The Complete Guide to H-1B Visas

U.S.-based companies often look overseas to hire the best and brightest talent. While foreign workers have a lot to offer, legally bringing them to the U.S. to work is a complicated process. If companies want to hire specialized employees that are not U.S. citizens, they must go through the process of sponsoring their H-1B visa application.

Read on to learn more about how to navigate the visa process for international employees hoping to live and work in the U.S.

Who Needs a Visa—And What Type Do They Need?

Non-U.S. citizens need a visa to live and work in the United States legally. Employers must determine which visa type is correct for their prospective employee. There are two most commonly used types of U.S.-issued visas: immigrant and nonimmigrant. However, there are many different subcategories of these classifications that apply to different needs.

  • Immigrant visas - Visas that allow foreign nationals to remain in the U.S. indefinitely. Typically, the government issues these visas to spouses of U.S. citizens or children adopted by U.S. citizens. However, there are also employer-sponsored immigrant visas that grant permanent residency to employees.
  • Nonimmigrant visas - Visas that allow foreign nationals to stay in the U.S. temporarily and perform a specific duty. Some nonimmigrant visa categories include:
    • Tourism visas
    • Student visas
    • Performing artist or athlete visas
    • Visas for occupations in fields requiring highly specialized knowledge. This visa type is also known as H-1B.

What Is an H-1B Visa?

When a company wants to hire a foreign worker with a specific skill set, they typically choose to apply for an H-1B visa. The U.S. government issues H-1B visas (or one of its subcategories) to workers in specialty occupations. It’s the responsibility of employers to determine the correct visa categorization for their potential employee and file accordingly. Before filing, employers need to consider the following H-1B visa category classifications:

  • All types of H-1B visas are nonimmigrant visas.
  • H-1B visas do not allow employees to remain in the U.S. forever.
  • H-1Bs typically expire in three years unless extended.
  • If extended, employees can say for another three years but are required to apply for an employment-based green card before the three-year extension is complete.
  • There is a limited number of 85,000 H-1B visas granted every year.
  • The U.S. government uses a lottery system to select the 85,000 petitions. The first system chooses a total of 65,000 petitions from the entire pool of petitions. The applicants with advanced degrees move into a secondary pool where a computer selects 20,000 petitions.

The application process for an H-1B visa is extensive and doesn’t guarantee that a firm’s employee will be selected. Before you sponsor your employee’s H-1B visa, there are several requirements you must consider.

What Employers and Employees Need to Know About H-1B Visas

Navigating U.S. immigration laws and regulations is a complicated process for employers. Before applying for an H-1B visa, both the employer and future employee need to understand critical information before starting the process.

What Occupations Qualify for an H-1B Visa?

Applicants for an H-1B visa must fit the U.S. government’s requirement as a “specialty” occupation. This specialty categorization means the nature of the work is complex enough that a bachelor’s degree (or higher) is often needed  to perform the job role.

Certain companies are more likely to earn the H-1B visas for their employees than others because of the type of specialized industry in which the company does business. Industries with the most specialty occupations include accounting, IT, science, medicine, and mathematics fields. Because of this specialization in job roles, it comes as no surprise that well-known firms such as Infosys, IBM, Accenture, Deloitte, Apple, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, and Amazon top the list of companies with the most H-1B visas granted in 2019.

How to Apply for an H-1B Visa

  • Submit a formal application. Employers must petition for an H-1B visa on the potential employees’ behalf. Companies submit a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the U.S. Department of Labor, and this document proves the job pays the foreign employee at least as much as U.S. citizens in the same role.
  • File an I-129 form. After the LCA is approved, the next step is filing an I-129 to S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). A completed I-129 form includes:
    • An approved LCA application
    • Evidence of an employee’s degree
    • Any other supporting documents that support an employee’s specialized knowledge, such as licenses and proof of past work experience.

Employers can file for H-1B visas on behalf of their employees every April. However, due to a new regulation implemented in 2020, companies must submit their registration to USCIS by March 20th to be able to submit an H-1B visa application on behalf of their employee.

There is a cap of 65,000 regular H-1B visas awarded each year and a cap of 20,000 H-1B visas that qualify for the advanced degree exemption (meaning the employee holds a master’s degree or higher from an accredited institution).

The process of securing an H-1B visa is extensive and competitive. In April 2019, the USCIS received 201,011 petitions for H-1B visas, meaning it rejected more than 116,000 applications, and those employees could not legally work in the U.S.

Important H-1B Visa Considerations

For the lucky selected employees, there are some additional considerations companies and employees need to consider as they plan for work in the U.S.

  • H-1B visas expire after three years unless extended. The extension period can last for up to 6 years, but then the worker must apply for a Green Card. If the employee is eligible, they file Form I-485 and wait for approval to work and live in the U.S. indefinitely.
  • Anyone who receives an H-1B visa is legally allowed to bring a spouse or children under the age of 21 to the U.S. with them. However, each member of the family must apply for a visa individually. In most cases, family members receive an H-4 visa, designed for H-1B visa dependents.

Alternate Global Hiring Options

 Applying for H-1B visas is complicated, and there are only a limited number available each year. Companies work hard to find the right candidates. If their employee does not receive an H-1B visa, they must wait an additional year before reapplying for that status or find another high-quality candidate to fulfill the role.  For companies to ensure that they retain their highly skilled workforce, they must seek alternate hiring options.

Velocity Global’s International Professional Employer Organization (PEO) solution allows companies to avoid the complicated H-1B visa process. With International PEO, companies quickly employ any worker in over 185 countries around the globe.

While International PEO is not a work visa, it does allow companies to hire highly skilled workers in foreign markets compliantly.  With this solution, companies can then transition an employee off of International PEO and onto their internal teams once they receive an H-1B visa.  Although the workers cannot legally move  to the U.S. with International PEO, they are a legal, compliant employee of your firm and complete assignments for any amount of time.

Our global expansion experts can help your firm navigate the complexities associated with compliantly employing your team. Talk to us today to learn more about how our International PEO solution can help.

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