Timeline

Your company wishes to hire a foreign worker to work in a ‘specialty occupation’ in the United States and the foreign worker requires a work visa.

What is the Timeline to Apply for and Obtain an H-1B Visa?

The issuance of an H-1B visa requires processing by the Department of Labor (DOL), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and United States embassy or consulate. The USCIS and United States embassy or consulate processing times can vary depending upon where the petitioner (in the United States) and the foreign worker (foreign country) are located and the type of processing requested. In general, however, the typical timeline for H-1B visa processing is as follows:

  1. Department of Labor (DOL)

    In order to initiate the process, the petitioner (U.S. company) files a Labor Condition Application (LCA) online with the Department of Labor.

    LCA Certification: Currently, the LCA is certified within 7 business days of filing.

  2. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Processing

    Once the LCA is certified, an H-1B petition (along with the LCA) is filed with the USCIS. The USCIS issues a receipt notice to the petitioner (U.S. company) and attorney. Since each H-1B petition differs in terms of complexity, the decision time can vary. Once approved, the USCIS issues an approval notice to the petitioner and attorney. The approved H-1B petition is then forwarded to the designated United States embassy or consulate for the third step in the process.

    Receipt Notice Issued: 2 Weeks from Date of Receipt of H-1B Petition

    Approval Notice Issued: 3-6 Months from Date of Receipt of H-1B Petition

    Total Time to Process: 3-6 Months from Date of Receipt of H-1B Petition

    *The H-1B petition may be filed along with a Premium Processing Request resulting in a decision being rendered in 15 calendar days.

    **If this is the foreign worker’s first H-1B visa, s/he will be subject to the statutory cap of 65,000 visas allotted for the fiscal year. USCIS conducts a computer-generated random-selection lottery choosing the fiscal year’s H-1B cases to be processed. Typically, the lottery is conducted using H-1B petitions received between April 1st and April 7th of the fiscal year. If chosen, the Receipt Notice is issued in 6 weeks. If not chosen, the H-1B petition is returned to the petitioner. If approved, the work start date in H-1B status is October 1st of the fiscal year.

    USCIS Change of Status Processing

    Assuming that the foreign worker had previously entered the United States legally pursuant to a valid nonimmigrant visa; that the H-1B petition was filed and approved prior to the foreign worker’s expiration of stay in the United States; and that the foreign worker did not depart the United States during the approval process, s/he may begin employment upon issuance of the approval notice. If the foreign worker then leaves the United States after beginning employment s/he must follow the United States Embassy or Consulate visa procedure below before s/he can reenter the United States.

    Receipt Notice Issued: 2 Weeks from Date of Receipt of H-1B Petition

    Approval Notice Issued: 3-6 Months from Date of Receipt of H-1B Petition

    Total Time to Process: 3-6 Months from Date of Receipt of H-1B Petition

    *The H-1B petition may be filed along with a Premium Processing Request resulting in a decision being rendered in 15 calendar days.

    **If this is the foreign worker’s first H-1B visa, s/he will be subject to the statutory cap of 65,000 visas allotted for the fiscal year. USCIS conducts a computer-generated random-selection lottery choosing the fiscal year’s H-1B cases to be processed. Typically, the lottery is conducted using H-1B petitions received between April 1st and April 7th of the fiscal year. If chosen, the Receipt Notice is issued in 6 weeks. If not chosen, the H-1B petition is returned to the petitioner. If approved, the work start date in H-1B status is October 1st of the fiscal year.

    USCIS Extension of Status Processing

    Assuming that the foreign worker had previously been issued an H-1B visa; that the new H-1B petition was filed prior to the expiration of the current H-1B visa, and that the position offered is the same or similar to the previous position, s/he may begin employment upon filing of the H-1B petition. If the foreign worker then leaves the United States after beginning employment and after approval of the H-1B petition, s/he must follow the United States Embassy or Consulate visa procedure below before s/he can reenter the United States.

    Receipt Notice Issued: 2 Weeks from Date of Receipt of H-1B Petition

    Approval Notice Issued: 3-6 Months from Date of Receipt of H-1B Petition

    Total Time to Process: 3-6 Months from Date of Receipt of H-1B Petition

    *The H-1B petition may be filed along with a Premium Processing Request resulting in a decision being rendered in 15 calendar days.

  3. United States Embassy or Consulate Processing

    Assuming that the foreign worker is outside the United States at the time of approval of the H-1B petition by the USCIS, s/he will proceed to the United States embassy or consulate in their native country with the original approval notice, complete copy of the H-1B petition that was filed with the USCIS, a valid passport and confirmation of completion of form DS-160 and payment of the visa fee H-1B (and H-4) visa fees.

    At the interview, the consular officer will verify that all required documentation has been provided. Second, and more importantly, the consular officer may question the foreign worker in detail with respect to the specifics of the position and the U.S. company.

    If the consular officer is satisfied, the H-1B visa is approved and placed in the foreign worker’s passport. At that time, the United States embassy or consulate will also approve any H-4 visa application and place H-4 visa(s) in the foreign worker’s spouse and/or minor child(ren)’s passport(s).

    Interview Scheduled: Dependent on individual United States Embassy or Consulate schedule

    Visa Issued: 7-10 Days from Date of Interview

    Total Time to Process: Dependent on individual United States Embassy or Consulate schedule

  4. Entering the United States

    Upon issuance of the H-1B and H-4 visas, the foreign worker, spouse and any child(ren) may enter the United States .

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