One of the most frequent questions among H-1B applicants and sponsoring employers is about the length of time it takes to process an H-1B visa application.

The processing time for H-1B applications can vary based on several factors, including selected processing speed, the service center where the application was submitted, and the state of the backlog at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Below, we explain how to check your estimated H-1B processing time as well as other information about H-1B visa that may help understand what to expect as you go through the application process. 

What is an H-1B visa?

The H-1B is a nonimmigrant visa that allows individuals with skills and college degrees to live and work in the U.S. A valid H-1B visa permits noncitizens to obtain a Social Security number and Employment Authorization Document (EAD), among other documents.

The U.S. limits the number of H-1B visas issued each year, and the length of time noncitizens can remain in the country on the visa. USCIS selects 85,000 applicants from the hundreds of thousands of H-1B applicants who submit a petition to participate in the H-1B lottery. If a candidate’s petition is selected in the lottery, they can move on to the next step in the process: completing and filing an H-1B application.

Successful applicants approved by USCIS receive a three-year H-1B visa, which can be renewed for up to three additional years. If a noncitizen wishes to remain in the U.S. beyond the full six years, they must apply for adjustment of status.

Check your H-1B visa application status

The I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, is one of the essential steps of the H-1B application process. Noncitizens wishing to work in the U.S. must submit the I-129 H-1B petition to USCIS. 

You can check your USCIS case status online or by phone at 1-800-375-5283 if you have the 13-digit receipt number sent by USCIS following their confirmation that your H-1B application was received.

Without a receipt number, you may need to connect with an agent to help you obtain an update on your application status—a process that range from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the volume of calls on that day.

Get an update on current H-1B processing times

USCIS also offers an online service that lets applicants check the current case processing times for various nonimmigrant and immigration petitions. The processing times section of the USCIS websites allows applicants to select a form and field office or service center.

H-1B applicants should choose “I-129 | Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker” in the form section of the tool. Then select the appropriate field office or service center, depending on where the application was sent.

There are four primary service center options for Form I-129 submissions:

You can usually determine the service center that is processing your H-1B application by assessing the first three letters of the 13-digit receipt number USCIS provides to each applicant. On your receipt, the following letters correspond to service centers:

  • LIN: Nebraska Service Center
  • EAC: Vermont Service Center
  • SRC: Texas Service Center
  • WAC: California Service Center

The processing times tool on the USCIS website also shows the estimated time ranges for different form types within the I-129 application. 

The current time ranges are three months to five months for H-1B visas issued abroad, changes of status within the U.S., and extensions of stay in the U.S. Blanket L applications may have a 1.5 to four-month wait, while E3 applications from Australia are typically processed in 2.5 to 4.5 months.

H-1B application process

Applying for an H-1B visa is usually a lengthy process for both applicants and their sponsoring employers. 

Any U.S.-based employer that wishes to hire a noncitizen must start the process by  submitting a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The LCA is necessary to satisfy requirements within the DOL regarding wages, benefits, and working conditions of the noncitizen applicant and other workers.

The DOL may take a couple of weeks to verify the LCA. Companies that have filed a petition for previous H-1B workers can, in some case cases, get approval within a week.

A successful LCA application allows employers to proceed to the next stage of the process: submitting Form I-129 to USCIS. The sponsoring employer must also pay relevant H-1B visa fees at this time. These fees include:

  • Standard Filing Fee - $460
  • The American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act (ACWIA) Fee - $1,500 for employers with more than 25 employees; $750 for employers with 25 or fewer employees.
  • Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee - $500
  • Public Law 114-113 Fee - $4,000

These fees are usually the responsibility of the employer. If the premium processing option is chosen, the fee of $1,410 is the responsibility of the applicant, unless other arrangements between the applicant and employer are made.

Other conditions may affect whether an employer has to pay the ACWIA fee or not. More information on exceptions can be found on the USCIS website.

Regular vs. premium processing of H-1B petition

There are two processing options when filing form I-129 with USCIS. Regular processing is the standard option; applicants who choose those option usually wait anywhere from two to three months for the application to be processed.

Premium processing is more expensive, but guarantees that USCIS will process your application within 15 calendar days. This option is usually most helpful in instances where the H-1B visa holder wishes to change employers. Having the application processed within 15 calendar days allows the noncitizen to swiftly transition from one job to another while maintaining legal status with USCIS.

It can also provide peace of mind to applicants who are nervous about the extended wait associated with regular processing. Note that it does not impact approval or denial—it merely expedites the process. 

USCIS case status messages and meanings

The H-1B processing times for individual applicants are usually communicated by USCIS on your application status page. If USCIS requires any additional supporting documents, you may experience delays in approval or denial of your application.

There are several case status messages that H-1B petitioners may see when they visit the USCIS website and enter their receipt number into the relevant form.

Case was received and a receipt notice was emailed

Applicants who pay the premium processing fee will see a message that USCIS has received Form I-129 and emailed a receipt notice related to their application, which provides additional information about the case status.

Case was received

USCIS does not send emails with receipt notices to applicants who select regular processing. Notices are sent by mail with instructions on how to get updates about the case status. 

Request for additional evidence notice was mailed

Many H-1B applicants dread this message as it typically means delays and additional correspondence with USCIS. The agency sends a Request for Additional Evidence (RFE) when more information is needed or when one or more of the documents submitted by the applicant is incomplete and requires further documentation. The RFE arrives in the mail and indicates what the applicant should do to ensure successful processing of their application.

Response to RFE received

If an applicant gets an RFE from USCIS, they must send additional documents or information to the agency through the mail for the agency to proceed with the next stages of their application. While the above status suggests that USCIS received that information, it does not necessarily mean that USCIS has decided to approve or deny the petition. The message may also include information on when the petitioner can expect an update on the case.

Case was approved and my decision was emailed

The above message suggests that USCIS has processed and approved the petition, which is good news for both the applicant and the employer. This message may only be received by premium processing applicants.

Withdrawal acknowledgement notice was sent

An H-1B sponsoring employer may choose to withdraw the application they filed on behalf of a noncitizen. This may happen when an individual decides to seek employment in another country or attempts to obtain an H-1B visa through a different U.S. employer. If the employer withdraws the H-1B petition, USCIS updates the case status on the website to indicate they received the withdrawal request.

Case was approved

An applicant who goes through regular processing receives the “case was approved” message indicating that the official approval notice is in the mail. The mailed notice includes details about how to continue the next steps in the H-1B application process. Approved applicants may need to process additional paperwork to complete the final hurdles and obtain a visa stamp.

Decision notice mailed

Unfortunately,  “decision notice mailed” typically means that the H-1B visa application has been denied. Reasons for the denial are usually included in the document that USCIS mails to individual applicants.

Name was updated

The “name was updated” case status often means that there has been a change to your application or a clerical error has occurred on the part of USCIS. It may be best to consult your employer or the authorized legal representative for additional details and clarification. 

Fee will be refunded

There are instances where USCIS chooses to refund some of the fees that employers pay for a noncitizen’s H-1B petition. This message does not indicate acceptance or rejection of the application. Refunds are typically mailed within 30 days.

Case was transferred and a new office has jurisdiction

USCIS backlogs can be quite lengthy due to the high demand for visas and may prompt certain cases to be moved between service centers. If there is a reason for USCIS to move your case to another office, this message appears when you check your case status. The agency will also mail or email notices to applicants with details explaining why the case was transferred to another office.

Filing an H-1B visa extension

H-1B visa holders can file a petition to extend their visa by up to three more years after they complete the initial three-year period. USCIS permits applicants to file for an extension six months before their existing H-1B visa is set to expire. This checklist can help you prepare.

While most visa holders file an extension application through the same employer, it is possible to file with a new company. The process, however, may take longer, which is why it is beneficial to file early or choose premium processing.

H-1B workers are advised not to wait until the last couple of months of their visa expiring before filing an extension application. Ideally, noncitizen workers should have conversations with their employers as they enter the third year of their initial visa. This allows noncitizens to know ahead of time whether their employer intends to extend their visa or if it’s time to look for another U.S. employer willing to sponsor a visa extension.

Transitioning from an H-1B visa to a Green Card 

Noncitizens can only spend six years in the U.S. on an H-1B visa. If they wish to remain in the country legally beyond those six years, they must file for adjustment of status. H-1B visa holders who can get a company to sponsor them for a Green Card may apply for permanent residence in the U.S.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no time frame before an H-1B visa holder may apply for a Green Card. For example, many employers begin the Green Card application process for noncitizen employees a few months after that employee starts working for them.

Green Card categories

H-1B workers are advised to determine the category of employment-based Green Card that fits with their skillset and profession before proceeding with the application. There are three broad categories for employment Green Cards: EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3. The first priority goes to EB-1 applicants, followed by EB-2 and EB-3. 

Green Card application process

The first step in obtaining a Green Card for a noncitizen involves an employer filing a Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) certification application. The PERM certification is filed with DOL and establishes details such as the wage paid to the noncitizen, working conditions, whether there are qualified U.S. workers to take on the role and other details.

When an employer has a successful PERM application with DOL, they can then  file Form I-140 - Immigration Petition for Alien Worker with USCIS. When USCIS receives the petition, it informs the applicant about their priority date within the process.

Remaining in the U.S. on a pending Green Card petition

There are often delays for employment-based Green Card applications due to the USCIS backlog as well as Green Card quotas set by the U.S. Congress.

USCIS is not permitted to approve more than a specific number of employment-based Green Cards in a given year. There are also quotas per country, which can impact the priority date of applicants from densely populated countries like China or India.

Many EB-3 Green Card applicants wait years before their I-140 petition becomes a priority.

The good news is that USCIS permits rolling one-year extensions of the H-1B visa beyond the initial six years if the applicant has a pending PERM certification or Form I-140 application. The sponsoring employer must file either of those applications before the H-1B visa holder starts the sixth year of their stay in the U.S. on that visa.

The takeaway

Waiting for news on your H-1B work visa can bring about mixed emotions for many people, especially considering the lengthy wait times associated with the application. The good news is that there are ways to shorten the process or stay abreast on the case status. You can find more information about this particular visa in our ultimate guide to the H-1B visa.

While the process of applying and obtaining the visa may appear daunting, this guide is intended to help simplify the process of starting your new life in the U.S. After you have been approved for your H1-B visa and are preparing to travel to the U.S., consider how you will live during your stay — especially how you manage your finances from setting up a bank account to managing your credit. In the U.S., credit history is important in securing things necessary for everyday life from credit cards to utilities and even your apartment. 

How Nova Credit can help you establish credit in the U.S.

Nova Credit creates a global Credit Passport that helps people bring their credit history with them when they move to the U.S. While your credit history won’t be transferred to national bureau databases, creditors and lenders can use your Credit Passport to evaluate your application for a loan, apartment, and other services. 

Nova Credit currently connects to international credit bureaus in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, Nigeria, South Korea and the UK. 

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More from Nova Credit:

The ultimate guide to the H-1B visa 

H-1B visa holders in the United States: An overview

H-1B visa stamping: H-1B visa interview documents and more

How does the “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order affect the H-1B visa?

All about H-1B Labor Condition Applications

The H-1B extension checklist: What you should bring for H-1B renewals 

How to find out if you've been selected in the 2020 H-1B lottery

How to Find H-1B Sponsors in 2020

H-1B to Green Card process: Everything you need to know about changing your status

How to check the status of your H-1B visa application