Getting Your H-1B Visa
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows individuals from all over the world work in the United States for a sponsoring employer. This visa type was designed specifically for workers in specialty occupations that require a higher level of education or technical experience such as science, medicine, engineering and mathematics.
For international students in the United States wishing to stay longer than their OPT period, an H-1B visa can be a great way to stay employed in the country and continue gaining experience in a given field. Generally this visa is granted for a period of three years and can be extended for an additional three years for special circumstances. Unlike other visa types where you can apply for yourself, the H-1B visa requires your employer to apply on your behalf.
H-1B Visa Qualifications
To qualify for an H1-B visa you will need to meet the strict criteria listed below.
Requirement #1: You must have an employer-employee relationship with the petitioning U.S. employer.
In order to receive an H-1B visa you must be able to prove an employer-employee relationship where the hiring company can hire, fire and supervise your work.
Requirement #2: Your job must qualify as a specialty occupation by meeting one of the following criteria:
- The particular position typically requires a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education.
- The degree requirement is common for this job within the industry, or the job is so complex or unique that it can only be performed by someone with at least a bachelor's degree;
- The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or
- The nature of the specific duties is so specialized or complex that the knowledge required to perform the job is generally associated with a bachelor's degree or higher.
Requirement #3: Your job must be in a specialty occupation related to your field of study.
- A detailed explanation of the specific duties of the job, the product or service your company provides, or the complex nature of the role you will perform, and how your degree relates to your potential role within the company.
- Written opinions from experts in the field explaining how your degree is related to the role you will perform.
- Printouts from online resources describing the degree fields normally associated with the occupation or proof that similar companies in the industry require similar degrees for similar positions.
Requirement #4: You must be paid at least the actual or prevailing wage for your occupation, whichever is higher.
The prevailing wage is determined based on the job you will have and the geographic location where you will be working, among other factors. To estimate the prevailing wage that may be required for your job, click here.
Requirement #5: An H-1B visa must be available at the time of filing the petition, unless you are exempt from numerical limits.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there is a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas issued each fiscal year. The first 20,000 petitions filed for individuals with a master’s degree or higher are exempt from this cap, in addition to workers employed at an institute of higher education, government research organization, or a nonprofit research organization.
Cap numbers are often used up very quickly, so it is important to plan in advance if you will be filing for an H-1B visa that is subject to the annual H-1B cap. The U.S. government’s fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. H-1B petitions can be filed up to 6 months before the start date, which is generally April 1 for an October 1 start date.
How To File For An H-1B Visa
Your employer has two options when choosing to file for an H-1B visa on your behalf, a more affordable but longer regular process or an expedited but costly premium process. Here we will describe the regular option of filing, but if you need your visa sooner and your employer is willing to pay approximately $1,225 in filing expenses, you could have your visa in as little as 15 days. For a complete list of necessary documents and more information on submission or the expedited filing process, the Department of Homeland Security is a great resource.
As a general overview, here are the steps to file an H-1B visa:
- Complete all sections of the Form I-129 petition, including the H Classification Supplement (pages 11 and 12 of the form) and the H-1B Data Collection and Filing Fee Exemption Supplement (pages 17-19). You can find current versions of the necessary forms here.
- Make sure each form has an original signature, preferably in black ink.
- Include a signed check or money order with the correct fee amount.
- Submit all required documentation and evidence with the application at the time of filing to ensure your documents are processed as quickly as possible.
- Be sure to file the petition to the correct United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) center. You can view where to mail your application here.
Additional documents to submit with your petition:
- Labor Condition Application (LCA) – Also known as the form ETA 9035, be sure to sign this form before submission and keep a copy for your records. The purpose of this form is to attest to the compliance of the H-1B program in general.
- Evidence of Beneficiary’s Education Background - If all of the requirements for a degree have been met, but the degree has not yet been awarded you may submit the following alternate evidence:
- A copy of your final transcript; or
- A letter from the registrar confirming that all of the degree requirements have been met.
- Copy of the H-1B Petition – If you will be going through the application process abroad, you have to submit a copy of your H-1B petition and any subsequent response you may have to a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny with your filing.
If you have any questions about the forms required or the filing process in general, be sure to contact your consulate directly.
The H-1B Visa Interview
To help you best prepare for your H-1B visa interview we’ve created a list of commonly asked questions to review before heading to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Although each interview will be different, typically you will be asked a series of questions about your education and qualifications, current employer, the sponsoring company, and general questions about your purpose to the States.
Be sure to answer each question as honestly as possible and keep in mind that the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be during your real interview.
- What is the purpose of your trip to the United States?
- Why have you chosen to work in this country specifically?
- When was your passport issued?
- Is this your first passport?
- Have you ever applied for a non-immigrant visa to another country?
- Why do you want to work in the United States?
- Are you planning on returning home after your H-1B visa has expired?
- Education and Qualification Questions:
- What is the highest degree you have earned and from which school did you earn it?
- Do you have any applicable certifications outside of your degree?
- Why are you qualified for this visa?
- What have you been doing since graduation?
Current Employer Questions:
- Are you currently employed?
- What company do you work for now?
- How long have you been working there?
- What is your current job title and responsibilities?
- What is your current salary?
- How long have you been in your chosen field?
Sponsoring Company Questions:
- Which company will you work for in the United States?
- What does this company do and who are their clients?
- How many years have they been in business?
- How many employees does this company have?
- Why do you want to work for this company?
- How did you find this company to apply for an H-1B visa?
- How were you interviewed for this job?
- How many people interviewed you, and what were their names and job titles?
- What will be your job title and responsibilities?
- Who will be your direct supervisor at this new job?
- What is your expected salary?
- Why are you qualified for this position?
Now that you have taken a healthy step to verify the requirements, process and interview questions to obtain an H-1B visa, it’s the perfect time to start preparing! If you have yet to find an employer to sponsor your visa visit our Student Job Search tool for information on various employment opportunities and once you’re ready to schedule your interview, you can do so here.
Before your interview, take some time to check out our great resources on resume writing and interview preparation to help sharpen your professional skills and learn a bit more about the professional culture in the United States.