H-1B visas are issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to bring foreign workers to the United States to fill specialty occupations for a specified period of time. These workers typically fill jobs where shortages exist among the U.S. workforce and can range from doctors and engineers, accountants and lawyers, to IT workers, theologians and exceptional performers in the arts.
Because these visas are coveted and somewhat controversial, a certain number of misconceptions and misinformation has circulated in recent years.
Some of the key facts surrounding H-1B visas include:
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- H-1B visas are good for three years initially and can be extended up to six years. There are some instances where the maximum length can be extended for a longer period, and up to 10 years for projects involving the U.S. Department of Defense.
- At the end of the six-year period, H-1B visa holders who have not obtained lawful permanent resident status must leave the United States for one year before they can reapply for a new H-1B visa.
- There are clearly defined timeframes that a worker can apply for an H-1B visa. The open period begins on April 1 every year and closes when a quota of 65,000 visas is met. Applicants who are awarded visas receive them on October 1 of the same year, which is the start of the new federal fiscal year.
- The open application period will vary from year to year and is generally a reflection of the current economic conditions of the United States. For example, in 2013, the open period lasted only five days. In other years, the application period has extended for more than two months. Because nobody is ever sure about the volume of applications, it is wise for applicants to have their paperwork ready and completed for submission on April 1.
- After an H-1B visa is issued, they can come with significant compliance requirements. Because the U.S. economy has been beset by problems in the past few years, USCIS and the Department of Labor have stepped up the number and frequency of audits for firms employing H-1B visa holders. It is important for employers to keep pristine paperwork so that an audit will not create problems for the employer or the worker.
- Many times, people will assume that they must apply for a Labor Certification before they hire an H-1B visa holder. Getting a Labor Certification does not apply in these circumstances, it only applies as a requirement for the Green Card process.