The H-1B is a popular way for bachelor's and master's degree holders from outside the United States to work and live in America. 

These skilled workers have the chance to start a new life, while U.S.-based businesses can find employees with skills that may not be available in the domestic market.

The H-1B visa carries a fixed three-year term which is extendable. There are both one- and three-year extensions to the H-1B visa. Given these limits, it is understandable that many applicants are concerned about their H-1B visa status.

By successfully filing an extension with the U.S. government, newcomers can work in the U.S. for a total of six years on the H-1B visa. Below, we can explain how you can renew your H-1B visa. 

What is the H-1B visa?

The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa issued by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) that allows individuals from outside the U.S. to enter, work, and live in the country for an initial three-year period.

Prospective applicants must possess specific skills and hold a bachelor's or master's degree from a qualified college or university.

When an individual files an H-1B visa application, their name is put through a lottery to determine if they are successful. The lottery is usually necessary given there is an H-1B cap set every year by USCIS and other agencies.

An H-1B application requires sponsorship from a U.S.-based employer. The company submits the potential employee’s name to USCIS, including information such as their job title, start date, and other details. 

Depending on the type of processing that an individual selects for their H-1B application, they receive notice of their H-1B status anywhere from 15 calendar days to a few months after submission. When they receive their approval notice, they are on the path to living and working in the U.S.

The next steps involve receiving the visa stamp, Employment Authorization Document (EAD), and other documents that are necessary to legally enter the U.S. As long as an H-1B employee remains with the same employer, they are usually able to continue working on that visa for three years.

After three years, the newcomer has the option of returning to their home country or applying for an H-1B extension.

What is an H-1B visa extension?

When the initial three years of the H-1B visa is complete, you can apply to extend your stay in the U.S. USCIS allows nonimmigrants to apply for an extension during the final six months of their visa. If you wish to stay in the country and continue to work beyond three years, you must file to extend your H-1B visa. 

Even if an H-1B employee is staying with the same employer, they are usually required to file an extension petition or they put themselves at risk of falling “out of status.” When an individual is “out of status” in the U.S., it means that they do not have a legal basis to remain and work in the country.

Filing an extension application before the expiration date of the existing H-1B visa is essential in order to remain in good standing with USCIS.

Unlike a new H-1B petition, the H-1B extension does not count towards the year's cap. The approval or denial of the application depends on whether USCIS accepts the validity of the job offer, credentials, and employer. If you’re filing for an extension and intend to work with the same employer, you may find the process to be more straightforward. 

Extension limits

USCIS does not typically allow nonimmigrants to stay in the U.S. on an H-1B visa indefinitely unless there are exceptional circumstances. The initial visa and subsequent extensions cannot go beyond six years.

When an individual hits that six-year limit, they may explore other options to remain in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant or immigrant visa.

One-year vs. three-year H-1B extensions

Nonimmigrants on an H-1B visa may apply for a one-year or three-year extension to their visa. The H-1B is a visa that dates back to a Free Trade Agreement with Chile and Singapore from 2003. It permits up to 6,800 H-1B1 visa holders from those countries to enter the U.S. for work purposes.

The requirements for the H-1B1 are usually very similar to the H-1B. Applicants for the H-1B1 visa are part of the H-1B quotas for a given fiscal year, which means they also go through the lottery. 

Chileans and Singaporeans, however, can file their applications directly with a U.S. Consulate in their respective countries.

The H-1B1 is a one-year visa that must usually be extended at the end of each 12 month time period. Spouses and minor children of H-1B1 visa holders may enter the U.S. on H-4 visas.

One difference between the H-1B1 and H-1B is that the H-1B1 is not a dual-intent visa. As it is not a dual-intent visa, an individual on the H-1B1 visa cannot file for permanent residence, which is usually a privilege enjoyed by H-1B visa holders.

Other H-1B workers have the option of applying for a one- or three-year period of stay in the U.S. There are no advantages to filing for a single-year extension unless you do not wish to stay in the U.S. for another three years.

Requirements and forms to apply for an H-1B extension

You must file a new I-129 form when renewing the H-1B visa, whether you’re seeking a one- or three-year extension. The I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, includes personal information such as details about your status in the U.S. and employment information.

Applicants should ask their current employer to fill out and file the I-129 with USCIS. There are other forms required as part of the extension petition. These may include:

  • Copies of U.S. visa, I-94, and I-797 approval notice document
  • Copies of educational degrees, diplomas, transcripts, and certificates
  • Copies of work experience from previous employers, if applicable
  • Copy of resume
  • Copy of at least three recent paychecks from your current employer
  • Details about the job offer, job title, salary, job description, and other relevant information
  • Information about the employer, including a financial statement, annual report, marketing material, brochure, and articles of incorporation

These documents should be filed on time to ensure that you can go through a smooth extension process for your H-1B visa. USCIS allows you to begin applying six months before your visa expires and it is advisable to file as close to that date as possible.

Switching employers for H-1B extension

When an H-1B holder begins the third and final year of their first H-1B visa period, starting a conversation with their employer about their future at the company is wise. Some employers may be happy to file an extension petition, while others may want to move in a different direction.

Whether the employer wishes to go in a new direction or the employee wants to move to another job, the visa holder is still eligible to apply for an H-1B extension. They must ensure, however, that their new employer files Form I-129 and provides USCIS with supporting documents.

Start work immediately

Applicants do not need to wait for extension approval to begin working for the new company. USCIS allows H-1B visa holders to switch jobs legally, provided they submit their extension application on time.

When applying for an extension through a new employer, ensure you include as many supporting documents as possible. USCIS performs the same rigorous checks on your job title, credentials, and the validity of the company as they do for a new visa application.

The H-1B extension circumstances may be more complicated if a visa holder is switching to a job in another field. If that is the case, the H-1B employee may want to speak with an immigration attorney to ensure that they do not make any mistakes in the application process that may cause a delay or denial.

H-1B visa extension wait times

Any application that goes through a USCIS service center can take some time before it is either approved or denied, but H-1B petitions for extension are usually the least complicated of the many filings that are made each year by nonimmigrants.

If an H-1B visa holder is remaining with their current employer, there should not be any delays with the H-1B application. Those who are applying for an extension through a new employer should take even greater care to apply early, as it may take eight to twelve weeks for USCIS to perform the relevant checks before approving your application.

You can continue to work while you wait

The positive news is that visa holders can continue to live and work in the U.S. when they have a pending H-1B visa extension application. USCIS does not require you to stop working if your existing visa expires and USCIS has not yet approved or denied your application.

Visa holders must, however, ensure that the filing date for their extension application is before the expiration date of their existing visa. As long as the application is filed on time, you will typically maintain your legal status in the country, even if a month or more passes after your visa expiration date while you wait for an approval notice from USCIS.

There is a 240-day rule that applies to H-1B workers with a pending application. The USCIS 240-day rule permits a visa holder to continue their work in the U.S. for up to 240 days if their H-1B extension application is pending.

Because you can continue to work while your extension application goes through processing at a USCIS service center, there is usually no need to select premium processing. That processing option comes with additional fees and carries minimal benefits for extensions if you’re already living and working in the country.

H-1B extension application fees

The filing fees for an H-1B extension are similar to the initial H-1B application process. Your employer is responsible for the fees charged by USCIS for requesting an extension, as is the case for new applicants. These fees include:

  • I-129 petition fee: $460
  • Amended Public Law 114-113 fee: $4000
  • ACWIA fee: $750 to $1,500 depending on the size of the employer's company
  • Fraud Prevention and Detection fee: $500
  • Optional premium processing fee: $1,225

The Fraud Prevention fee is usually only applicable if you are switching to a new employer. If visa holders seek the help of an immigration attorney during any part of the process, they may incur additional fees. Some employers have in-house or affiliated immigration lawyers to provide assistance to employees they are sponsoring and help avoid a costly legal bill.

H-1B workers who are employed by a smaller company may not have access to such services. In these instances, they may have to hire an immigration attorney by themselves. Visa holders may wish to speak to their employer about covering these expense, but there are no guarantees.

H-4 visa extension application

The H-4 visa is a nonimmigrant visa granted by USCIS to spouses and children of H-1B workers in the U.S. under the age of 18. When a noncitizen files the initial H-1B application, they would also submit H-4 visa applications for their family.

Spouses with an H-4 visa can work while they are living in the U.S. with their H-1B visa holder spouse as long as they obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Children can attend school, while spouses can obtain a driver's license or state ID, buy a car, open a bank account, and enjoy other privileges of living in the U.S.

When an H-1B visa holder falls out of status, so do their H-4 eligible dependents; there is no automatic extension of the H-4 visa. Noncitizens must file an extension application for every person in their immediate family who is linked to their H-1B visa. The H-4 visas for family are dependent on the status of the H-1B visa holder. If your visa is set to expire in six months, so are the H-4 visas of your husband or wife, and children. 

Form I-539 is an Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, and it allows H-1B visa holders to extend H-4 visas for their family. Attach the form to the H-1B extension petition.

Six-year limit exemptions

There are a few categories of workers who are exempt from the six-year H-1B rule. These may include individuals who work in the U.S. intermittently or seasonally for less than six months a year, or reside abroad and commute to the U.S. for work throughout the year.

Another way of earning an extended stay in the U.S., albeit for a few months only, is by proving the visa holder spent some time outside the country during the six years of their H-1B visa.

For instance, individuals may show plane tickets and entry/exit stamps to prove they were outside the country for several weeks or months during those six years. Then they may be eligible to extend their visa by a few months, giving them some more time in the U.S. to sort out their affairs.

Most H-1B holders, however, do not fall usually into the exemption categories mentioned above. If they are a full-time employee at a U.S.-based company, they are likely living in the country for most of the year. That means they may either leave the U.S. for a year then reapply for a new H-1B, or attempt to adjust their status while remaining in the country.

Applying for a Green Card

If you are committed to staying in the U.S. after the six years of the H-1B visa, you may wish to apply for an employment-based Green Card. A successful Green Card application allows noncitizens to complete an adjustment of status to remain in the U.S. beyond the H-1B.

There are several stages of the employment-based Green Card application process, and H-1B holders should know that it may take years before the case is fully processed. It is, however, possible to obtain temporary resident status while waiting.

The four stages of the employment-based Green Card application process include:

1. Labor Certification Application 

2. Form I-140 Petition for Immigration

3. Adjustment of Status

4. Receiving a Green Card and passport stamp

The Labor Certification Application (LCA) is made to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). It is a document where the employer states they could not find a qualified worker for the job position in question within the U.S. 

The sponsoring employer typically has to prove they went through a stringent interview and screening process to try and find suitable candidates in the country. The DOL sets these requirements to protect American workers.

If the employer can prove these facts, they may file an application asking to sponsor you for permanent residency in the U.S. It is a lengthy process that can possibly take several months.

When the employer receives DOL approval of the Labor Certification, the H-1B employee is in a position to file Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) that permits noncitizens to transition from nonimmigrant to immigrant status in the U.S.

There are several categories within Form I-140, including EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3.

  • EB-1 includes Extraordinary Ability, Outstanding Professors or Researchers, and Managers and Executives.

Extraordinary Ability refers to individuals who complete a one-time achievement, such as winning an internationally recognized competition or award. Nobel Prize winners, for example, fall under EB-1. 

The other option is to display evidence of three out of ten possible categories, which include accomplishments such as high salary, commercial success in the arts, original scientific contributions, published material under your name, or winning nationally recognized prizes.

  • EB-2 includes Exceptional Ability, Advanced Degree Professionals, National Interest Waiver, and Physicians in Underserved Areas.

Exceptional Ability refers to individuals who have a special ability in the arts, sciences, or business. It is necessary to prove that having the individual in the country significantly benefits the economy, culture, or welfare of the U.S.

  • EB-3 includes Skilled, Professional, Other Workers.

Be sure to determine the category where you fit while you are filing the I-140 petition. Filing in the wrong category may result in a denial.

Form I-140 petition delays

There are strict quotas for how many immigrants USCIS can process in a given year. Overall caps and country-specific quotas all impact the speed of processing these Green Card applications. Individuals from heavily populated countries are usually especially impacted.

If the visa category where you are filing has already reached its limit, USCIS cannot process your application in that year. Since there are only up to 3,500 Green Cards available for each country in a given year, there may be a backlog of several years for specific individuals.

USCIS does, however, allow an individual to extend their H-1B status in one-year increments if they file a change of status immigration petition in the form of Labor Certification or I-140.

The filing must also happen at least 365 days before the sixth year of the H-1B visa concludes. If these two requirements are met, a visa holder may stay in the U.S. until their Green Card application is processed, even if that takes three, five, or 10 years.

Make a decision after year five

Given the timing required by USCIS for the Labor Certification or I-140 applications, it is usually wise for visa holders to decide their future after year five of their H-1B status. It is the ideal moment to take stock of your life, think about where you wish to spend the next decade, and talk with your employer.

If an individual is happy in the U.S. and wishes to stay in the country permanently, and their employer is willing to sponsor them for a Green Card, they should ideally get the ball rolling on changing their status.

Forms for one-year incremental H-1B extensions

To obtain an incremental one-year extension to an H-1B visa while waiting for a Green Card application, the following forms must usually be completed.

  • Send in a copy of the I-140 receipt or approval notice from USCIS. The date must be at least one year before the H-1B expires.
  • Send in a copy of the Labor Certification document with a filing date of at least one year before the H-1B expiration date.
  • Submit evidence that the Labor Certification application is pending with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The H-1B visa serves a dual purpose within the U.S. immigration system. It allows American companies to hire skilled workers from abroad who possess skills not present in domestic workers. 

With an H-1B, individuals from abroad can obtain better-paying jobs, as compared to what is available in their home countries. If a noncitizen has a bachelor's or master's degree, they can fulfill their professional ambitions in the U.S. through the H-1B visa program.

An extension allows them to turn an initial three-year stay into another three years of living and working in the U.S. There are possibilities of extending beyond six years in specific circumstances, while noncitizens can also pursue a Green Card application.

The takeaway

The H-1B visa offers skilled workers from around the world the chance to work and live in the U.S. It also benefits American companies that can hire talented individuals with skills that are scarce among the domestic workforce. 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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All about H-1B Labor Condition Applications

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

The ultimate guide to the H-1B visa 

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