The H-1B Visa for Professional Workers

The H-1B visa, sometimes referred to as the professional worker's visa, is a type of visa that is reserved for people within specialty occupations who are considered for admission to the United States on the basis of their professional education, their skills, or both. The H-1B visa permits U.S. companies to employ highly skilled foreigners in order to enhance their workforces.

The H-1B is the most common U.S. visa, and is ordinarily the easiest non-immigrant visa to acquire.

Eligibility for the H-1B Visa

The H-1B visa is available to persons:

  • Who hold a four year college degree or higher educational degree, or the equivalent in work experience. In extraordinary circumstances, the visa may be available to certain persons in specific occupations even though they don't meet the standard work or educational requirements;

  • Who have a job offer from a U.S. company that has agreed to sponsor the visa holder; and

  • Who will be employed in a position with the sponsoring company that requires the visa holder to possess a four-year degree or its equivalent in experience, with the wage paid being the prevailing wage for such a job within that jurisdiction.

To apply for an H-1B visa, an employer must file a labor attestation with the U.S. Labor Department Employment and Training Administration.

  • Once the Labor Department approves the request, the employer may apply seek approval for an H-1B visa with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • Once the USCIS approves the sponsoring employer's request, the alien employee may apply for the H1-B visa at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

There are annual limits on the number of H-1B visas that will be issued. This limit is referred to as the H-1B cap. Some employers, such as educational institutions, research organizations and charities, are cap exempt, meaning that they may obtain H-1B visas for employees that are not counted against the cap.

Duration and Extension

The H-1B visa is issued for a maximum of three years, and may be extended by up to an additional three years. After six years of H-1B status, the visa holder must remain outside the United States for one year before again being eligible to apply for an H-1B visa.

At present, H-1B visa applicants may start to work for their sponsoring employer from the time the visa application is filed. If the application is rejected, work authorization ceases.

During the term of the H-1B visa, the visa-holder may only work for the sponsoring employer in the job specified in the sponsoring employer's petition. If an H1B visa holders wish to change jobs, they must obtain a new H-1B visa for the new job. This can be done without leaving the United States by filing a new petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This process is often referred to as a H-1B transfer, even though it involves application for a new visa.

Visa Eligibility for a Spouse and Minor Children

The spouse and unmarried, minor children of an H-1B visa holder are eligible for H-4 visas. A H-4 visa permits the dependent to enter the United States and to enroll in educational programs, but does not allow the holder to work within the United States.

Converting an H-1B Visa

An H-1B is known as a dual intent visa, meaning that a H-1B applicant may qualify for a visa even if the applicant intends to immigrate into the United States. Due to the dual intent nature of the visa, an H-1B visa holder may apply for a change in visa status or take other steps toward permanent U.S. residency without affecting the H-1B status. Sometimes a H-1B worker's employer will sponsor the employee for a Green Card,

Most H-1B holders who wish to change their status will benefit from the assistance of a qualified immigration lawyer.

Copyright © 2002 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Apr 6, 2018.