Last updated on October 16th, 2018
Every year, thousands of workers enter the U.S. in search of better employment opportunities. In many cases, they do so through the temporary worker visa program. This is a nonimmigrant visa program for those who want to work in the U.S., but don’t intend on living here permanently.
The temporary work visa program encompasses a large number of visa types, each intended for different workers and industries. In this article, we’ll go over H-class visas, one of the most popular visa types. This is a broad class of visas intended for individuals with practical skills in agricultural, industrial, or certain specialty professions.
Applying for an H visa is a great option for getting ahead in your career. However, failing to do so correctly can cost you a great deal of time and money. Below, we’ll give a brief outline to the different types of H visas, as well as explain how you can apply for one.
What are the Different Types of H Visas?
H visas can be broken down into six main types, however in general they all share certain similarities. Each one is intended for workers in a different industry and has different specialized requirements. However, all require the following:
- A valid passport.
- Proof that you are of legal age to work the job in question. In almost all cases, this means that you must be 18 or older.
- A complete DS-160 form in English. You can submit this online.
- For all petition-based visas, your US-based future employer must also submit a complete I-129 form prior to your application.
Individually, however, each type of H visa caters to a different demographic of worker. We’ll outline each of these different types below.
H-1B Visa Requirements
H-1B visas are for individuals who work in “specialty occupations.” In most cases, this means jobs that require a bachelor’s degree, or a similar level of expertise or education. For this reason, you must prove that you have a bachelor’s degree, or a certificate of equal merit, to qualify for an H1-B visa.
Additionally, your employer will need to properly fill out a Labor Condition Application.
The H-1B visa is further split into four distinct types: the normal H-1B visa, the H-1B1 visa (outlined below), the H-1B2 visa for U.S. Department of Defense Employees, and the H-1B3 visa, which USCIS reserves for distinguished fashion models.
H-1B1 Visa Requirements
Just like the H-1B2 and H-1B3 exceptions mentioned above, the H-1B1 visa is also a subset of the H-1B visa type. However, the H-1B1 visa is specifically reserved for citizens of Chile and Singapore, and has different requirements from the other three types. Effectively, it works identically to the standard H1-B visa, with two notable exceptions.
First, unlike most work visas, the H1-B1 Visa does not require the government to issue you an I-797 form. This will significantly speed up the process of getting your visa.
Second, the pool of H-1B1 applicants is kept separate from standard H1-B applicants, and therefore much smaller. While USCIS reserves 65,000 spots for all H-1B applicants, 6,800 of these are kept specifically for H-1B1 applications. Since H-1B1 applicants are only competing with individuals from Chile and Singapore, they generally have a higher chance of receiving a visa.
H-2A Visa Requirements
H-2A visas are for temporary or seasonal agricultural workers from a select group of countries. Additionally, only H-2A certified companies may hire H-2A employees. However, unlike the H-1B visa there are no special educational requirements on the employee’s part, other than qualifying for the job.
There is no limit on the number of H-2A visas that the government may issue every year. However, individual companies may have limits on the number of H-2A visa holders that they can hire.
H-2B Visa Requirements
The H-2B visa is for seasonal nonagricultural workers from certain countries. This can include any type of work, provided that the employer can demonstrate a regular, but not constant need for foreign workers. There are no educational or vocational requirements on the worker’s part.
The H-2B visa works similarly to the H-2A visa in that it requires you to apply with a certified H2-B employer. However, unlike H-2A visas, there is a cap on the number of H-2B visas that the government may issue in a year. As of writing this article, congress has set this cap at 66,000 individuals per fiscal year.
H-3 Visa Requirements
There are two different reasons to apply for a H-3 visa. First, individuals seeking vocational training may apply if that training is not offered in their home country. Second, individuals training in special education may also apply if they’re pursuing training related to the education of children with disabilities. This second type allows “special education exchange visitors” to enter the U.S. for professional, hands-on training.
Applying under the first reason is actually quite complicated, as there are many moving parts. However, it essentially boils down to two main requirements:
- First, in order to obtain the H-3 trainee visa, you must provide documentation from the training program you are planning to attend.
- Second, you must describe, in detail, why the training is unavailable in your home country, and explain how your attending the program will not disrupt U.S. citizens applying to the same program.
As a related note, you should note that the H-3 trainee visa is very different from a F-1 or M-1 student visa. While an H-3 trainee visa lets you learn a specific career within two years, student visas cover a wide range of long-term educational programs. Also, unlike student visas, an H-3 trainee visa cannot be used to obtain graduate medical training.
In order to apply for the H-3 visa for “special education exchange visitors,” you must meet a few other requirements. Generally, this application is filled out by the petitioner’s home institution, and requires a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent.
Additionally, USCIS caps special education exchange visitor applications at only 50 per year, so the application process is actually quite selective.
The H-4 Visa
Unlike the other H visa classifications, the H-4 visa is not generally used for workers. Instead, the H-4 visa is for the spouses and children (under 21) of H visa holders. Essentially, this subcategory allows H visa holders to bring their families along with them to the U.S.
Additionally, holders of H-4 visas generally cannot work while in the country, however there is one exception. As of 2015, the spouses of any of the H-1B visa holders may work while in the U.S. provided they have proper documentation. To do so, they must apply for employment authorization, and submit additional evidence of their relationship with the original H visa holder.
How Can I Apply for an H Visa?
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, the H visa process can vary wildly depending on which specific type you apply for. The general process, however, can be outlined below. Note that this isn’t a specific guide to how to apply for an H visa, but rather a broad overview of what to expect during the process.
Step 1: Make Sure You Fulfill the Requirements
Each type of visa has several specific requirements, as stated above. These can vary from simply having a college degree to being from a specific group of countries. Before applying for an H visa, you should double check that you meet every specific requirement for your chosen visa type.
As two added requirements, you will also need an up-to-date passport as well as a travel history and resumé for the purposes of filling out your DS-160.
Step 2: Contact Your Employer
Almost all H visas are petition-based. This means that in order to apply for one, a US-based employer must first file for an I-129 petition on your behalf.
Essentially, this document is a request that you be considered for one of a limited number of spots in the visa program. Your employer must prepare the I-129 petition themselves, although they may request information or documentation from you to do so.
Note that your employer must pay the application and any attorney fees for the I-129 petition themselves. They may not request compensation from you for this process.
You can check the estimated processing time for your I-129 on USCIS’s website. However, the USCIS guarantees a fifteen-day processing time for employers using their premium processing service. After USCIS has processed your I-129, they will send you and your employer an I-797 notice of action explaining their decision.
Step 3: Complete and Submit Your DS-160
If USCIS accepts your petition, it’s time to complete your DS-160 form online. Note that you only need to complete the section for the visa you applied under—you may leave the rest blank. If you have questions, make sure you consult the Bureau of Consular Affair’s DS-160 F.A.Q. page. You must fill out the application in English, but translations of the questions are available.
Once you’re done, submit the form to your local U.S. embassy or consulate. They may have additional instructions or questions for you.
Step 4: Attend a U.S. Visa Interview
Individual consulates may handle the application process differently, but most require an in-person interview for all adult applicants. It is very important that you prepare carefully for this interview and bring all the required documents. Failing to do so could result in a long delay or even the denial of your visa.
Every interview is different. However, virtually all consulates will request copies of your legal and medical documents. They may also inquire as to your travel plans, the people you will be staying with, your financial resources, and the like. Similarly, you should expect questions about your work experience and career plans, as these will demonstrate your motivation for entering the U.S.
Step 5: Prepare to Enter the United States
If all goes well with your embassy or consulate, you will receive your visa. It will contain a date by which you must enter the U.S., as well as an expiration date. Make sure you carefully review the Department of Homeland Security’s admission guidelines well in advance of your travel date.
How Long Will My H Visa Last?
Individuals who have H visas count as “nonimmigrant workers.” This means that the visa only lasts for a certain amount of time before expiring. Specifically:
- H-1B, H-1B2, and H-1B3 visas last for three years by default. However, you can petition to have them extended to six years.
- Like H-1B visas, H-1B1 visas generally last for three years. However, there is no limit to the number of times they may be extended.
- The total length of your H-2A visa depends on your employer’s labor certification. However, they must be renewed every year.
- Additionally, after three consecutive years you will need to exit the country for at least three months before applying for a new H-2A visa.
- An H-2B visa lasts for up to one year, depending on your employer. You may also renew it twice, for a total of a maximum duration of three years.
- After that, you will have to leave the United States for at least three months before applying for a new H-2B visa.
- For trainees, an H-3 visa will last up to two years. For special education exchange visitors the period is 18 months. You may not apply to renew or extend an H-3 visa.
- An H-4 visa will last as long as that of your spouse or parent.
Can I Become a Permanent Resident with My Visa?
In most cases, H class visas are a temporary arrangement. USCIS will expect you to leave or renew by the time your visa expires, and failing to do so can have severe legal repercussions. If you wish to immigrate, and have a H-2A, H-2B, or H-3 visa, you will need to wait for your visa to expire before applying for a green card.
H-1B holders, on the other hand, may be eligible for an employment-based green card such as the EB-2 or EB-3. This is because, unlike the other H class visas, applying for an H-1B visa does not require you to state an intent to return to your home country.
However, this process is both long and complex. Further, adjusting your status from a H-1B visa holder to a green card applicant is highly case-specific, so you’ll want to discuss your options with an experienced attorney before choosing that path.
H-class visas represent an incredible opportunity to further your career by working in the U.S. However, the application process can be complicated and difficult to understand. While we’ve covered the typical scenario for apply and qualifying for an H visa here, there are certainly outliers to this process. Further, filing for an adjustment of status (i.e. applying for a green card) is an even more difficult process that you’ll want to talk over with an attorney.
Don’t hesitate to contact an experienced immigration lawyer if you have questions at any point during the process.