What Is an H-1B Visa Status?

An H-1B visa allows a foreign national to work temporarily in the United States. Once an immigrant attains an H-1B visa, they may hold the H-1B visa status for up to six years. This is then renewable every three years if approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An employer files a petition for the H-1B visa on the worker's behalf with the U.S. Department of Immigration.

Why Is an H-1B Visa Status Important?

An H-1B visa status is important to keep you in the country to work. Each year, only 85,000 are available. Of these 85,000, 20,000 H-1B visas are available only to workers that hold a master's degree or higher from an accredited U.S. university or college. This limit is referred to as the H-1B cap.

H-1B status is granted for three years and may be renewable for one-year or three-year increments. To get an extension after six years, H-1B visa holders must apply for employment-based permanent residence. This is also known as a green card. Aliens working on projects for the Department of Defense may receive H-1B status for up to 10 years. You can get an H-1B restamping at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate after approval.

What Are the Advantages of an H-1B Visa?

Compared to other visas, the H-1B visa is quick and easy to get for qualified workers. Once the petition is approved by the USCIS, you can legally work and live in the United States as a non-immigrant. H-1B status also allows you to travel freely both internationally and domestically without need for Advance Parole or an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This travel must be within the valid dates of the visa.

Another perk of H-1B status is dual intent. Under the dual intent doctrine, a person can seek permanent residency while already residing and working in the U.S. Children, spouses, and family members also become eligible for permanent residency under dual intent. Even when family members are trying to get permanent residency, this doesn't affect your H1 or their H4 status. 

H-1B status also allow you to:

  • Purchase a home, real estate, or other property
  • Invest in mutual funds, stocks, commodities, futures, etc.
  • Go on vacation
  • Take maternity, paternity, and sick leave
  • Go on strike
  • Purchase lottery tickets
  • Become inactive or unemployed if you are in the process of applying for a green card 

How Much Does an H-1B Visa Cost?

Your employer pays for the H-1B petition. Costs vary based on the size of the company. The USCIS charges:

  • Employers with 1 to 25 full-time workers
    • $320 base fee
    • $750 American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) fee
    • $500 fraud fee
    • $1,000 optional premium processing fee.
    • Total cost ranges from $1,570 to $2,570
  • Employers with 26 or more full-time workers
    • $320 base fee
    • $1,500 American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) fee
    • $500 fraud fee
    • $1,000 optional premium processing fee
    • Total cost ranges from $2,320 to $3,320

There also may be applicable lawyer and legal fees.

How Do I Qualify for an H-1B Visa?

  • Distinguished fashion models of merit and ability qualify for an H-1B visa.
  • You must hold at least a bachelor's degree or equivalent experience for a specialty job H-1B visa. Equivalent experience requires theoretical and practical application of specialized knowledge.
  • Your employer must get a Labor Condition Application (LCA) from U.S. Department of Labor before filing for an H-1B visa.
  • If you currently hold an H-1B visa status, provisions of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21). allow you to change the H-1B to a different employer. This is known as a portability provision.
  • If you hold or have held an H-1B visa in the past, you are typically exempt from H-1B cap restrictions.

After filing for H-1B status, you will receive a Notice of Action, or Form I-797 from the USCIS.

How Do I Check the Status of My H-1B Visa?

The USCIS is the official governing body and processor of H-1B visas. If you have already applied for an H-1B visa, you can check the status of the application by checking with the USCIS website. The USCIS uses the H-1B Visa Status Tracking System to determine the status of your application.

To use the website, you need the 13-digit alphanumeric receipt number that you received when filing. This receipt number starts with WAC, EAC, SRC, or LIN, which signifies the service center where the application is being processed. If you do not have the receipt number, contact your employer or sponsor to get it. To check the status online:

  • Go to the USCIS Case Status Search.
  • Enter the 13-digit receipt number correctly without spaces. The number isn't case sensitive.
  • Click on Check Status.
  • Get the information and sign up for email notifications.

The USCIS maintains detailed record of processing times. For quicker status updates, applicants must also have:

  • Classification or basis for filing
  • The correct processing center
  • Petition and form type

For those who do not have internet access, the H-1B Visa Status Tracking System is also available by touch-tone phone or email:

  • WAC - California Service Center: 1-949-831-8427 or csc-ncsc-followup@dhs.gov
  • EAC - Vermont Service Center: 1-802-527-4913 or vsc.ncscfollowup@dhs.gov
  • SRC - Texas Service Center: 1-214-381-1423 or tsc.ncscfollowup@dhs.gov
  • LIN - Nebraska Service Center: 1-402-323-7830 or ncscfollowup.nsc@dhs.gov
  • USCIS - National Service Center: 1-800-375-5283

These are all automated systems with no operator. It will give you the starting date of your application filing and the time frame for approval of your H-1B visa. You can check both immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications, visa transfers, and visa extensions.

You can also review the status of green card petitions and other classifications including:

  • Green card applications, or Form I-130
  • Form I-140
  • Form I-145
  • Advance Parole
  • EAD
  • Citizenship

Applications moved to the National Visa Service Center (NVC) may not be available for a status check.

Another way to check your H-1B status is the USCIS Electronic Immigration System or the USCIS e-Request Portal.

  • USCIS Electronic Immigration System
    • This system applies to forms including the I-90, I-131, I-140, I-159, I-765, I-821, and I-907
    • Aside from checking status, you can also update contact information and respond to a request for evidence.
  • USCIS e-Request Portal
    • This is a special request system that provides information on:
      • Cases outside normal processing times
      • Typographical errors
      • Failure to receive card or notice by mail
      • Change of address
      • Appointment accommodations

The H-1B Tracker System allows you to track H-1B status. You can also join forums to learn and share stories with other applicants.

Common Status Check Messages

  • Name Was Updated: Frequently, applicants may see "Name Was Updated" on their status. Though scary and misleading, this usually just shows a clerical error. It also means that the USCIS is processing your case.
  • Fee Will Be Refunded: This means your employer paid too much for the application. The amount is refunded to them after visa approval.

H-1B Visa Status Extensions

In some instances, H-1B status may be extended beyond six years when:

  • You get an approved I-140 petition

or 

  • You are getting back time spent out of the U.S. over the six-year period

One-year extensions are also granted for any of these individual reasons:

  • It has been 365 days since the labor certification filing or an employment-based petition.
  • You reapply before the labor certification expires.
  • You submit an advanced filing. This means you apply for an H-1B extension after six years, but within 6 months of the new requested start date.

To obtain a three-year extension, you must meet one of the following requirements:

  • You must gain approval of an EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 petition.
  • Current H-1B status is not required.
  • Advance filing, the same as the one-year extension

Required documents for an H-1B status extension include:

  • From the Employer:
    • A detailed job description.
    • Company brochure and marketing material.
    • Copy of the company's Articles of Incorporation.
    • Copy of job offer letter signed by petitioner and visa applicant. This should include salary and job title.
    • Copy of business plan, annual report, or financial statements.
  • From the Applicant:
    • Copies of all visas
    • Copy of I-94, given at time of entry to the U.S.
    • Copy of I-797 approval notice
    • Copy of university diplomas and transcripts
    • Copy of academic evaluation from foreign universities
    • Resume
    • Proof of employment including pay stubs or leave of absence letter

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can my spouse and children live in the U.S. if I have H-1B status?

Yes, the spouse and unmarried minors of an H-1B visa holder can live in the U.S. They are authorized on an H4 status. This allows them to live in the U.S., but they cannot work while residing here.

  • Can I get H-1B status if I'm self-employed?

Typically, you cannot receive H-1B status as a self-employed worker. An employer must file a petition to the USCIS on your behalf. 

  • Do I have to maintain a foreign residence?

Unlike other non-immigrant visas, H-1B status does not mandate a foreign address. This allows you to seek permanent residency in the U.S.

  • What if I have multiple employers?

If you will work for several people or companies, each will need to file a separate H-1B petition. A Form I-129 must also be approved by each employer. This includes both full-time work and part-time work. You can start working for a new employer as soon as the H-1B visa is filed for a new employer.

  • What if I hold another type of visa?

If you hold another visa, but wish to switch to H-1B status, you can do so if already in the U.S. If you're abroad, you must apply for an H-1B visa at your nearest embassy or consulate. This is only after the USCIS approves your employer's petition.

  • Can I file an H-1B for myself?

No. Only employers can file a petition for your H-1B visa.

  • Are there any restrictions?

H-1B status does not allow you to work as a freelancer, independent contractor, or as a self-employed person.

  • How quickly should I file?

In 2010, there were 65,000 H-1B visas available. These were filled within a few days. The USCIS uses a lottery system to select applications at random. That's why it's important to file at the start of the fiscal year.

  • What are the case statuses of an H-1B visa petition?
  • Case Was Received and a Receipt Notice Was Emailed
  • Case Was Received
  • Response to USCIS' Request for Evidence Was Received
  • Case Was Approved
  • Fees Will Be Refunded
  • Error: The application Receipt Number Is invalid
  • Request for Additional Evidence Notice Was mailed
  • Case Was Approved and My Decision Was Emailed
  • Decision Notice Mailed
  • Name Was Updated
  • What if I'm selected in the lottery?

Your attorney or employer will receive the case receipt number, sometimes just called a case number, for your H-1B petition. They'll share this with you so you can track it online at the USCIS website.

  • What are the processing steps of the H-1B visa?

To have an in-depth understanding of the H-1B processing steps, read the articles available at the USCIS adjudication center. However, understanding these processes may be more difficult as the USCIS has changed some of its methods. In the past, the USCIS used statuses like Acceptance, Decision, Post-Decision, and Initial Review. To get an idea of old and new, you may read old case statuses and flow. 

  • What if my company merges or is sold?

Mergers and sales don't impact the H-1B status if you continue to do the same work. If your job title or work changes, you may have to file for a new H-1B visa.

  • What if my H-1B visa expires?

If your visa expires, you may be violating U.S. immigration law. However, you can work for up to 240 days following the visa expiration while awaiting a decision by the USCIS on an extension.

  • What if I have an H-1B amendment?

You can still file an H-1B extension even if you're waiting for approval on an H-1B amendment.

Securing H-1B visa status is a tricky matter for both the worker and the employer. Fortunately, the lawyers of UpCounsel can walk you through the steps to obtain lawful H-1B status in the U.S. If you need advice or consultation, post your legal need on the UpCounsel forum to talk to qualified immigration lawyers.