The H1-b work permit is a popular avenue for foreigners who want to work in the U.S. H1-b holders can generally work in the U.S. for up to six years at a time. Although the H1-b is termed a non-immigrant visa, meaning it does not lead to a green card or to citizenship, the potentially long period of validity makes it very attractive to people who want to establish careers in the U.S. To be eligible, one must generally have a college degree, and must have been offered a job in a “skilled occupation” related to his education. The key is the job offer, as it is the employer who must file the H1-b petition and bear its costs.
There is one catch: the number of individuals who may get a new H1-b’s is limited by law to approximately 65,000 per year. Although those holding advanced degrees and citizens of certain countries (notably Canada, Mexico, Australia, Chile, and Singapore) do not count towards the cap, the H1-b cap generally fills up each year. When it is filled is often a function of the strength of the economy.
April 1 is the first day on which applications for the new year’s H1-b quota are accepted by USCIS. In the heady years of the early 2000s, USCIS sometimes received more than 65,000 H1-b petitions on April 1, with 65,000 H1-b’s being awarded by lottery among the first day applications. Although the pace slowed significantly later in the decade, last year the quota was filled in mid June. With unemployment falling and the economy picking up steam, it is expected that the H1-b cap will be hit even earlier this year.
Businesses seeking to hire non-citizen non-green card employees, for example foreign students about to graduate from US universities should start planning their H1-b filings now. The application process is not onerous, but multiple steps are involved. As is often said, the time is now.