7 min read

April 30, 2021

The H-1B Visa: Everything You Need to Know

Your comprehensive guide to eligibility, quotas, caps, the application process, and fees.

Of the US federal employment visa programs, the H-1B visa is perhaps the best known. With a H-1B visa, US employers can hire foreign nationals, specifically when qualified Americans cannot be found for the position. As such, the foreigner often must work in a specialized field and, further, they can only work for the sponsoring employer or their visa will be revoked.

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Who is Eligible for a H-1B Visa?

In order to qualify for a H-1B visa, the foreign national must have specialized knowledge. Moreover, they must hold at least a bachelor’s degree, or equivalent, in the discipline for which they are being hired.

H-1B Quotas and Caps

There is a limit to the number of H-1B visas issued every year. As of now, the lottery is limited to 65,000 new visas with an additional 20,000 spaces available for petitions filed for beneficiaries with a master’s degree or higher from a US institution — which would qualify them as exempt from the original cap. 

Only new foreign nationals need to go through the H-1B lottery system. Any foreign workers who are still within the three-year limit of their H-1B visa are free to transfer to another employer without undergoing the lottery system

The H-1B Application Process 

To obtain an H-1B visa, an employee must complete the following steps:

  1. Find a sponsor: For an employee, this is perhaps the most difficult step of the H-1B visa application process. Given that the H-1B visa is costly for employers, and there are a plethora of requirements that employees must fulfill, not every company will sponsor an H-1B visa for employees. That being said, if your background and experience qualify you for a H-1B visa, don’t lose hope. Consistently look for job openings at companies that sponsor H-1B visas and make your case. After all, this visa is for companies that cannot find qualified Americans for the jobs they need so your skillset, here, is powerful.
  1. File a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor: Once you have identified a sponsor, your employer will have to file this application.This demonstrates that there is a lack of qualified Americans that fulfill the job requirements, adhering to H-1B program requirements. The employer must also attest, here, that the H-1B recipient will receive a wage that is either equal to or greater than the prevailing standards for the position in the geographic area where the work will be conducted. 
  1. File a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker Form: Following approval of the Labor Condition Report, the employer must file this form with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Along with this, employers must submit their legal company name, business, EIN, and address. Each potential H-1B employee must be listed as a “beneficiary” with their legal name, gender, date of birth, country of birth, country of citizenship, passport number, and whether or not they currently hold a US master’s degree. Evidence of education and experience, a letter of support, the applicant’s resume, and other professional documents also need to be submitted at this time.
  1. Apply for the H-1B visa: Finally, after the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker is approved, you, the “beneficiary”, can apply for your visa.Visit your home country’s US embassy or consulate to complete the process, which typically takes 2-3 days.

Note that each company can submit up to 250 petitions, though there is a $460 fee for each petition filed, and the process for approval can take up to four months, at times. As the prospective H-1B visa recipient, ensure that you have given your employer all the documents they require in order to complete this step.

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H-1B Visa Document Checklist

  • Approved Labor Condition Report
  • I-129 Petition
  • Supporting Evidence (Resume, Job Offer with Job Description, Proof of Degree)
  • Valid Passport
  • Proof of Prior Employment
  • Proof of Existing Certifications or Accomplishments
  • Copy of Transcript
  • Letter from Current Employer
  • Check for $460

H-1B Application Fees 

Now, a H-1B isn’t cheap. Luckily, the majority of the costs are borne by the employer who is sponsoring the applicant, though the processing fees remain exhaustive nevertheless. 

Basic Filing Fee: $460 (as mentioned above, paid during Step #2).

American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act Fee: $750 for employers with 1-25 full-time employees. For companies with 26+ full-time employees, the fee is $1,500. A few organizations are exempt from this training fee, like non-profits or government agencies.

Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee: $500 (only to new H-1B petitioners or those changing employers as this helps prevent workers from using the visa fraudulently).

Public Law 114-113 Fee: For companies with over half of their employees on a non-immigrant visa like a H-1B, there is an additional $4,000 fee. 

Optional Premium Processing Fee: As mentioned above, it can take months for a H-1B application to be processed. For those who want to expedite the procedure, however, the Department of Homeland Security offers a fifteen-day processing period for $1,440. Note that a I-907 form must also be completed if choosing this option.

The H-1B visa is a dual intent visa, meaning that the foreign worker can apply with the intention of eventually hoping to reside in the United States. When a H-1B expires, visa holders can choose to apply for a green card to reside permanently in the United States or return to their home country. Even while still being a holder of the H-1B visa, applicants are allowed to apply for a green card. As such, the H-1B serves the dual purpose of being a gateway to a new career experience while also opening doors to a new country entirely.


Keertana Anandraj
Keertana Anandraj is a recent college grad living in San Francisco. When she isn’t conducting international macroeconomic research at her day job, you can find her in the spin room or planning her next adventure.

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