Obtaining a H1-B work visa
The immigration laws of this country list several types of visas which allow people to legally work in the United States. Each of these visas has its own requirements and even its own letter, by which it is known. As immigration attorneys, this is perhaps the number one topic of discussion during our consultations. After all, what do almost all immigrants want more than anything when coming to the United States? To be able to work legally. In consultations about working visas, the most talked about visa has to be the H-1B visa, for it seems to requires the least amount of evidence from the immigrant, as compared to other working visas. While it is to your advantage to meet with an immigration attorney to discuss H-1B visas in detail, and more importantly, your qualifications, here is some basic information to keep in mind.
Overview of the H-1B US visas
If you are in the United States and wish to apply for an H-1B visa or status, you should at least know the following few things. First, you must be here legally and be able to maintain your legal status up until October 1st of the year when you obtain the H-1B status. So, if you are here illegally, do not bother to even apply for the H-1B status. Second, you need a company based in the United States to sponsor you for the H-1B visa or status. Third, for the most common category of the H-1B visas, you must have at least a Bachelor’s degree, or equivalent (approximately 12 years of progressive employment experience), in the field in which you will be employed under the H-1B visa or status. Fourth, the job for which you will be sponsored under the H-1B category must required at least a Bachelor’s degree, as the minimum entry into that particular position. For example, if you are being sponsored as an Accountant, you should have a degree, or its equivalence, in accounting.
Now, if you think you meet all of the above-mentioned requirements, you should also know the following information. At the beginning of every fiscal year (October 1st), the U.S. government has 65,000 H-1B visas available to people who are being sponsored in a specialty occupation, as a fashion model of distinguished merit and ability, or who are working on a specific project for the Department of Defense. As you can imagine, the majority of the H-1B visas are filed by those who are being sponsored in a specialty occupation.
In its simplest terms, “specialty occupation” is defined by the government as a job that requires at least one of the following: (1) that a Bachelor’s degree, or its equivalent, be normally the minimum requirement for entry into the position; (2) that the degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations or, that the position is so complex or unique that it can only be performed by a person with at least a Bachelor’s degree; (3) that the employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or (4) that the nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of at least a Bachelor’s degree.
The H-1B petition process requires that your sponsor file a petition, with accompanying forms, with the Vermont Service Center offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). The petition must also include proof of your qualifications, including your degree and, if in the United States, your legal status. If your Bachelor’s degree was earned outside of the United States, you should have a professional evaluation done, which should be submitted as evidence that your studies and/or experience are equivalent to those obtained upon graduation with a Bachelor’s degree from a college or university in the United States. There are several companies across the United States that specialize in such evaluations for immigration purposes.
If you have not completed college-level studies, you may still qualify by submitting evidence that you have extensive and progressive experience, which when taken together would be equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree from a college or university in the United States. You can show all of this by providing experience letters and by having your experience professionally evaluated.
Once CIS receives the appropriate petition and forms, it will review and verify whether all is in order or whether additional information and documents are needed. This review process can take a few months to complete. If additional documents are needed, CIS will generally grant you 12 weeks to respond to their request. However, if you pay CIS an extra $1,000.00, they will review your case in 15 days or less, or they will refund your $1,000.00.
If CIS approves your H-1B petition, it will be granted for approximately three (3) years. You can then renew it for an additional three (3) years, for a total of six (6) years. Your spouse and children under the age of 21 can obtain H-4 visas or status, as your dependents.
Once you are ready to proceed with an H-1B petition, you should make sure that it is prepared and done quickly. CIS accepts such petitions beginning in April, although if approved, the approval will not be valid until October 1st. However, since it is such a popular petition, many of us work furiously to file them as soon as possible. This rush to file led the government to exhaust the number of H-1B visas available by May of last year. There are some exemptions to the quota, but it is never a good idea to simply rely on that fact. When it comes to the H-1B, like the saying goes, it is the early bird that gets the worm.