be tailored to the specific job duties and position.
3. What if I don’t have a Bachelor’s degree?
You can still qualify for an H-1B if you have experience that is considered equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. The formula used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a degree equivalency is “3-to-1”, meaning that 3 years of progressive work experience in the field is considered equivalent to 1 year of university study.
For example, if you don’t have a college degree but have 15 years of progressively responsible experience in computer science, this may equate to a bachelor’s degree in computer science, making you eligible for an H-1B in a position that would require such a degree.
A mixture of education and experience can also work.
4. How is the pay for H-1B workers?
An employer must pay an H-1B employee the prevailing wage or higher. The prevailing wage is the average wage paid to similarly employed workers in a specific occupation in the specific area where you will work. The prevailing wage is determined using different methods but is commonly determined through the Department of Labor’s Foreign Labor Certification Data Center Online Wage Library or of if one exists, by a Collective Bargaining Agreement.
5. For how long does an H-1B last?
You can have an H-1B for up to six years, in most cases. But people that are in the process of applying for an employment based green card may be able to have it for longer. H-1B visas are granted for up to three years at a time, but then can be extended until you reach the six year limit.
Remember, only time spent physically in the U.S. counts towards the six years. That means that if you take a one month long vacation every year for six years, you will be able to re-apply!
6. Can I have multiple H-1B employers? What about working part-time?
Yes, you can have multiple H-1B employers and it is possible to work part-time. An H-1B is employer-specific which means that you can only work for the employer who sponsored you for an H-1B; so, to have multiple H-1Bs you would need an H-1B from each employer. There is no set number of hours that you must work for each employer, but you will need to consider practical issues like if it’s feasible to work two full time positions or multiple part time positions.
Many times part time work is offered on a contractual basis. For an H-1B, this won’t work. You need to be have a valid employee-employer relationship meaning that your employer must have exclusive ability to hire/fire, pay, supervise and otherwise control the work.
7. When can I apply for an H-1B?
April 1st of each year is the date to remember when it comes to new H-1Bs. The USCIS fiscal year starts on October 1st, which is the first day you can start working on a new H-1B. The rules say that an employer can file an H-1B petition no earlier than 6 months from the start date, which makes April 1st the first date to file an H-1B.
With limited exceptions, there are only 65,000 H-1B visas available each year with an additional 20,000 available for those with advanced degrees. There is a huge rush for these coveted slots!
For the last few years, so many H-1B petitions were submitted in the first few days of April that USCIS has conducted a lottery to select which petitions to review. This year, the USCIS received nearly 233,000 petitions in the first week of April. That means that only about 1 in 3 petitions were selected in the lottery and all others were rejected and returned.
Be sure to pay attention to any announcements USCIS makes leading up to and after April 1st!
8. Will an H-1B lead to a Green Card?
An H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa meaning that it is a temporary visa that is issued for a specific purpose and time. An H-1B allows you to work temporarily in the U.S. for a limited amount of time for a specific employer. The H-1B does not lead to permanent residency, also known as a “green card.” However, you can apply for permanent residency while you work on an H-1B, but these are two separate and distinct paths.
9. What about my family, how can they come to the U.S. with me?
Immediate family members can accompany you on H-4 visas. This includes your spouse and children under 21 years old.
10. Can my family members work while on an H-4?
This has been a hot topic for many years and H-4 spouses (not children) are finally able to get work authorization but only if their H-1B spouse has reached a certain point in the process to get permanent resident status in an employment-based category.
Specifically, the H-1B holder must either (1) be the beneficiary of an approved form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker; or (2) be granted H-1B status under sections 106(a)and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act. This Act allows H-1B workers seeking employment-based permanent residence to work and remain in the United States beyond the six-year H-1B limit.
An employment authorization document issued to qualified H-4 spouses should be valid for the same period as the H-1 spouse and allows the spouse to work for any employer in the U.S. It is not tied to any one employer as with an H-1B.