The US Congress is aware that there is very high demand for H1B visas. That is why they have limited them to a total of 85,000 visas per year. Out of these, 20,000 are for those with higher education degrees from US institutions. The rest are for all other applicants.
What are the Types of H1B Processing?
Because the US authorities are aware of the demand for the H1B visa, they have developed a long process of applying for an H1B visa. There is also a specific way through which these visas get processed.
There are three types of processing:
- Regular H1B visa processing;
- Premium H1B visa processing;
- Expedited H1B visa processing.
USCIS assigns a specific time when it will process H1B visa petitions. This starts in the beginning of April and goes on until the end of October. In October, the fiscal year for USCIS begins and lasts until September of next year. When the petitions are done processing, foreign employees can start working in October.
H1B Visa Processing Time
The regular H1B visa processing time is from 1 month to 6 months. This also depends on the service center.
The California and Nebraska Service Centers process H1B visas for an average of 2.5 to 4.5 months.
On the other hand, the Vermont Service Center has a much higher processing time for H1B visas. It takes around 12 to 15 months for them to process a petition. So if you submit the petition during the 2018 application time, you might be able to start working in October of 2019.
How Are the H1B Visas Processed?
The way that H1B visas get processed is quite random. The selection is called the H1B visa lottery. That shows that there is no order or preference in who gets selected. USCIS starts with the 20,000 petitions for those with graduate degrees from US institutions.
If there are more than 20,000 petitions, they conduct a random selection to fill this number. The remaining petitions that are not selected in this 20,000 are then entered in the regular cap of the 65,000 petitions.
For the regular petitions, only 65,000 get selected. If there are more than 65,000 petitions, USCIS conducts a random selection again to fill this final number. The rest of the applications are returned to the employers together with their fees. They have the possibility of trying again next year.
Employers are not allowed to file multiple petitions for the same employee. If USCIS detects this, they will deny the petition and will not refund the fees.
Premium H1B Visa Processing Time
For those employers that do not want to wait such a long time for processing, they can choose premium processing. Premium processing guarantees that the petition will be processed within 15 days of submission. If it does get processed within that time, USCIS refunds the fee. So instead of waiting for processing for months, they only wait for 2 weeks.
Premium processing costs an additional $1,225. If employers want this option they can attach Form I-907 to the petition.
Expedited H1B Visa Processing
Expedited processing is only done on a case by case basis from USCIS. There are a few criteria that the petition must meet to get expedited USCIS processing:
- There is severe financial loss to the US employer or foreign employee;
- There is an emergency situation;
- There are humanitarian reasons;
- The petition is from a US Nonprofit Organization for the cultural and social interests of the US;
- The petition is from a US government entity due to national interest from the US Department of Defense;
- There was a USCIS error;
- The petition is of compelling interest of USCIS.
It is the duty of the petitioner to provide enough supporting documents to prove one of these situations for expedited processing.
H1B Extension Processing time
The H1B extension processing time will take anywhere between 4 to 7 months by normal processing and 15 days by premium processing. Still, the processing time may vary from the Service Center where you file your petition. Please check with the Service Center under the jurisdiction of which the area where you live falls, for the exact H1B extension processing time that center may take.
What Happens After USCIS Processes of the H1B Visa?
After USCIS processes the H1B visa, they might ask for more evidence. The petitioner must provide this evidence and then USCIS will make a decision.
If USCIS approves the petition, the foreign employee must then apply for the H1B visa. They can do this at a US Consulate or Embassy in their home country. The Consulate can then make a decision whether the applicant is fit to work in the US with an H1B visa. The H1B visa processing from the US Embassy is usually completed within 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the country and the Embassy workload.
H1B Extension Length
After 3 years with the H1B visa, the employer might want to still keep the foreign employee in their company. The H1B visa rules allow an extension of another 3 years.
The extension can be completed by submitting a petition again to USCIS during the application time. However, the employer and foreign employee must be careful. After the H1B visa of the employee expires, the person is allowed to work only for an additional 240 days.
If more than 240 days have passed, the foreign employee loses their status in the US and must return to their home country. So, the employer must file the petition early enough to get it approved before the 240 days are over.