In the United States, there’s been an influx of foreign workers who possess technical expertise in specialized fields that are in high demand, such as in architecture, engineering, mathematics, science, and medicine. As the United States’ technology and service-based economies continue to expand, the growing need for highly skilled employees increases, and consequently, for H1-B work visas as well. As a small business employer who’s thinking of employing a foreign worker, this is what you need to know about these H1-B work visas:

  • The turn-around time for non-immigrant visas are generally quicker than US Green Cards. Consequently, many choose to apply for non-immigrant visas instead of US Green Cards. 
  • Those applying for a H1-B visa must possess at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and state licensure and have “specialized knowledge in a field of human endeavor.
  • Individuals cannot apply on behalf of themselves. Their employer must sponsor the individual and petition for entry into this country.
  • H1-B visas are good for three years and can be extended up to six years.
  • Currently, the U.S. government has restricted the number of foreigners who may be issued a visa to 65,000 each fiscal year. University employees are exempted from this restriction.
  • The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services starts accepting applications on the first business day of April for visas that activate in October of the same fiscal year. These visas are also processed on a first come, first served basis.
  • H-1B visa holders can bring immediate family members (their spouse and children under 21 years of age) to the U.S. under the H4 visa category as dependents.
  • If a worker with an H1-B visa quits or is fired, he or she may change H1-B employers without affecting their own status, but the new H1-B employer must file a new Form I-129 petition for the employee before he or she begins working for the new company. However, if the worker is being employed for a different specialty occupation, he or she can be penalized with a status violation.

There are drawbacks to these H1-B work visas, though, one of which is burdensome regulation and fees that make it difficult for smaller companies to apply for them because they lack the necessary resources to navigate America’s complicated immigration policies. On the other hand, these regulations give larger companies an advantage because they can absorb application costs as well as attorney costs. Not only that, oftentimes larger companies can avoid legalities altogether, where there are less restrictive immigration systems for foreign workers. Realizing that this is unfair to small U.S. competitors who cannot afford offices overseas to avoid visa constraints, President Obama plans to double the number of H1-B visas as part of his controversial immigration-reform package, saying “I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.”

With the increasing scrutiny of the current immigration laws, change is certainly in the future. Regardless of what kind of change, it is in a small business’s best interest to be aware of the requirements and procedures of these visas and cautious of the obstacles they might need to overcome.

About the author

Christina Morales

Christina helps provide useful business and legal tips on UpCounsel for our customers and visitors. Having over a decade of writing experience in a variety of industries, she has also been very close to the legal space from a young age with family members who continue to practice business and tax law.

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