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H1B Visa – Specialty Occupations 2024

Are you an educated professional that wants to work in the US? If you’ve got unique skills for a specialty occupation you might be eligible for the H1B visa Read this guide to learn about the H1B visa rules, find out if you qualify, and how to apply for it.

What is an H1B Visa?

The H1B visa allows US employers to hire foreign professionals with a Bachelor’s degree to work in a specialty occupation. Examples of specialty occupations for H1B visa holders include roles in IT, engineering, finance, medicine, science, and architecture.

For an H1B visa, you need a job offer from a US employer who’s willing to sponsor you. They must petition on your behalf to demonstrate that your specialty skills were not able to be sourced from a local candidate. You need a Bachelor’s degree or higher qualification that relates to your specialty occupation.

There’s an annual H1B visa cap with the number of H1B visa applicants typically exceeding the cap of H1B visas issued. Before you can apply for an H1B visa, you must register with USCIS during an annual 2-week window. USCIS then randomly selects registrations to proceed to the full H1B petition and application stage. So you can only apply for an H1B visa if USCIS invites you as part of this H1B visa lottery.

The H1B is a nonimmigrant visitor visa, meaning you must return home when your visa expires.

What are the H1B Visa Rules and Requirements?

To be eligible for the H1B visa you need:

  • A bachelor's or higher degree (or an equivalent license or certification) relevant to the specialty occupation.
  • A job offer and sponsorship from a US employer for a specialty occupation.
  • A residence and ties to a country outside the US that you intend to return to once your visa expires.

To sponsor you on an H1B visa your employer must be able to:

  • Demonstrate the role requires specialized knowledge, and a Bachelor’s degree or higher to perform.
  • Demonstrate a lack of suitably qualified local candidates for the role.

 Learn more about the H1B visa rules and regulations here.

How Long Can I Stay in the US on an H1B Visa?

Under the H1B visa rules, you’re authorized to work in the US for three years. 

Your H1B visa can be renewed for up to six years total by having your employer file a new Form I-129 petition.

How Much Does an H1B Visa Cost?

The H1B visa cost includes:

  • $10 H-1B electronic registration fee
  • $460 Form I-129 petition filing fee
  • $190 H1B visa application fee
  • Visa issuance fee, depending on your nationality e.g., $105 for Australia.

Under federal laws, the employer must pay the H-1B visa electronic registration and base petition filing fees. By contrast, employers aren’t legally obligated to pay the H1-B visa application and if applicable, the issuance fee. So as the applicant you can expect to pay these, although some employers will cover these fees for an H-1B hire.

What is the H1B Visa Cap?

There’s an annual cap of 65,000 new H1B visas issued each year. 

For the 2023 season, 484,000 people applied for the H1B visa. So the cap is always filled because the H1B visa is in such high demand.

The good news is additional 20,000 H1B visas are issued for applicants with a Master’s degree or higher to work in US educational institutions. Plus H1B petitions filed by government, nonprofits, and other educational institutions are exempt from the annual cap.

What is the H1B Visa Cap Lottery?

The H1B Electronic Registration Process aka the H1B visa lottery is a prerequisite for applying for the H1B visa.

You can’t apply for an H1B visa unless USCIS randomly selects you. If you’re successful, USCIS invites you to submit a petition and application for the H1B visa. 

What is the H1B Visa Processing Time?

The time to apply for an H1B visa includes the petition processing time, wait time for a visa interview, and visa processing time.

The I-129 petition processing time typically takes 15 days.

Wait times for visa interviews at a US Embassy or Consulate vary by location. Check the estimated wait times here.

You can try to secure an earlier appointment by filling out the DS-160 online and paying the fee. Then check regularly (daily) for new appointments opening up due to cancellations.

Once you complete your interview, the H1B visa processing time in 2022 can take anywhere from 1 to 6 months.

For information on visa locations, reviews of experiences, ratings, and feedback go to the America Josh US Visa Location Guide.

How Do I Convert from a H1B Visa to a Green Card?

The H1B visa is dual-intent. This means you’re eligible to apply for a Green Card after you’ve reached the maximum stay of six years on a H1B visa.

There are several categories of Green Card eligibility., including employer-sponsored, which is common for H1B holders. If you apply for an employment-based Green Card, an employer must sponsor you and file a petition on your behalf. It can be your existing employer or a new one. 

There are also family-based Green Cards, e.g., for spouses of US citizens. 

If you’re thinking of pursuing US permanent residency, you need to thoroughly understand how to apply for a Green Card well before you reach your six year H1B maximum. Your H1B expiry date is indicated on your I94. Be aware that Green Card applications can take months or even years to complete. So if you apply for a Green Card you need to follow the process correctly to maintain lawful status in order to stay in the US.

The process to transition from an H1B visa to a green card is complex. Consult an immigration attorney for help with this. 

How Do I Apply For an H1B Visa?

Once you have an employer to sponsor you for a specialty occupation, there are 3 parts to the process of applying for an H1B visa:

1. H1B Electronic Registration Process
2. H1B Petition Filing Process
3. H1B Visa Application Process

  1. H1B Electronic Registration Process

    Register Electronically With USCIS:
    – There’s an annual 2-week window for registering, typically in March or April of each year.
    – Create a USCIS account and register electronically for the H1B visa. 
    – You or your employer can complete the registration. It requires only basic information.

    USCIS notifies you of the outcome via your USCIS account. If you’re selected to file an H1B petition, congratulations! Your H1B petition must be filed within 90 days of receiving your invitation to apply.

    Learn more about the H1B electronic registration process here.

  2. H1B Petition Filing Process

    Your Employer Files Your Petition

    Your H1B petition must be filed within 90 days of USCIS inviting you to apply. Your employer must file the following: 

    Labor Condition Agreement:
    – The Labor Condition Application (LCA) is Form ETA-9035.
    – The LCA certifies your employer will pay you the prevailing wage for your occupation, and provide working conditions equal to US workers.
    – Your employer submits the LCA to the US Department of Labor (DOL) for certification.

    Form I-129:
    – This is the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129.
    – Your employer files Form I-129 with USCIS

    Once your Form I-129 is approved, your employer receives an I-797 approval and you can then apply for an H1B visa.

    Learn more about filing Form I-129 petition for an H1B visa here.

  3. H1B Visa Application Process

    File Form DS-160 Application for H1B Visa

    – You can file DS-160 once your I-129 petition is approved and USCIS sends your employer a Notice of Action, Form I-797. 
    – Apply at a US Consulate or Embassy outside the US.
    – If you're applying within Australia, register and create a profile with the US Department of State here.
    – Print the confirmation page once you have completed the form.

    Pay the Visa Application Fee
    – Print the electronic payment confirmation as proof of payment.

    Upload the Required Documents
    – These include as a minimum: completed Form DS-160, Form I-797 approval notice, visa application payment receipt, passport with at least six months validity, passport photo, evidence you intend to depart the US after your trip, e.g., a return plane ticket, proof of ties to your home country, employment contract.

    Schedule and Attend an interview at a US Consulate or Embassy
    – Schedule an interview at a US Consulate or Embassy outside the US here.
    – Bring copies of all uploaded documents including Form I-797 approval notice, DS-160 confirmation page, appointment letter, and all payment receipts to your interview, as well as all documents submitted with your Form I-129 petition.
    – At your interview, a consular officer will assess your H1B visa application. Your fingerprints will be taken. You'll be advised if further administrative processing is required.
    – Depending on your nationality there may be a visa issuance fee when your visa is approved.

    After you complete your interview, track the status of your H1B visa application on the US Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) site. You can either receive your passport with your H1B visa stamp by mail or pick it up in person from the Consulate officer. 

    Learn more about how to apply for an H1B visa here.

H1B In-Person Interview Waivers Due to COVID-19 in 2022

From December 2021, consular officers were authorized to waive in-person interviews for H1B visa applicants due to COVID-19. The waiver is expected to remain until December 2022. In-person interviews may still be required on a case-by-case basis. Check the US Consulate or Embassy website for current information.

What Questions Will I Be Asked at My H1B Visa Interview?

The purpose of the H1B visa interview is for the Consular Officer to verify the information in your application and supporting documents is true and correct. 

You'll be asked questions about your job, your professional background, your specialty skills, and the details of your I-129 petition and H1B visa application.

Here are some commons questions you can expect during your H1B visa interview:

  • Tell us about the company you’ll be working for. Why do you want to work for them?
  • Tell us about the job you’ll be performing. What are your duties?
  • Why does this position need specialized skills?
  • Why does this position need someone with a Bachelor’s degree?
  • What will your salary be for this role?
  • Tell us about your employment history.
  • Tell us about your specialized skills in a specific field.
  • What did you study? How does your study relate to a specialty occupation?
  • Have you ever worked in the US before?
  • Have you ever held a US visa before?
  • What will you do once your visa expires?

Follow these tips for your H1B visa interview:

  • Stay calm and relaxed. The Consular Officer is just doing their job. In most cases, if you've been accurate and honest in your application, everything will be fine, and the interview will be straightforward.
  • Smile and be friendly. Convey your enthusiasm for being able to practice as a specialist in your field and for the contributions you intend to bring to your employer.
  • Be able to succinctly explain your extraordinary ability or outstanding achievements.
  • Be able to summarize how and why you qualify for an H1B visa.
  • Be familiar with the contents, examples, and supporting documents from your H1B visa petition and application.
  • Answer the questions honestly. If you don't understand the question or are unsure, say so! Share what you DO know.
  • Bring all relevant supporting documents with you, well organized, and refer to them during your interview.
  • Emphasize your plans to return home after your visa expires. Refer to supporting documents that clearly show your ties to your life, family, and friends back home.

For professional assistance, the following legal and immigration specialists are recommended:

Doug Lightman from Lightman Immigration 

Tara Gray from Tara Gray Law

Zjantelle from Cammisa Markel

More Information About the H1B Visa

Get the basics of H1B visa rules here.

Learn how to apply for an H1B visa here.

For comprehensive and well-organized information about H1B visas for Australians, check the US Visa Information Service for Australia

Frequently Asked Questions About H1B Visas

Here are some common questions about H1B visas:

Can I Extend My H1B Visa?

Yes! You can extend your H1B visa, up to a maximum of six years total.

To extend your H1B visa, your employer must file a new Form I-129 petition. To extend your spouse or dependent’s H4 visa, you must also file Form I-539.

When Can I Enter the US on an H1B Visa?

You can enter the US up to 10 days before the start date on your Form I-797.

How Long Can I Stay in the US Once My H1B Visa Expires?

There’s a 60-day grace period to stay in the US beyond your H1B employment authorization.

The purpose of the grace period is to enable you to secure new work sponsorship or change your status to another visa category. 

What if you have no plans for either of these? Then the latest date you can stay in the US is the “admit until” date listed on your I-94

What Happens if H1B Visa Holders Overstay Their Visit?

Do not overstay your H1B visa under any circumstances.

You're considered out of status if you fail to depart the US before your authorized date. Your visa is automatically voided, and you may be ineligible for a US visa in the future. If you're an H1B visa holder and at risk of overstaying while in the US, get help from your DSO or an immigration attorney.

Can My Family Join Me on an H1B Visa?

Yes! Under the H1B visa rules, the spouse and dependents of H1B visa holders are eligible for an H4 visa. This allows them to enter and live in the US with you.

Do I Need to Disclose My Social Media Handles When Applying for an H1B Visa?

Yes! Form 160, the application form for a nonimmigrant visa, includes a question to collect all your social media identifiers/handles (though not your passwords) on the platforms specified. 

Could posting on social media jeopardize your H1B visa application? Possibly. An immigration attorney can give a definitive answer.

However, remember that the consular officer at your interview will evaluate ALL the information you've supplied to determine your eligibility for an H1B visa. So if any part of your application is at odds with the H1B visa requirements (including fraudulent answers and malicious intent), you may be denied. Or worse, you could face legal strife with US authorities.

So be smart about what you post online and be honest in your H1B visa application. If you have specific questions about living and working in the US, speak to an immigration specialist directly about your situation.

Can I Switch Employers on an H1B Visa?

Yes. To switch employers on an H1B visa you need to go through an H1B transfer process.

Under the H1B portability rules, if you’re employed under a valid LCA with one employer, you’re allowed to accept a new job from a prospective new employer. You can begin working for your new employer as soon as they file a Form I-129 petition on your behalf.

The H1B transfer process is similar to applying for your H1B minus the visa cap. Consult an immigration attorney for help with this. 

Do I Need Any Vaccinations to Be Eligible for the H1B Visa

The US no longer requires vaccinations for temporary visa holders. However, your employer will likely have its own policy and rules around mandatory vaccinations.

If I Can’t Get an H1B Visa What are My Options?

Several visas allow you to work in the US, including:

Speak to an immigration attorney about which visa you qualify for.