The H-1B Visa, Explained

What is an H-1B Visa?

An H-1B visa is a non-immigrant work visa that allows American employers to hire foreign workers with specialized skills for a specific period in the United States. Typically, applicants for this visa must have at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in their field of expertise. H-1B visa holders are usually qualified professionals in fields such as technology, finance, engineering, architecture, and more.

Eligibility for H-1B Visa

To be eligible for an H-1B visa, you must meet the following criteria:

  1. A legitimate job offer from a U.S. employer that requires specific expertise.
  2. A bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience in the relevant field.
  3. The employer must demonstrate a lack of qualified American candidates for the position.

Understanding the H-1B Visa Cap

The demand for H-1B visas far exceeds the supply. As of 2023, there is an annual cap of 65,000 H-1B visas. However, there are an additional 20,000 visas available for those with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution. Certain institutions like non-profit research organizations and government research organizations are exempt from the cap.

If you are considering applying for an H-1B visa, and your employment falls under the cap, you will need to register electronically with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) during the designated registration period. If you already have a myUSCIS online account, you will need to create a separate account for registration. The registration period typically lasts for 14 days.

Once registered, you will be placed in one of the following categories:

  • Submitted: Your registration has been submitted and is valid.
  • Selected: You are eligible to apply for the H-1B visa.
  • Not selected: Your application was not selected this time.
  • Denied-Duplicate Payment: If you submit multiple registrations for the same employer and the same beneficiary, all registrations will be invalidated.

Cost of H-1B Visa

The H-1B visa application process includes various fees. The registration fee is $10. If your employer selects you, they must file Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) and pay a fee of $460. Additional costs may be incurred depending on the size of the company, expediting the process, changing employers while on H-1B status, and legal representation fees.

The H-1B Visa Application Process

Once selected in the lottery, your employer can initiate the application process. To do this, they must submit a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the Department of Labor (DOL) for certification. The LCA verifies that your employer will pay you the prevailing wage and that your employment conditions won’t adversely affect other workers. Following LCA certification, your employer must complete Form I-129 and provide any required documentation to USCIS.

Your application will require evidence of your education, possibly including transcripts or equivalent experience. The USCIS will also require background information about your employer and details about your employment. Employers may choose to hire an attorney or representative to handle the application process.

The registration period typically opens once a year and lasts for 14 days. If you don’t register during this window, you won’t be able to apply for the H-1B visa.

H-1B Visa After Registration

Once you have registered, you can check your status using your myUSCIS account. If an attorney or representative applied on your behalf, they can also track your status using their account.

Your status will appear as one of the following:

  1. Submitted: Your registration has been submitted and is valid.
  2. Selected: You are eligible to apply for the H-1B visa.
  3. Not selected: Your application was not selected this time.
  4. Denied-Duplicate Payment: If you submit multiple registrations for the same employer and the same beneficiary, all registrations will be invalidated.

Cost of H-1B Visa Application

The cost of applying for an H-1B visa can vary depending on several factors, such as the size of the employer, the speed of processing, changing employers on an H-1B visa, and attorney fees. In general, the initial registration fee is $10, and the employer’s fee for Form I-129 is $460. Additionally, there may be legal representation fees if an attorney handles the application process.

What's Next?

If you are successful in the H-1B visa lottery and your application is approved, you may work in the U.S. in your specialized role. Keep in mind that your status can change if you pursue a Green Card, and if you have dependent family members, their visa status may also need to be adjusted.

The H-1B visa program is subject to change, and the Biden administration is considering reforms that could make it easier for H-1B visa holders and their dependents to obtain Green Cards, potentially leading to changes in the H-1B application process. Be sure to consult with an immigration attorney or official government sources for the most up-to-date information and guidance specific to your situation.

H-1B FAQs

The dates vary each year, in 2023 USCIS announced that people could register for the H-1B lottery from March 1 through 17th and that it would let people know if they had been selected to file for an H-1B visa by March 31, 2023.

To see if you are eligible to file for an H-1B visa, you can check your USCIS online account. The account will show the status of your application.

Yes, premium processing is available for the H1B visa. To request premium processing, you will need to submit Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, and pay the filing fee to USCIS. You can do this at the same time as you file your Form I-129 petition.

If you have already filed your petition, you can request premium processing at a later date by sending your form to the same service center as your original Form I-129.

Having a valid visa allows you to go to a U.S. port of entry and request entry to the U.S.. If you leave the U.S. for travel and return, as long as your H-1B visa is still valid, you may be able to be admitted on H-1B status. You may wish to bring evidence of your employment or your visa validity with you to present at the border.

 

If your H1B visa is subject to the cap, you will need to register online first. You should keep in mind that being selected in the lottery allows you to apply for a visa for the following financial year.

If you are selected, you and your employer can petition for a H-1B visa on your behalf. You can expect to have around 90 days to apply for your visa, but the filing period and location will be on your H-1B Registration Selection Notice from USCIS. You can apply for your visa up to six months before your visa start date.

If your H-1B visa is under the cap and you have been selected to apply for a visa, your selection notice will let you know which USCIS address you can file your application at. If the H1-B visa cap does not apply to you, for example, if you are being employed by an institute of higher education, then you can file your application at the USCIS California service center.

Your H1B visa is generally valid for three years, and can usually be extended for up to six years. To do this, your employer will need to complete and file Form I-129 again on your behalf, along with any supporting documents, and pay the filing fee.

The H-1B visa is a dual-intent visa, which means that yes, you can apply for a green card. Find out more about how Boundless can help you through the process.

Any U.S.-based employer can sponsor the H-1B visa. As long as the employer has an IRS Tax ID Number, they can register to file a petition on your behalf.

Because the H-1B visa is an employment-based visa and you will need your employer to file certain forms for you, you will need a job offer before you are eligible to apply for the H-1B visa.

No. In June 2020, President Trump issued an executive order stopping H-1B visas from being processed. That executive order has now expired, and you can now continue preparing your H-1B visa application.

Yes, your spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21 may be able to accompany you on H-4 visas. Learn more about the H-4 process in Boundless’ guide.

The H-1B visa is valid for three years and can be extended for up to six.

It depends. If your spouse holds an H-4 visa, they may be able to apply for employment authorization if you, the H-1B visa holder, is on track to get a green card. Learn more in our H-4 guide.

 

The government sets a cap on the number of H-1B visas it issues each year. Currently, the cap is 65,000 visas per fiscal year, with 20,000 additional visas available for those who have a master’s degree or higher.

The H-1B1 is a U.S. nonimmigrant visa for nationals of Chile and Singapore who work in specialty occupations. The annual cap for H1B1 visas is 6,800 — 1,400 from Chile and 5,400 from Singapore.

 

The employer filing the H-1B petition must show the Department of Labor (DOL) proof they will pay the employee the prevailing wage or the employer’s actual wage, whichever wage is higher. The prevailing wage is the salary paid to workers in similar occupations in the same geographic area, while the actual wage is the salary the employer pays to its workers in similar positions.

If you are on an H-1B visa and lose your job due to layoffs or an economic downturn in the United States, you will immediately fall “out of status.” However, there is a 60-day grace period from the time you were terminated until you’re required to return to your home country. Additionally, H-1B workers may be able to switch employers without losing their visa status under certain conditions. Learn about what to do if you lose your job while on a work visa.If you are on an H-1B visa and lose your job due to layoffs or an economic downturn in the United States, you will immediately fall “out of status.” However, there is a 60-day grace period from the time you were terminated until you’re required to return to your home country. Additionally, H-1B workers may be able to switch employers without losing their visa status under certain conditions. Learn about what to do if you lose your job while on a work visa.