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How do I apply for an H1-B visa?
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Work Permission: H1-B

What Is the H1-B Visa?

The H1-B visa may be issued to foreigners who want to work in the United States, provided that they meet certain requirements. The H1-B visa may be used to extend your employment after your post-completion optional practical training expires.

How Does the Quota System Work?

Each year, the INS sets up a quota for issuing the H1-B. The quota period starts October 1st and ends at September 30th of the following year. If you apply for an H1-B visa after the quota has run out, your application will not be processed until the next October, when the INS resumes issuing another year's H1-B visas. If you are included in the current year's quota, usually you will get your H1-B visa in three or four months.

How Long Can I Work With an H1-B Visa?

If the INS approves your H1-B application you will be authorized to work with the sponsoring company for three years. You may renew for another three years. The total time limit is six years, after which you must leave the country or change your visa status - e.g., to a student or tourist visa.

I wasn't able to get into the United States until after my H1-B application was approved. Is the time between when I was approved and when I started working subtracted from the amount of time I can work on an H1-B visa?

No. Your six years (three if you don't renew your visa) begins when you arrive in the U.S. under your H1-B status.

Is an H1-B Visa Applicable To My Situation?

To be considered as an H1-B applicant, you must have a degree from a four-year college or 10 years of work experience in fields related to the work you will be performing in the U.S. You need to find a company that will hire you for a position directly related to your degree or experience, issue you an offer letter, and sponsor your H1-B status, which costs your employer $610. Your employer must then file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the Department of Labor. This attests to the fact that you will be paid what is considered by the Department of Labor (or an independently published survey) a prevailing wage or higher in the geographic area of the position you have been offered.

How Do I File an H1-B Application?

The process of filing an H1-B visa application is quite complicated. You or your employer should hire an immigration lawyer to file the H1-B application and to take care of all the legal issues regarding your work and tax status. The cost for an immigration lawyer is often $1,500 or more.

If my lawyer files my H1-B application before my student visa expires, but I don't hear from the INS by the time my student visa expires, do I have to get another visa while I wait for the answer?

No. As long as your application was filed while your student visa was still in effect, you may legally remain in the United States until your H1-B application is either approved or denied. However, if you didn't have work permission with your student visa, you cannot work unless and until you get approved for H1-B status.

I have changed my visa status from student to H1-B. Do I need to re-apply for permission to be in the United States?

No. Your passport was stamped when you entered the United States as a student. You do not have to get a new stamp after you switch to an H1-B. Note that once your status has changed to H1-B, you must abide by all of the restrictions that apply to that visa type.

Can I Change My Job After I Have Been Approved for an H1-B Visa?

During the time you hold an H1-B, you have the right to change your job as often as you want. However, you must re-apply for an H1-B visa each time you change your job. This new H1-B visa will not count toward the annual quota. You may re-apply for an H1-B more than two times, as long as the combined duration for all such visas does not exceed six years. (For example, you might apply four times, with duration of two years, one year, two years, and one year.)

Can I work for more than one employer at the same time while I am here in the U.S.?

Yes. Each employer must have a valid H1-B for you, but if they do, you can (in theory) work for as many employers as you want.

I used to work full-time, but my employer reduced my hours, so I am now only working part-time. Will this invalidate my H1-B?

No, it won't invalidate your H1-B, but there are some other considerations. The INS will allow you to work part-time as long as they feel that you are earning enough money to support yourself. If you intend to establish permanent residence in the United States, however, you must be working full-time.

Can I Apply for an H1-B Visa Again After Six Years?

No, you can only start the H1-B process again if you first leave the U.S. for at least a full year.

Can I Switch Back to an F-1 Visa?

Yes, you can go back from an H1-B visa to an F-1 visa at any time. The processing fee is $120.

How Much Will the INS Charge Me?

  • Initial application: $610
  • First extension: $610
  • Switching an H1-B from one employer to another: $110
  • If your employer is a university or academic institution, the initial fee is only $110
  • There may be other fees

Helpful tips:

  • If a potential employer is not familiar with the H1-B visa application process, downplay its complexity.
  • Becoming knowledgeable about the process is to your advantage; you can explain the necessary steps, and assure your employer that the process is straightforward. You or your employer can pay for an immigration attorney to take care of the paperwork.
  • There are four regional INS offices that process H1-B Visa applications: California, Texas, Vermont, and Nebraska. Past statistics show that the Vermont office is the most efficient center. On the other hand, the California office is the least efficient. Unfortunately, you don't get to choose your processing center, since the location of your sponsoring employer will determine which center has jurisdiction. Jurisdictions are shown below.

Jurisdictions of each INS Regional Center

1. INS California Service Center (CSC):
Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii and Nevada.

2. INS Nebraska Service Center (NSC):
Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington State, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

3. INS's Vermont Service Center (VSC):
Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The VSC also has jurisdiction over the following INS offices: Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Toronto, Montreal, the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic.

4. INS's Texas Service Center (TSC):
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

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