H1B Visa Process Explained

In this article, you would understand the facts about the H1B work visa and the H1B visa process that foreign high-skilled professionals must go through to obtain the visa to live and work in the United States. 

What is the H1B Visa?

The H1B is a popular non-immigrant work visa for highly skilled professionals coming to the US and is given to individuals who wish to work in a specialty occupation. 

Unlike many other US visas, the H1B visa is an employer-sponsored visa. This means that a foreign national can’t request an H1B visa on their behalf.

Rather, the H1B visa must be requested by a US employer on behalf of a foreign national employee. 

Who Can Get the H1B Visa?

To obtain the H1B visa, you must have an offer of employment in a specialty occupation and must possess at minimum a bachelor’s degree or higher in the field of the specialty occupation that’s equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree or higher degree. 

More importantly, the employer should require a degree or its equivalent for this position and must pay wages to the H1b worker that are at least equal to those paid by the employer to other workers with similar experience and qualifications to the job in question. 

Facts about the H1B Visa

For some quick facts, in the year 2019, about 388,000 H1b petitions were approved, for which the median salary for these petitions was $98,000.

The top 3 countries with the most number of H1B workers were India, the People’s Republic of China, and Canada.

What is the H1B Cap?

The United States Congress sets a limit to the number of H1-B visas that can be issued in a fiscal year.

This number has remained at a total of 85,000, including 20,000 for individuals who have received advanced degrees from US universities and colleges). This 85,000 number is termed the H1B Cap or the Cap-Subject H1B

However, some H1B petitions are not subject to this 85,000 limit, such as the petitions from non-profit organizations, governmental-research organizations, and institutions of higher education.

Hence, this explains why the number of initial employment H1B visas issued each year is greater than 85,000. 

What is the H1B Lottery?

Since the year 2007, there have been far more applicants for the Cap-Subject H1B visa than there are available Cap-Subject H1B visas.

As a result, US employers requesting a Cap-Subject H1B are first entered into a lottery, where the winners are selected randomly.

Only after this selection, can the US employer proceed to file an H1B Cap-Subject petition on behalf of the foreign national employee. 

For example, in the year 2021, there were over 275,000 Cap-Subject H1B visa applications entered into the lottery. This means that on average, the odds of getting selected were just under 31%.

What is the H1B Visa Process?

The process of obtaining an H1B visa is a 3-step process.

Step 1: Filing Labor Condition  Application

A US employer first obtains a labor condition application from the US Department of Labor, where the US employer agrees to comply with certain labor requirements.

Step 2: Filing a Petition with USCIS

In the second step, the US employer must file a petition for a nonimmigrant worker with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

Step 3: Applying for an H1B Visa or Changing Immigrant Status

Once approved, a foreign national living outside the US must then apply for a Visa to seek entry into the US.

If the foreign national is lawfully present in the US on a non-immigrant status, they can change their status accordingly.

For example, an F-1 international student present in the US who is the beneficiary of an approved H1B petition can change his/her status from the F-1 status to the H1B status while in the US.

How Long is the H1B Visa Valid?

Foreign nationals may hold an H1B status for a maximum period of 6 years, allotted in 3-year increments.

But keep in mind that you must be gainfully employed during the entire 6-year period.

However, in some circumstances, a foreign national on the H1B may extend their period of stay in the US beyond 6 years, if they are the beneficiaries of a pending employment-based green card petition with USCIS. 

The H1B non-immigrant visa allows you to bring your dependent spouse and children along with you, but generally, your dependent spouse is not allowed to seek employment in the US. 

To learn about other temporary US working visas, check out our blog post discussing the 8 commonly used US work visas for foreign professionals.