How to Immigrate to the U.S. with an H-1B Visa

The H-1B visa is highly sought after, but only has limited availability. Even if you qualify for this visa, you may not be picked to enter the U.S. as an H-1B visa holder.

That being said, this shouldn’t discourage you from applying! The chance to live and work in the United States for up to six years is a valuable one, which is why so many people try to obtain this visa each year.

Of course, this visa doesn’t just qualify you to work in the United States; it also makes you eligible to apply for a green card. Some people end up going from an H1B to marriage green card, finding love and getting permanent residency at around the same time.

Whatever your long-term residency plans happen to be, there’s no doubt that the H1B visa opens up a lot of doors.

The first step for getting an H-1B visa

Getting this visa involves quite a few complicated steps, for both the applicant and their would-be employers. One of the earliest steps in the process is to find a sponsor, or a company who would employ them if they obtained a work visa. Once that’s done, it’s time to get the ball rolling for the rest of the process.

Rather than being selected purely on merit, applicants for the H-1B visa first have to enter a lottery. There are only 65,000 H-1B visas available per year, with another 20,000 made available for applicants with a master’s degree. For this reason, even eminently qualified applicants won’t necessarily be chosen to apply for an H-1B visa. Even so, this doesn’t stop people from trying to get this visa. These are the five steps that the process involves:

  • The employee is enrolled in the H-1B visa lottery by their employer
  • The employee’s petition is selected in a random lottery
  • A Labor Condition Application is filed by the employer
  • A cover letter, petition letter, Form I-129, company documents, and so on are filed with the USCIS by the employer
  • The USCIS provides the results of their review

Which documents are required from the employer?

The list is extensive, which is why many employers enlist the help of a lawyer to make sure that everything is just as it should be.

  • 15 photos minimum of the employer’s place of business (specifically, the location where the employee will be working)
  • A report detailing what the employer has paid employees, in the state or company-wide.
  • The company’s most recent tax returns
  • A copy of the employment contract, signed by both employee and employer
  • A copy of the employee’s passport (must be valid)
  • Proof of the employee’s education
  • Form I-129, plus the filing fee
  • If the employer is represented by an attorney, Form G-28
  • Form I-907
  • Optionally, a Premium Processing Fee
  • If the employer has over 50 employees, and if half of them have an L or H1B visa, they’ll have to include the Public Law 114-113 Fee
  • The Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee
  • The Employer Funded Training Fee

These documents make up the H-1B petition, which is submitted to and reviewed by the USCIS. The employee, the company, and the job will be analyzed to determine whether or not the position is genuine. If the petition gets approved, USCIS will issue Form I-797, which will enable the employee to apply for the H-1B visa.

Submitting the H-1B visa application

If you’re already staying in the US at the time you filed the petition, the visa will be automatically activated if it gets selected. If, on the other hand, you left the US while your petition was still pending, or if you chose consular processing in your petition, you’ll be required to apply through the US embassy.

The application fee for the US consular interview will cost $190, and it’s due when you submit your application. These are the documents you’ll need:

  • Curriculum vitae or resumes
  • A letter from the company where you’ll be working that states your job description
  • Certifications and diplomas that prove you fit this description
  • Form I-129 (the original plus a copy), and a printed receipt number of the form
  • The letter that states the appointment for your visa interview (the original plus a copy)
  • A photo that meets Digital Image Requirements
  • Receipts proving you’ve paid the visa fees
  • Current passport (and all of its pages)
  • Previous passports if applicable

That’s a lot of documentation, but it isn’t over yet. If you already have a work history in the US, you should include pay slips from the last one-year period, contact information from former employers, and tax return forms.

If you don’t have any work history in the US, you’ll need to supply some information on your employers all the same. This includes similar documentation that’s required for your would-be employer, plus any supporting evidence that the position is legitimate.

What happens next?

Once the application has been completed, you’ll be able to check the status online. These are the five different status codes and what they mean:

  • Invalidated – failed payment. This means that the petition has been submitted, but the payment hasn’t gone through.
  • The employer has made multiple registrations for you, but the petition was denied.
  • Not selected. You aren’t permitted to file the H-1B cap petition.
  • You’ve been selected, and should file the H-1B cap petition.
  • The registration has been submitted by your employer, and is eligible to be selected through the visa lottery.

Exemptions to the H-1B visa cap

While only a certain number of H-1B visas are issued each year, some fields enjoy exceptions to this rule. If you’ll be working in one of these fields, you won’t have to worry about competing for limited visas.

  • Non-profit research organizations
  • Institutions of higher education
  • Non-profit organizations that are associated with institutions of higher education
  • Government organizations

The takeaway

Getting an H-1B visa is a lengthy and complex process, but the advantages make it worth the effort. Part of your application’s success will depend on whether or not you’re selected in the visa lottery, but don’t let that keep you from trying all the same.