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An H-1B visa is a type of visa that is granted to skilled workers looking to work in the US. The system is sometimes compared to a lottery because the demand for visas far outweighs the supply, and eligible applicants are selected at random.
Around 200,000 people apply for an H-1B visa each year, and only 85,000 are successful. If you’re thinking of applying for an H-1B visa, or you’ve recently submitted your documentation, this helpful guide will outline how to check your H-1B status.
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What is an H-1B visa?
The H-1B visa is one of the most competitive visa application processes in the US. The number of people who apply for this kind of visa is far higher than the number of visas available, meaning that thousands of applications are rejected each year. Of the 85,000 visas available, 20,000 are reserved for applicants who have a Master’s degree or higher qualification from a college or university in the US.
An H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa, which is submitted by an employer with a view to hiring highly-skilled foreign nationals who have qualifications that enable them to work in specialty sectors. To apply for an H-1B visa, an employer must first file a document known as an LCA (labor condition application) with the US Department of Labor. The next step is to petition for the H-1B visa.
Applications are open from April 1st, and a lottery-style computerized system is employed to select successful applicants. The USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) usually begins notifying those who have been chosen within two months of the draw. In most cases, those who are eligible for an H-1B visa are ready to start work by October 1st.
H-1B visas are approved for either 3 or 6 years.
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Who is Eligible for an H-1B Visa?
There are strict qualifying criteria in place for the H-1B visa. To apply for this type of visa, foreign nationals must have a degree and work in one of the following roles (this is not an exhaustive list, but provides several examples):
- Registered nurse
- Financial analyst
Applicants should also have an offer to start work at a US company or organization.
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What Does the H-1B Visa Application Process Entail?
The H-1B visa application is currently undergoing changes, so it’s beneficial to check the USCIS website for the latest news and updates. The current system encourages employers looking to take on skilled foreign employees to provide details of the employee, which are entered into the lottery system.
If the applicant is selected, the employer will then complete a full application, which may be followed by additional forms and interviews with the US Embassy. It is also worth noting that employers are required to pay a fee to petition for non-immigrant workers.
If you are a student in the US, and you are hoping to continue working after graduating, you will need to change your visa from a student visa. You can apply to change your status as part of the H-1B visa application process.
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How to Check the Status of Your H-1B Visa Application
If you’ve applied for an H-1B visa, you might be anxiously waiting for news. Once the application from your employer has been received, the first notification you get is a case or receipt number. This will be provided by USCIS, and once you’ve got the number, you’ll need to wait to see if you have been successful in the lottery system.
When you have a case number, you can explore the USCIS website and use your details to check for updates on your application. Your receipt number will start with three letters, which indicate where your case is being handled. Common sequences include EAC and VSC, which represent the Vermont Service Center.
When you enter your case number, you will be able to see the status of your application. You will see one of the following five updates:
The case received and receipt mailed: this indicates that your application has been received. You will be sent a receipt in the mail, which also provides information about the next steps of the application process.
Request for additional information: in some cases, USCIS representatives will ask for more information before they make a decision. This usually relates to data that needs to be verified before an application is given the red or green light. Requests will be sent via the mail.
Case approved: if your case is approved, you can expect to receive formal notice through the mail within a few weeks.
The case received and a receipt emailed: this is a premium service, which enables applicants to hear news of their submission within 15 days. There is a charge for this service. The payment will be refunded if USCIS doesn’t make a decision within the specified time-frame.
Decision notice mailed: this notification indicates that the application has been rejected.
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What are the Benefits of the H-1B Visa?
The H-1B visa offers benefits for US employers and skilled overseas workers who are keen to work in the US. This system can help to plug gaps in the workforce and to provide applicants with the opportunity to utilize their skills to fill high-level vacancies with attractive salaries.
If you are granted an H-1B visa, you can take advantage of the option to travel freely within the US, rent or buy a home, invest your income, gain a driver’s license and buy or hire a car for the duration of your visa term. In most cases, a three-year visa is granted, but some people are able to secure a 6-year visa. There is an option for applicants to sponsor family members. If this is the case, additional forms, including the H-4 visa, will be required.
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H-1B Visa Extensions
If you were approved for an H-1B visa, and you’ve enjoyed working for a US employer, you may wish to think about trying to extend your visa. If you’ve been working for a company for two years, for example, and your visa expires in the next 12 months, your employer can apply to extend your visa term.
If you plan to stay with the same employer, the process should be relatively simple. If you’re hoping to change jobs and work for a different employer, it may still be possible to increase the time-frame for your visa, but you will need to file more forms.
If you wish to extend an H-1B visa, you will need to do this at least six months before your existing visa expires. The application process can take up to three months, so it’s beneficial to give yourself plenty of time. Talking to your boss in advance can also be useful, as you’ll have time to find another employer if the option to stay at the same organization isn’t viable.
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Use these Tips to Check on Your H-1B Visa Application
The H-1B visa is often compared to a lottery, which enables employers in the US to offer positions to skilled employees from overseas. The application process requires employers to provide employee details, which are entered into a computerized draw. If you’re successful in the first stage, you’ll be provided with a case number that will enable you to check the status of your application via the USCIS website.
In some cases, there will be a straightforward decision, but you might also need to provide additional information. If an H-1B visa is approved, you will be able to work for your employer for a period of 3 or 6 years, depending on the terms of your visa.