Your Guide to Apply for the H1B Visa

Ed Zaleck | Jun 29, 2021

With the boundless job opportunities the U.S. provides, it is no surprise that over 419,000 non-U.S. citizens are currently in the country on an H1B work visa. This relationship is mutually beneficial as companies are always looking for quality employees to add to their team and sponsoring workers from overseas is a great way to find talent.

Despite the high number of those on H1B, there is typically a cap on how many of these visas are offered every year, making it highly competitive and not easy to get approved by your embassy. With this, we have put together a guide with all you need to know about the H1B visa prior to applying.

What is an H1B visa?

The H1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa for temporary workers in the U.S. who work in a specialty occupation. It requires theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge and you must have at least a Bachelor’s equivalent degree to be approved for this.

The H1B is typically approved for three years and can be extended for additional installments up to 3 years after that. The maximum length of an H1B visa is 6 years.

What are the qualifications for H1B?

To be approved for H1B, you will need to be working in a “specialty occupation” for fields such as STEM, medicine, education, business studies, etc. In general, jobs that do not require special education/training prior to starting will not be approved for H1B.

The easiest way to meet the H1B qualification is to have a four-year Bachelor’s degree or higher from a U.S. institute or an equivalent degree from a foreign institute. Many H1B visa holders were previously on an F1 student visa.

If you have a 3-year foreign degree, you can typically use work experience as an equivalent for the fourth required year. You must also be lawfully qualified or licensed to perform the job if necessary. This is primarily relevant for occupations in the medical field.

What is the H1B quota?

Only a set amount of new H1B visas is issued a year so spots can be competitive. There is a randomized lottery conducted by USCIS to determine who gets these spots. In a typical year, 20,000 H1B petitions will be approved for those with Master’s degrees and 65,000 will be given to a pool of those with a Bachelor’s or equivalent degree and the Master’s degree applicants that were not selected.

In almost all years, there will be significantly more people registering for H1B than the limit (for reference, there were 308,613 applicants for the 2022 fiscal year). However, if there is less than the 85,000, you can apply for a petition after the first registration window closes.

How do I apply for H1B visa?

The H1B application process is unique in that the first steps will be handled by your employer. All employers are required to submit an application for the H1B lottery through the USCIS website. With this, the first thing you will need to do is find an employer who will offer you a job and is willing to apply for H1B for you.

Read below for a general timeline on applying for an H1B visa (using the dates from 2021 for the 2022 fiscal year):

  1. Initial registration period (mid-late March)- During this period, employers will submit a registration for each worker on the USCIS website with a $10 fee. If they do not register for you during this period, you will not be considered for the H1B cap.
  2. H1B lottery (last week of March)- After all registrations are submitted the USCIS will randomly select on average 65,000 Bachelor’s level applicants and 20,000 Master’s level applicants. Accounts will see one of four statuses:
  3. “Selected”- This means you were selected in the lottery and your employer can begin the next steps in the process.
  4. “Submitted”- This means you were not selected during the initial lottery but may be considered into the next period as petitions come in.
  5. "Not Selected”- Once you see this, it means your application is no longer being considered.
  6. “Denied”- This message is only given if there’s a particular reason for your registration to be denied outright, including if the employer submits two applications for you.
  7. Petition period (Start of April-end of June)- If your registration is accepted, they will now have the option to submit the I-129 petition for a nonimmigrant worker. Employers will also need to submit paperwork that proves that the H1B visa holder will be paid the same as other employees, working employees will not be affected by their hire and that there will be no controversy over pay. This, combined with the fees and capped H1B limits, show how important it is to find an employer who will support you through this process.
  8. Grace period before fiscal year start (July – October 1st)- As long as your petition is accepted, you can begin the process of applying for your visa during this time. You can read the next question for information on this process.

Employers typically pay $1700-$8000 in fees during the application. Employees will typically only be asked to pay a fee if they want expedited results on their petition, though even that is optional. If the petition is not granted or you are not selected for the H1B lottery, the fees will be returned.

What do I do after being approved for H1B?

After your employer has completed your registration and your petition gets selected for approval, you will now need to begin the process of getting your H1B visa approved through your home country’s U.S. embassy/consulate. You can follow the steps below:

  • Complete DS-160 and obtain a photograph of yourself- The first step in getting your H1B visa is by filling out a DS-160 form online, which is the non-immigrant visa application. You should also obtain a square photograph of yourself which is clear and can be used to identify yourself. There is a small fee you will have to pay to complete the DS-160, which is around $190.
  • Schedule a visit to an Offsite Facilitation Center- You will also need to make an appointment with an Offsite Facilitation Center to have your biometrics measured, including your fingerprints. Make sure you have your passport and DS-160 confirmation on you when you go for your visit.
  • Schedule an interview with the U.S Embassy- You will need to complete a brief interview with your home country’s U.S. embassy to get your visa stamped. You can schedule an interview up to 90 days before your visa’s start date, which will be October 1st. With this, you should schedule your interview as close to July 1st as possible as wait times can be long. For more information on how to schedule an interview, click here.
  • Attend the interview and get your visa decision- During the interview, you will be asked questions primarily about your intentions in the U.S., sponsoring employer and educational background. Make sure to have any documentation from the steps above, as well as documents such as your I-797 notice of approval and I-129 petition. You should treat this similar to a job interview and follow the proper etiquette.
  • Schedule your visit to the U.S.- After your visa gets approved, you are eligible to schedule your trip abroad. You will need to arrive in the U.S. no earlier than 10 days before your listed start date on the I-797 form.

How to find an employer that can apply for H1B?

You can use the links below to find employers in the U.S. and see what their history is in terms of sponsoring H1B workers in the past:

What can I do if I don’t get selected in H1B lottery?

If your employer’s initial H1B registration is not selected during the lottery, you have a few options you can look into:

  1. Try to find an opportunity with a cap-exempt employer- There are certain types of employers that are exempt from the cap and do not need to participate in the lottery to sponsor H1B workers. Institutions of higher education, non-profit entities which are “related to” or “affiliated with” institutions of higher education, non-profit research organizations, and government research organizations all are considered cap-exempt employers
  2. Work remotely in your home country and re-apply in future- You can contact your employer and see if there are any remote opportunities available where you can work back in your home country. This option is a lot more viable now since more companies have found ways to make working from home more reliable.
  3. Apply for a new visa or other work visa- There are other visa options that you can see if you can apply for such as an L1 visa, H2B visa, and J1 visa. If you are currently in the U.S. on a visa trying to switch, you can also look into changing status. For F1/OPT students, you can see if you can get approved for a CPT designation.

Can I switch where I work on H1B?

You are allowed to switch where you work while on H1B. However, transferring your employer will require you to submit a new visa application. However, the process isn’t as tedious as the new employer can submit the petition outside of the typical required dates and you do not need to enter the lottery. You should look into filing an extension during this time as your H1B expiration date will not change with the new petition being accepted.

You have the option to have multiple petitions filed on your behalf by different companies. In this case, if one petition is denied the next one will be considered. You can start working for a new employer while waiting for your petition’s approval as long as they submit an I-129 form on your behalf.

If your employment is terminated while on H1B, you have 60 days after being laid off or until the end date listed on your I-94 to find work before you need to leave the country. While finding a new job, you have the option to try to extend your H1B or try to file for a new status, such as a B1 visa..

How do I apply for the H4 dependent visa?

The process of applying for H4 dependents is very similar to the H1B application process after getting the petition approved. It is recommended that you apply for H4 dependents the same time as you apply for the H1B visa (after the petition is approved). The steps are as follows:

  1. Complete the DS-160 and obtain a photograph- The first step to getting the H4 visa is by filling out a DS-160 formonline, which is the non-immigrant visa application. The H4 fee required for the DS-160 is also $190.
  2. Schedule a visit to an Offsite Facilitation Center- H4 dependents will also need to make an appointment with an Offsite Facilitation Center to have biometrics measured, including fingerprints.
  3. Schedule an interview with the U.S Embassy- H4 dependents also need to complete a brief interview with your home country’s U.S. embassy to get the visa stamped. You can schedule this interview the same day you go for your H1B visa and typically will be asked to interview together. Children under the age of 21 are usually not required to be interviewed for the H4 visa.
  4. Attend the interview and get your visa decision- H4 dependents will be asked about intentions, their relationship to you, and other similar questions. Make sure to have any documentation from the steps above, as well as documents such as your I-797 notice of approval and I-129 petition

Should I purchase health insurance for H1B?

For many H1B visa holders, you will receive insurance through your employer. However, if you don’t, please be aware of the high costs for medical services in the U.S. If you do not have health insurance for your visit abroad, it is highly suggested you do so to prevent any financial hardships in the event you do need medical attention.

ISO offers a plan for H1B visa holders and H4 dependents called the Voyager plan. It provides essential coverage for injuries/sicknesses for as low as $79/month. Feel free to review the plan details here.

If you have any questions, contact ISO at customercare@isoa.org or (212)-262-8922.

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About ISO Student Health Insurance

ISO Student Health Insurance (ISO), founded in 1958 and headquartered in New York City, is an insurance brokerage specializing in health insurance solutions for international students. As such, ISO acts as plan administrator, broker and manager of the high-quality insurance products available for international students, scholars and their dependents during their course of study in the U.S.

For more information, please visit www.isoa.org and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, Weibo, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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