H1B 2024 Complete Guide: Eligibility, Benefits, and Application Process
H1B 2024 Complete Guide: Eligibility, Benefits, and Application Process
In this guide, we will walk you through all the information you need to know before applying for a H-1B visa. This includes the eligibility criteria for the visa, the pros and cons as well as all the important documents and dates you must keep in mind during the application process.
The H-1B visa is a temporary work visa that lets U.S. employers bring in skilled foreign workers for a specific period of time. These jobs usually need a bachelor's degree or equivalent. H-1B roles are often in areas like technology, finance, engineering, architecture, and more.
Do I Qualify for an H1B Visa?
To qualify for an H1B visa, you must secure a job in a specific position with specific requirements. This includes possessing an advanced educational degree such as a four-year Bachelor’s Degree, a Master’s, or a Doctoral Degree.
Alternatively, advanced training or vocational skills in specialized fields, like fashion modeling, may also qualify. Jobs in research and development projects for the US Department of Defense or other government positions are also eligible. Common examples of qualifying job positions include various fields, such as IT specialists, architects, accountants, professors, doctors, lawyers, and more.
The H1B visa process is initiated by a US employer with an open job position that can't be filled by a qualified American employee. The employer receives applications and, if the job requirements match with a foreign candidate, initiates the H1B visa process.
However, meeting the requirements doesn't guarantee approval due to a cap on available visas, hence there is a lottery system in place for selecting visa candidates.
There are four main requirements for obtaining an H1B visa:
- Valid Job Offer: The foreign beneficiary must have a valid job offer from a US employer, meet certain criteria, and be willing to sponsor the H1B visa.
- Specialty Occupation Position: The job offered must fall under the category of a "specialty occupation," requiring specialized knowledge typically backed by a bachelor's degree or higher.
- Industry Standard: Applicants must meet all qualifications for the offered job, including educational requirements aligned with industry standards.
- Approved Labor Certification: H1B applicants need an approved labor certification from the US employer, ensuring fair treatment and no adverse impact on the American labor market. This also ensures the applicant will receive the prevailing wage or higher, which is determined by the work location, SOC code, education, and work experience among other factors.
Benefits of H1B Visa
Among the various types of visas available, the H-1B visa stands out with its numerous advantages. This is why an increasing number of foreign workers aspire to obtain it each year, aiming to work in specialized fields in the U.S.
If you’re contemplating whether the H-1B visa is the right fit for you, here are a few benefits to consider:
- Multiple Employers
The H1B visa allows holders to work for multiple employers. As long as each employer has certified Labor Condition Applications (LCAs), H1B visa holders can engage in part-time or full-time employment across various jobs.
Unlike some strict visa regulations, the H-1B allows individuals to switch employers during their stay, providing a level of choice in their career. According to the portability rule outlined in the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21), H1B visa holders can seamlessly transition to a different employer, even before the approval of the underlying Form I-129.
- Fair U.S. Wages
The H1B visa assures that you will receive fair U.S. wages. This is made possible through a requirement known as the Labor Condition Application (LCA). When an employer files an LCA, they make a commitment to pay the H1B worker a salary that's at least equal to what similarly qualified U.S. workers earn, or the prevailing wage for the job in that area, whichever is higher.
- Dual Intent
The H1B visa comes with a distinct advantage known as dual intent, making it particularly attractive for foreign workers with future plans for permanent residence in the US. Despite being a nonimmigrant visa, the H1B allows individuals to either maintain a nonimmigrant status with plans to return to their home country or pursue a change of status to become a permanent resident of the United States.
- Bringing Family Members
An important benefit of the H1B visa is the ability to bring family members to the U.S. If you're an H1B worker, you can have your spouse and children come with you under the H-4 visa, which is linked to your H-1B status.
People living in the U.S. with H-4 status can reside, attend school, and in certain cases, spouses can even work. This work permit option is available when the H1B holder has an approved Form I-140 or is granted an extension beyond the usual 6-year limit under the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC21). Recent updates also allow H-4 holders to work in the U.S. after obtaining Employment Authorization Documents.
Furthermore, those with H-4 status can also pursue permanent residence and apply for a green card. The duration of their stay in the U.S. matches that of the primary H1B holder, with options for extensions.
Challenges of H1B Visa
It is also important to note that the H-1B visa isn’t without its flaws. Here are some challenges to keep in mind:
- Annual Cap and Lottery System
One of the key challenges of the H1B visa program is its annual cap and lottery system. Each fiscal year, there's a limit on the number of new H-1B visas that can be issued, currently set at 65,000. This cap, however, does not apply to those who already hold H-1B status and are seeking extensions or a change of employer.
The H-1B visa, being a non-immigrant visa, requires holders to have an intent to stay in the U.S. temporarily. While it doesn't necessitate maintaining a foreign residence, and holders can later apply for Lawful Permanent Residence, there's no guarantee of this transition.
If the petition for permanent residence is not made or is denied, the individual must return to their home country once their authorized employment period ends. This uncertainty, combined with the limited number of visas available, makes the H1B process competitive and unpredictable for many applicants.
- Requires Employer-Employee Relationship
The H-1B visa journey requires a solid employer-employee relationship. While this may not be a drawback for most, it poses a hurdle for those opting for self-employment in the U.S. The visa demands a genuine job offer, emphasizing the need for a clear work structure.
If your goal is self-employment, the H-1B visa might not align with your plans. Its design is more geared towards facilitating U.S. companies in hiring foreign talent rather than accommodating independent ventures.
- Temporary Stay
One of the core aspects of the H-1B visa is its temporary status. Individuals coming to the U.S. on this visa must initially plan for a temporary stay. This doesn't mean you have to maintain a residence in your home country, and it's possible to apply for a Lawful Permanent Residence (LPR) later.
However, it's crucial to understand that the H-1B visa, by itself, doesn't guarantee permanent residency. It permits a stay of up to six years, after which you must either transition to a different status, like an LPR or return home.
The process of changing from H-1B to a green card can be tedious and time-consuming. It's not just a simple extension of your stay but a complete change in your immigration status. If you don't apply for permanent residency or if your application gets denied, you're expected to leave the U.S. after your H-1B period ends.
- Starting Date of Work
For those applying for an H1B visa, adhering to a specific timeline is crucial. The application period begins in March and concludes in October. It's important to note that foreign workers can only start their employment under the H1B visa after October 31st. They do have the flexibility to commence work at a later date if necessary.
However, a key point to remember is that prospective H1B workers are not permitted to start working for their employer until two critical steps are completed: first, the USCIS must approve their visa petition, and second, they must receive their employment authorization documents. This requirement ensures that all legal and administrative processes are respected before the commencement of employment in the United States.
How to Apply for an H1B Visa?
Now that you’re aware of the potential pros and cons of the H-1B visa, let us walk you through the application process for this visa.
H1B Application Process Step by Step
Applying for an H1B visa involves a series of straightforward steps. Here's a quick guide to help you through the application process:
- Check Your Eligibility: First, ensure that you qualify for the H1B visa, which is typically for specialized occupations.
- Job Search in the U.S.: Find a U.S. employer willing to act as your petitioner by applying for job openings in the United States.
- Employer Initiates Petition: Once you secure a job, your employer needs to start the petition process for your H1B visa. The first step would be submit the application to the annual H1B visa lottery. Only after the successful lottery, an employer can move forward with the documentation. In case you are not selected in the lottery, check what are your possible alternatives: Best Strategies to Stay in the U.S. If Not Selected in the H-1B Lottery.
- Labor Condition Application (LCA): Your employer submits a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the Department of Labor, confirming your wage will be comparable to that of similar positions in the area and that your employment won’t negatively impact current employees.
- Form I-129: After LCA approval, your employer files Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) with USCIS, along with the LCA, fees, and additional documents like your educational certificates, resume, employment confirmation, and support letters.
- Approval and Next Steps: If USCIS approves Form I-129, your path diverges based on your current location:
- Already in the U.S.: If you're in the States on a different visa, you must wait until your H1B status is active to start working.
- Outside the U.S.: You will need to apply for consular processing. Complete the DS-160 form and schedule an interview at the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate.
What Documents Do I Need to Submit for an H1B Visa Application?
When applying for an H1B visa, it’s essential to have all your documents in order. Here’s what you need to gather:
- Passport: Your current passport, copies of its pages, and all previous passports.
- Visa Fees Receipts: Proof that you’ve paid the H1B visa fees.
- Photograph: A recent photo that meets the Digital Image Requirements.
- Interview Appointment Letter: The original and a copy of your visa interview appointment letter.
- Forms: Printed receipt number of Form I-129, along with its original and a copy. Also, a copy of Form I-797.
- Employment Letter: A letter from your employer detailing your job role.
- Educational Documents: Diplomas and certifications validating your qualifications.
If you’ve worked in the U.S. before, include:
- Your U.S. tax return forms
- Contact details of past employers and supervisors
- Resume or CV
- Pay slips from the last 12 months
For first-time applicants:
- Your resume or CV
- Contact details of supervisors and co-workers from your current and previous jobs
- A detailed letter about your job duties in the U.S
- Photos of your current and previous workplaces, and the building you will work in the U.S. (both inside and outside)
- Copies of annual reports, brochures, or company prospectuses
- Recent bank statements
How Much Does It Cost to Apply for an H1B Visa?
Beyond the mandatory $10 registration fee for all applicants, the overall cost of the H-1B visa can range between $1,700 and $6,500. The exact amount depends on factors like optional fees, attorney fees, and specific employment criteria. It's worth noting that only those selected in the lottery are obligated to pay the additional fees.
Here we have a table that specifies which fees are to be paid by the applicant and the employer:
- $10 is the mandatory registration fee applicable to all H-1B visa applicants.
- The standard H-1B filing fee for the I-129 petition, covering H-1B transfer, refilings, amendments, and renewals, is $460.
ACWIA Training Fee:
- For employers with 1-25 full-time workers, the fee is $750.
- For employers with 26 or more full-time employees, the fee is $1,500.
- Exemptions apply to certain organizations, including non-profits affiliated with educational institutions and governmental research organizations.
Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee:
- A $500 fee applies to new H-1B petitioners or those changing employers, paid by the sponsoring employer.
Public Law 114-113 Fee:
- Companies with over 50 employees, with more than half on H-1B or L-1 status, incur an additional fee of $4,000. Exemptions may apply.
- Premium processing, expediting the process in 15 days, costs $2,500 and requires form I-907.
- Family members applying as H-4 dependents incur additional fees through Form DS-160.
H1B Registration Deadline 2024
Here are some important dates and fee deadlines to keep in mind for the H1B application process in 2024:
H1B Registration Deadline 2024:
- The H1B cap registration window for the fiscal year 2025, with roles commencing on October 1, 2024, starts from March 1, 2024, till March 20, 2024.
- If registrations exceed the H1B cap limit, a random lottery selection process will be implemented; submitting early does not guarantee an advantage.
- Registrants selected in the lottery will be notified by March 31, 2024.
- From April 1, H1B petitions should be filed within 90 days of the selection notification, typically setting the H1B application deadline at June 30, 2024.
- Additional registration notifications may be issued after this date if visas become available, as was the case in the previous year.
H1B Electronic Registration Process:
- Sponsors need to initiate an initial registration for each H1B visa applicant via the electronic registration system.
- Registration involves providing basic information and paying a $10 fee.
- Registrants must possess a myUSICS account, which can be created from February 21. However, registrations are only accepted during the specified period, from March 1 to March 20.
H1B Application Submission Deadline:
- H-1B petitions from successful lottery entrants will be accepted from April 1, 2024, until June 30, 2024.
- Only registrants selected in the initial registration process can submit H1B applications.
- Selection in the registration stage doesn't guarantee visa approval but advances the application to the next stage.
H-1B Visa Cap for FY 2025:
- The H1B cap for the fiscal year 2025 is set at 85,000 petitions.
- USCIS will conduct two lotteries, first selecting 65,000 H1B petitions and then an additional 20,000 from holders of US advanced degrees.
- Cap-limited H1B visas are slated to start on October 1, 2024.
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How much salary should I ask for on an H1B visa?
There is no minimum salary that you must have to qualify for an H-1B visa. Typically, the DOL will ensure you receive a prevailing wage or the employer’s actual wage, which is comparable to your peers in the same industry.
What Are The Limitations of H-1B Visas?
Here are some of the limitations of the H-1B visa:
Annual Cap and Lottery System:
The H1B visa program has an annual cap and lottery system. Limited to 65,000 new visas per fiscal year, this cap signifies that a visa isn’t guaranteed and adds an element of uncertainty for visa applicants.
Requires Employer-Employee Relationship:
The H-1B visa demands a strong employer-employee relationship, posing a hurdle for those considering self-employment in the U.S.
The H-1B visa is temporary, allowing holders to plan for a temporary stay initially. While it allows later application for Lawful Permanent Residence, it only permits a stay of up to six years. Transitioning to permanent residency can be a time-consuming process, and failing to do so can result in leaving the U.S. after the H-1B period ends.
Starting Date of Work:
Timing is crucial for H1B applicants. The application window from March to October dictates a starting date after October 31st. Prospective H1B workers can't begin employment until USCIS approves their visa petition and they obtain employment authorization documents, ensuring adherence to legal processes before commencing work in the U.S.
Can an employer in the U.S. require a foreign employee to pay for the H-1B fees?
No, an employer in the U.S. cannot require a foreign employee to pay for the H-1B visa fees. According to U.S. law, specifically the regulations enforced by the Department of Labor (DOL), the employer is generally responsible for paying the H-1B visa fees. This includes costs associated with filing the H-1B petition.
I haven’t got picked in the H-1B lottery - what’s the next step?
Here are a few options for you if you weren’t selected in the H-1B lottery:
Consider other visa options: Look into other visa categories that might be suitable for your situation. Visas such as the L-1 visa and O-1 visa could be suitable depending on your circumstances.
Employer-Sponsored options: Discuss with your employer the possibility of other employment-based immigration options.
Consider reapplying: You can partake in the H-1B lottery again in the following fiscal year.
What is the chance of being rejected for H1B?
The approval rate for the H-1B visa has historically varied from year to year. The chances of being rejected can depend on the applicant’s qualifications, the nature of the job offer, the employer’s compliance with H-1B requirements, and any changes to immigration policies at the time of application.
When should I file my H-1B petition if I am currently under OPT on an F-1 visa?
If you’re on an F-1 visa under OPT, your employer should ideally register for an H-1B visa by the March 1st, which is when USCIS starts accepting registrations for the next fiscal year. If your OPT expires before the H-1B is approved, you cannot legally work until the H-1B is approved. However, you may be eligible for the STEM OPTX or the cap-gap extension if the application was filed before your OPT expired.
What is the processing time for an H-1B visa?
The H-1B processing time can be different for each person. Usually, it takes about three to six months. After you send your application, you should get a receipt from USCIS in about two weeks. Then, wait another two weeks before you call USCIS to check the status.
How long will it take to get approval for my H-1B with premium processing?
Your employers have an option to pay a $2,500 fee for premium processing of their H-1B’s. With this service, USCIS ensures that they will provide either an approval notice, a notice of intent to deny, a request for evidence, or a notice of investigation for fraud or misrepresentation. Typically this premium processing time is 15 days.
Can you apply for an H-1B and green card simultaneously?
The H-1B is a dual intent visa, which means that yes, you can apply for a green card simultaneously. However, it is important to be aware that the processes are separate and have different requirements and timelines.
How long does it take to get an H-1B visa?
The processing time can take anywhere from 2.5 to 6 months, depending on the service center handling the application.
Can I transfer my H-1B visa to another company?
Yes, you can transfer your H-1B visa to another company. To do this, you need to be currently employed in the U.S. You'll also need to show recent pay slips (no older than 60 days) and, if applicable, your last year's W2 forms. If you don't have recent pay slips, you should explain why to USCIS.
For instance, letters approving unpaid vacation or extended sick leave from your current employer might be acceptable. It's important to know that if you've lost your job, petitions filed after your last day of employment usually aren't eligible for a status change or job change. This is because you're considered out of status once you lose your job, even if you still have a valid H-1B visa or I-94 card.
What factors determine the prevailing wage for an H-1B beneficiary?
Factors that determine the prevailing wage for an H-1B beneficiary include:
- Job title
- Educational and work experience prerequisites
- Job responsibilities
- Work location
- Terms of the labor contract
How long can I stay on H-1B without a job?
If you are laid off while on an H-1B visa, you typically get a 60-day grace period from the last day of employment to find a new job or make arrangements to leave the country. You may also apply for a Change of Status to another nonimmigrant visa category for which you qualify, this should be done within 10 days after you are fired.
How to get sponsorship for H-1B?
If you meet the requirements for an H-1B visa you can start searching for employers that require the skills and qualifications you possess and are willing to sponsor your H-1B visa. You can utilize online job boards, company career pages, and networking sites such as LinkedIn. Websites such as Indeed also have filters to search for jobs with H-1B sponsorship. You can also network and connect with professionals in your field, and attend industry conferences. Once you find suitable positions, apply for them. If an employer decides to hire you and agrees to sponsor your H-1B visa, they will file a petition on your behalf with the USCIS.
What if my company is not sponsoring H-1B?
Some companies may choose not to sponsor H-1B visas. In this case, you may:
- Find a different sponsor: Look for other employers who are willing to sponsor H-1B visas. This will require job hunting and networking to find H-1B sponsoring companies
- Consider another visa type: Depending on your situation, other visa options may be available to you. Such as L-1 or F-1 OPT.
- Cap-Exempt H-1B Sponsorship- Some organizations are exempt from the H-1B cap. These include higher education institutes, nonprofit research organizations, and government research organizations. These companies can sponsor an H-1B at any time of year and can be worth looking into.
How does the corp-to-corp relation between the two companies work in H-1B?
In a corp-to-corp (C2C) relation, two companies form a contractual agreement. One company sponsors the H-1B visa for a foreign worker, while the other utilizes the worker’s services. The sponsoring company handles the visa application, becomes the official employer on paper, and takes care of payroll and benefits. The client company utilizes the services of the H-1B holder according to the agreement between the two companies.
Can I apply from multiple companies in the lottery stage?
The H-1B rule states that one employer can submit only one entry for a beneficiary into the H-1B lottery. You may apply from multiple companies, however they must be completely unrelated to each other. If any common stakeholders are found, the USCIS may reject the application and penalize the companies for attempting to cheat the lottery system.
In what cases should I go for premium processing?
While premium processing will not increase the chances of being selected, it may be suitable for applicants who are under time constraints. If you have an approaching employment date or need quick resolution due to professional urgency it may be suitable for you.
Can I travel outside the U.S. while on an H-1B visa?
Yes, you may travel outside the U.S. while on the H-1B visa. There are no travel restrictions on a valid H-1B status.
Is there any age limit for an H-1B visa?
There is no specific age limit for H-1B visa. As long as the applicant meets the educational and professional requirements and is offered a job in a specialized field, they can apply for an H-1B visa regardless of their age.
Do I have to have a minimum wage to be able to apply for an H-1B visa? How does prevailing wage work?
The minimum wage for an H-1B visa is called the prevailing wage. This is determined by the Department of Labor based on the job details, location, and occupational classification. There is no fixed minimum wage but your H-1B salary must meet or exceed the prevailing wage for your job to comply with H-1B regulations.
What is the prevailing wage and how does that work for H-1B?
The prevailing wage for H-1B visas is determined by the Department of Labor. It is determined on a case-by-case basis. Employers submit LCAs to the Department of Labor (DOL), specifying the job details. The DOL then calculates a prevailing wage, considering factors like experience and education requirements. The resulting wage is the prevailing wage which is the minimum wage your employer must pay you to abide by the H-1B regulations.
Is there any cap for US master's or higher degrees?
Yes, the cap for US master’s or higher degrees is 20,000. This master’s cap is specifically reserved for individuals with a master’s degree or higher obtained from a US educational institution.
Can I change employers while on an H-1B visa? What is the process for transferring my H-1B to a new employer?
Yes, H-1B visa holders can change employers through an H-1B transfer process. This allows you to switch employers without affecting your H-1B status, provided the new employer completes the required steps:
- Find a New Employer: Secure an employer willing to sponsor your H-1B visa. The job must qualify as a specialty occupation.
- File an H-1B Petition: Your new employer files Form I-129 with USCIS, including supporting documents to prove the job's eligibility and your qualifications.
- File an LCA: The employer must also file a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor, ensuring they meet wage and working condition standards.
- Apply for a Transfer: Unlike initial petitions, transfers aren't subject to the annual cap and can be done any time, as long as you're within the H-1B six-year limit.
- Begin Work: You can start working with the new employer upon USCIS receiving your transfer petition, thanks to the AC21 portability provisions. You do not need to wait for the petition to be approved. However, it's important to receive a receipt notice from USCIS confirming that the petition has been filed to avoid any legal issues.
How long is the initial duration of an H-1B visa? Can the H-1B visa be extended, and if so, for how long?
The initial duration of an H-1B visa is typically granted for a maximum of three years, although it may vary based on individual circumstances. The H-1B visa can be extended beyond the initial three years for up to a total of six years.
Will my dreams of building a career in the U.S. be shattered if I don't secure an H-1B visa?
While the H-1B visa is a popular pathway for skilled professionals to work in the U.S., it's not the only option for building a career in the country. Although the H-1B visa offers many opportunities, there are alternative visa categories, such as the O-1 visa for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement, the L-1 visa for intracompany transferees, and the EB-2 visa for advanced degree holders, among others, which may also facilitate pursuing a career in the U.S. Read about different options here:
My H-1B visa is nearing its expiration, what are my options to extend or secure a new visa status? What happens if I can't find a job before my H-1B visa expires?
As your H-1B visa nears its expiration, you have several options to consider. Firstly, you can apply for an H-1B visa extension with the current employer if you're eligible, allowing you to stay longer in the U.S., typically in three-year increments, if certain conditions are met.
If you lost a job and you're unable to secure a job before your H-1B visa expires, you might face challenges in maintaining legal status. However, you're typically granted a 60-day grace period to find a new job or take other legal actions to avoid falling out of status.