Congratulations! If you’ve received the H-1B visa approval notice, you are one of several thousands of noncitizen workers luckily enough to win the lottery to live and work in the United States. But even after that passing that first hurdle, there are several steps you must take before you are officially authorized to make the move to the U.S., such as getting a visa and stamp on your passport.
Below, you’ll find some information to help guide you through the H-1B visa stamping process as well as some tips on navigating the H-1B process.
H-1B visa stamping
Obtaining a visa stamp is the next step in the immigration process after an H-1B visa application has been approved. Once the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sends your approval notice, you can schedule a visa interview to have your passport stamped.
Most visa stamping usually takes place at a U.S. embassy. Each stamp contains information about the length of the U.S. work visa and the earliest entry date to the U.S.
What is the H-1B visa?
The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa issued by USCIS to skilled foreign nationals who wish to work in the U.S. It allows noncitizens to get an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), Social Security number (SSN), and other documents that allow them to legally stay in the U.S.
Noncitizens may receive an initial three-year visa when an H-1B application has been approved with the option of applying for an extension for up to three additional years. Afterwards, noncitizens may leave the U.S. or apply for change of status to an immigrant visa such as a Green Card.
Applicants must have extensive educational and practical experience applicable to their future role, and have a U.S. employer willing to sponsor the petition.
An H-1B visa status also permits foreign nationals to bring their spouse and children with them through H-4 visas, with their legal statuses tied to the H-1B worker.
Applying for the H-1B visa
The H-1B visa application process includes several steps:
- A U.S.-based employer must file a petition on behalf of the noncitizen worker
- The sponsoring employer then files Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
- The employer then files a H-1B petition (Form I-129) and submits it to USCIS
- The employer pays the majority of the relevant application fees, except for a premium processing fee which some applicants may opt to pay themselves
- Applicants can check the status of their application on the USCIS website using the provided receipt number
Present fees for the H-1B visa application include:
- Filing fee of $460
- The American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act (ACWIA) fee of $750 for companies with 1-25 full-time employees, and $1,500 for companies with 26 or more full-time employees
- Fraud prevention and detection fee of $500
- Optional premium processing fee of $1,410
It may take USCIS anywhere from a few weeks to months to process applications submitted for regular processing, while premium processing guarantees a turnaround in 15 calendar days.
Applicants for an H-1B visa will go through the H-1B lottery. This random, computer-generated lottery determines which individuals are selected under the annual H-1B visa quota.
USCIS has set quotas for the 2020 fiscal year at 85,000, with 20,000 of those visas reserved for the advanced degree (U.S. master’s degree) quota. The remaining 65,000 visas are available to all applicants (both bachelor’s and advanced degree holders that were not selected during the first lottery).
Policy changes within USCIS mean that from the 2020 fiscal year, H-1B applicants will not be required to submit a complete application until they learn whether they were successful in the H-1B lottery.
H-1B visa stamping checklist
After you receive an approval notice (Form I-797) from USCIS, you should schedule an appointment at your local U.S. embassy or consulate for an interview to obtain a visa stamp on your passport.
To schedule an H-1B visa interview, applicants must:
- Take a photo that meets specific standards set by USCIS. This photo must typically meet the following specifications: square-shape, in color and minimum dimensions of 600x600 pixels and maximum dimensions of 1200x1200 pixels in a JPEG file format with a file size less than 240 kilobytes
- Complete the H-1B Form DS-160 visa application form, which is available on the U.S. Department of State (DOS) website. While competing the form, it’s advisable to have your passport number, travel arrangements, details of your recent travel to the U.S. within the last five years, information about existing and past employment and education on hand and a copy of your approved Form I-129 from USCIS
- Pay the $190 DS-160 visa fee
- Schedule an appointment with an offsite facilitation center for biometrics
- Schedule a visa appointment with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the home country for the visa interview
- Bring all related documents to the visa stamping interview and obtain H-1B visa stamp
Applicants may bring the following documents to their visa interview at a U.S. embassy consulate:
- Current and previous passports
- Completed DS-160 form barcode
- H-1B approval notice (Form I-797)
- Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129)
- Completed Labor Condition Application (LCA) from sponsoring employer
- Employment verification letter
- Documents about the company sponsoring the H-1B applicant
- Supplemental documents proving educational and work history, including pay stubs, transcripts, diplomas, degrees, and I-20 forms (if the applicant studied in the U.S.)
Applicants may bring the following documents if they intend to apply for H-4 visas for on behalf of their spouse and dependent children:
- Original Form I-797 of the H-1B applicant
- Original Form I-129 of the H-1B applicant
- Original marriage certificates, wedding photos, joint bank accounts, or any other documents that can prove the marriage.
- Original birth certificates of dependent children
Foreign nationals who previously studied in the U.S. on a student visa or worked through Optional Practical Training (OPT) are typically required to return to their home country to obtain an H-1B visa stamp.
The stamping process can only be done at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy outside the U.S.
Extending your H-1B visa
The initial term of the H-1B visa is three years, with the option to apply for an extension for an additional three years.
Six months before the visa of the H-1B worker expires, you can apply for the extension, through the same sponsor or another U.S.-based employer.
Previously, H-1B visa extensions typically had a high approval rate, especially for applicants who were remaining in the same position in their company. Analysts have found that recent changes in the internal agency policies have led to more denied applications.
If you’re switching jobs, the extension process may be more comprehensive and lengthy; submit your paperwork as soon as you enter the last six months of your existing visa validity.
Gaining permanent residence in the U.S.
H-1B workers have two options when approaching the end of their legal stay in the U.S. They can either make arrangements to return to their home country and seek employment there, or they may opt to apply for a Green Card in order to become a permanent resident in the U.S.
Consider beginning the Green Card process early if you wish to remain in the U.S. while your application is processed.
H-1B workers may apply for rolling one-year extensions to their visa after six years, if their employer files:
- Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) Labor Certification application; or
- Form I-140 - Immigration Petition for Alien Worker
Either of these forms must be filed before the start of the H-1B visa holder’s sixth year of working in the U.S.
The PERM Labor Certification is typically filed with the DOL and may take several months to process, while Form I-140 is filed with USCIS and usually has a processing time of a few months to several years.
Delays in processing Form I-140 may be attributed to U.S. Green Card quotas and per-country limits, and applicants from countries like India and China may be more lucky to wait due to a lengthy backlog.
Receiving an H-1B approval email or letter from USCIS signals the start of an exciting chapter in the careers of most visa applications. For more resources on how to prepare for and navigate your new life in the U.S., visit Nova Credit’s resource library where you can learn about everything from renting an apartment to finding the best credit cards for noncitizens.
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