International Students (3) - Learn More About The H-1B Visa
For many of us international students here in the U.S., the most dreaded time of our professional career arrives as we are about to graduate with an undergraduate degree, more specifically in finding a company what is willing to offer us H-1B sponsorship; also known as the "Person in Specialty Occupation" Visa. Once international students have used up all of the 12 months available through the OPT (which I've addressed in my earlier posts), international students are basically left with very few choices if they are to remain legally in the U.S., with most students opting to acquire an H-1B Visa.
In this article I would like to clarify what an H-1B Visa really is, who's eligible, who can sponsor it, and offer general guidelines on how, to the best of my knowledge, attain one.
What is the H-1B Visa?
The US H1B Visa is a non-immigrant Visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields such as in architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, and medicine. Under the Visa a US company can employ a foreign worker for up to six years.
Applying for a non-immigrant Visa is generally quicker than applying for a US Green Card, therefore the H-1B Visa is popular for companies wishing to bring in staff for long-term assignment in the US. Individuals are not able to apply for an H1B Visa to allow them to work in the US. The employer must petition for entry of the employee.
H1B visas are subject to annual numerical limits. Current immigration law allows for a total of 85,000 new H-1B visas to be made available each government fiscal year. This number includes 65,000 new H-1B visas issued for overseas workers in professional or specialty occupation positions, and an additional 20,000 visas available for those with an advanced degree from a US academic institution. Once the Visa cap has been reached, USCIS will stop accepting H-1B petitions for FY 2013 and will not accept new applications until April 2013.
In 2008, an estimated 130,000 applications was received for the available 85,000 spots.
Restrictions and Limits
The US H1-B Visa is designed to be used for staff in specialty occupations. The job must meet one of the following criteria to qualify as a specialty occupation:
- Have a minimum entry requirement of a Bachelor's or higher degree or its equivalent.
- The degree requirement for the job is common to the industry or the job is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree.
- The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position.
- The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree.
To work in a specialty occupation. Requires a higher education degree or its equivalent. Includes fashion models of distinguished merit and ability and government-to-government research and development, or co-production projects administered by the Department of Defense.
For you to qualify to accept a job offer in a specialty occupation you must meet one of the following criteria:
- Have completed a US bachelor's or higher degree required by the specific specialty occupation from an accredited college or university.
- Hold a foreign degree that is the equivalent to a U.S. bachelor's or higher degree in the specialty occupation.
- Hold an unrestricted state license, registration, or certification which authorizes you to fully practice the specialty occupation and be engaged in that specialty in the state of intended employment.
- Have education, training, or experience in the specialty that is equivalent to the completion of such a degree, and have recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions directly related to the specialty.
Duration of H-1B
The H-1B Visa is a non-immigrant Visa that allows business professionals to work in the United States for a specific amount of time. The purpose of the H-1B Visa is to give U.S. employers the opportunity to hire foreign professionals if a U.S. citizen or resident is not available. In order for the H-1B Visa to be issued, both the employer and employee must satisfy the specific requirements mentioned above.
The H-1B Visa is initially granted for up to three years, but may then be extended to a maximum of six years. Even though the H-1B Visa is a non-immigrant Visa, it is one of the few US Visa categories recognized as dual intent, meaning the H-1B Visa holder can apply for and obtain a US Green Card while in the US on an H-1B Visa.
If you are still in the US on an H-1B Visa and wish to remain in the US for more than six years, you can apply for permanent residency in the US to receive a Green Card. If you do not gain permanent residency prior to the expiration of your H-1B Visa, then you must live outside the US for at least one year before reapplying for another H or L Visa.
The H-1B program is criticized from different perspectives. The wages are kept lower in certain H-1B related industries as foreigners will accept a lower wage for the opportunity to work in the United States. Foreigners cannot easily change job in comparison to a U.S. citizen or resident, which makes an H-1B worker attractive for many employers. Several universities offering higher IT degrees are criticized for bringing in many foreign nationals for the purpose of educating them to H-1B jobs thus discouraging citizens and residents from choosing such degree programs.