H-1B Nonimmigrant Visa for Professional Workers

An H-1B visa is a non-immigrant work visa that allows individuals to work temporarily in certain specialty occupations. Put another way, the H-1B visa is used to sponsor a foreign national worker to come to the United States if the foreign national will work in a professional capacity.  Specialized fields may include architecture, mathematics, sciences, medicine, and more.

The H-1 applicant must have a bachelor’s degree, or the equivalent, linked to the employment position for which the applicant is seeking the visa. The applicant must have a job offer from a U.S. employer in his or her profession at a prevailing wage.  The employer is responsible for obtaining Labor Certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) before filing the H-1B petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

There is a yearly cap for H-1B visas, which is 85,000 per year as of 2014. About a quarter of these visas are reserved for individuals who have obtained master’s degrees or higher from U.S. colleges or universities. A foreign national can live and work in the U.S. on an H-1B visa for a three-year period with the possibility to extend it for another three years. Thus, a U.S. company can employ a foreign worker for up to six years.

An H-1B holder is free to travel internationally to conduct personal or professional business. In order to re-enter the U.S. after an international trip, the H-1B holder must have a valid passport, a valid H-1B visa, and a completed I-94 form. Canadian citizens do not require an H-1B visa and should use the H-1B Approval Notice (I-797) and a passport. H-1B holders are recommended to carry with them a recent letter from their employer confirming their continued employment in addition to the other documents.

If the H-1B foreign worker is fired or quits his or her job, the worker must apply for and be granted a change of status to another type of visa, find another employer to sponsor him or her, or leave the United States.

H-1B visa holders can bring a spouse and unmarried children under age 21 to live in the U.S. under the H-4 category as dependents. They may stay in the U.S. as long as the H-1B holder’s visa is valid. Thus, when an H-1B expires, the H-4 dependents must leave the U.S. as well. Dependents are not allowed to work in the U.S., although they may attend school, get a driver’s license, and open a bank account.

While the H-1B is not an immigrant visa, it is recognized as a dual intent visa, meaning an H-1B visa holder may apply for a green card while in the U.S. on an H-1B visa. If an H-1B holder wants to remain in the U.S. beyond six years, he or she can apply for permanent residency in the U.S. to receive a green card. If an individual does not get permanent residency before the expiration of his or her H-1B visa, he or she must live outside of the U.S. for at least one year prior to reapplying for another H visa.