Calendar and Timelines
The most important date to remember is April 3, 2017. That is when the USCIS will begin accepting petitions for the 2018 lottery. You can submit before then, but that does not give you any advantage or priority. Petitions submitted after that date will be rejected.
If you do not yet have a position offered from a US sponsor, it is time to get busy. It could take a month or more to locate a sponsor, interview and receive a job offer, and then the sponsor must put together the petition. You will also have to schedule a consulate interview in your country prior to the petition being approved.
If you are lucky enough to be selected in the lottery, your earliest start date is October 1, 2017. In other words, your H1B visa is not valid for working in the US until that date, even if you are in the country before then.
Current H1B Visa Requirements
The H1B visa requirements are designed to limit the work visa to those in ‘specialty occupations’ with education and work experience that correspond to the job offered in the US. These criteria are reviewed closely by the USCIS along with supporting documents, to make sure that only highly skilled foreign workers are given H1B visas.
Annual Quota and Lottery
One of the criticisms of the H1B visa program is the annual cap on the number of visas available, but for now you will have to live with that reality. The cap is currently set at 65,000 for applicants with Bachelor’s degrees, and an additional 20,000 for those with Master’s degrees.
Those numbers could change in the future, but should pertain for the 2018 lottery. The ‘lottery’ is a random process of selecting petitions from a pool of all applicants, although no one is quite sure how the USCIS does it.
Last year, almost 240,000 petitions were received for the 85,000 open visa slots, leaving a full two thirds of hopeful applicants without a visa even though they had a job lined up.
Finding a Position and Sponsor
You have several options for finding a sponsor and position, depending on the type of specialty occupation you have. Here are the primary categories:
- Petitions subject to the annual cap:
The majority of corporate sponsors will offer you a position that is subject to the annual cap and lottery. There is a wide range of specialty occupations that qualify for H1B visas, although IT positions always top the list of most visas awarded.
- Cap exempt positions:
The better alternative for H1B visa success is to look for a position with nonprofit or government organizations. These US employers are exempt from the annual lottery, and as long as you qualify you can work with an H1B visa. We have some resources that go into depth on the cap exempt route, and it is worth considering since these positions can be applied for at any time of year.
- F1 student:
Foreign students already studying in the US and preparing to graduate have several avenues to secure an H1B visa. In many ways, it is easier for students, and this is one way for a student to use their degree to start working without leaving the US.
Filing the H1B Visa Petition
The H1B visa petition must be filed by the US sponsor. The foreign worker is technically the ‘beneficiary’ of the petition. If a US employer has been a frequent sponsor of H1Bs they will have a system for filing and know the process and deadlines. They will involve the foreign worker to supply documentation and information required in the petition, and the employer should pay all H1B visa fees.
If for some reason, you have applied late and are in danger of missing the deadline in April, there is an expedited petition review process, called Premium Processing which requires an additional fee. However, it does shorten the review period to only two weeks.
Documentation and Interview
A key part of the petition is the documents that you supply to the sponsor, confirming your degree, area of specialization and work experience. These will also be a part of your consulate interview if you are applying from your home country. The documents, transcripts and resumes must match the information in the petition, and any false statements will result in denial, or even deportation if you are already in the US.
The interview can be scheduled online in many countries, but the availability of time slots may vary so check the website for your local US consulate.
H1B Visa Petition Fees
The H1B visa fees cover several areas, and the cost varies depending on the type of sponsor. In general, visa fees must be paid by the sponsor, and cannot legally be given to you to pay. The exception is premium processing and attorney fees, if you decide to use one.