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H-1B Visa Basics for International Students and University Degree Candidates

The H-1B visa is the most commonly used pathway for graduating international students to obtain permission to stay in the United States and work. If you are thinking about using the H-1B program to remain in the U.S. after graduating, you need to know the requirements of this visa, and just as important, you need to know the time-line for meeting those requirements. Each year, many international students miss the opportunity to stay and work because they did not meet the H-1B milestones within the window of time available to them.

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There are certain requirements to obtain this visa you will need to become familiar with:


You must have an employer willing to sponsor you in order to obtain this visa; there is no self-sponsored option. This means as you near graduation and obtain Option Practical Training (OPT) work permission, you must use this time wisely to identify an employer who needs your skills AND is willing to sponsor you for the H-1B visa after your OPT year. If you know an employer who is willing to hire you, but is not familiar with the H-1B process, let us know and we can provide them with what they need.

The H-1B Visa is for Non-immigrant Workers

That is, the H-1B does not in itself provide permanent residence. The H-1B visa provides temporary permission to work in the U.S. for three years, and may be renewed for an additional three years, giving international graduates permission to stay and work for up to six years. If, after that time, you are ready to return to your home country, or migrate to a third country with your professional qualifications, it is possible to obtain a new H-1B visa after you have been out of the U.S. for at least one year.

The H-1B Visa is a “Dual Intent” Visa

Which in the U.S. immigration system means you can use this visa as a pathway to permanent residence. The pathway from H-1B to permanent residence is complicated and also requires a willing employer sponsor. It is a separate process from the H-1B process, and requires significant commitment from both the employee/beneficiary and the employer/sponsor. Migration Counsel can advise you about this process if and when you and your employer are ready.

The H-1B Visa is for Professional Workers in a “Specialty Occupation”

This means that to qualify for the H-1B visa category, you need to have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, and that the job you get must be related to the area of study you have your degree in. In other words, if you have a degree in accounting, and you get work as an accountant, you qualify. If you have a degree in ethnomusicology, and you get a job selling cosmetics at Nordstrom’s, you do not qualify.

There is an Annual “Cap” or Quota on the Number of H-1B Visas that are Available

To most employing sponsors, 65,000 H-1B visas are available for persons with a bachelor’s degree, and there are an additional 20,000 H-1B visas for persons with a master’s degree from a U.S. university. In each of the most recent years, with the exception of this year, there have been more applications than available visas.

H-1B Visa Applications are Filed on a Very Specific Annual Schedule

Typically, the filing season opens on April 1 for H-1B visas for work beginning on October 1 the following fall. This filing schedule presents a number of logistical challenges, such as acquiring the necessary documentation in time, which become particularly important during years when there may be more applications than available visas. Timing your application to maximize your probability for consideration is critical.

This is a very brief outline of the requirements for an H-1B visa, and there is more to learn if you chose to go forward with this option. You should not take the general information given here as legal advice, and you should seek out additional information and counsel as needed.

Call Migration Counsel, immigration attorneys in Hawaii, today for a no-obligation consultation on any immigration question you may have at 808-695-3560 or RSVP to one of our free Monthly Visa Information Workshops.

This information is intended to be general in nature, and should not be relied upon as legal advice.