How long can I stay in the United States?
In most cases, your F-1 (student) visa allows you 12 months of practical training related to your studies. With an H1-B visa, you can stay in the US for six years.
What paperwork do I need? How much will it cost?
To work under your F-1 visa, you will need a work authorization card from the Citizenship and Immigration Service. More information is available from their website. The Citizenship and Immigration Service website has more information about the EAS work authorization card. With a bachelor's degree, you also become eligible for the H-1B visa.
To get an H-1B visa, you will need for an employer to petition for you. There is an annual cap (65,000 for fiscal year 2008) for H-1B visas, though certain employers are exempt from the cap. There is a separate cap (20,000 for 2008) for holders of advanced degrees).
There are some countries that the US has special relationships with, regarding temporary skilled worker status. Citizens of NAFTA countries can apply for the TN-1 visa.Australians are eligible for the E-3 visa. The H-1B1 visa is available to citizens of Singapore and Chile. If you happen to have found work with a religious organization, you may be eligible for the R-1 visa.
Further information regarding the H1-B and the process is available from the State Department and the Citizenship and Immigration Service websites.
For more information about forms and fees, check the US State Department's websiteand the Citizenship and Immigration Service's website. The Citizenship and Immigration Service website also has more specifics about the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Workerform for the H-1B visa, including links to download the form.
I'm married/I have children. Can my spouse or children move to the US, too?
Your spouse or children may be eligible for the F-2, H-4 or R-2 visas. See the US Citizenship and Immigration Service website to see if they might qualify.
What can I do to ensure that the paperwork goes smoothly?
Start early. Try to avoid spending any of your twelve month F-1 training period looking for work. Applications are accepted for H-1B visas in April of the preceding year. (The federal government's fiscal year begins in October of the preceding year.) The 2006 cap was met in four months. The 2007 cap was met in two months, meaning the cap was met in June of 2006.
Inform yourself about the process. Get as much information as you can. If your employer hires under the H-1B visa regularly, they may have someone in human resources who specializes in handling H-1B paperwork. Otherwise, you or your employer should consider hiring an immigration lawyer. Your employer might be willing to foot the cost (currently estimated between $1,500 and $3,000), but you might have to consider hiring a lawyer as an investment in your career.
The Citizenship and Immigration Service has information on finding legal advice. The American Immigration Lawyers Association has information on hiring an immigration lawyer, including the option for searching for their members. This link will take you to theAILA Seattle search results.
You might also do a web search using some of the following phrases: immigration kits, immigration lawyer, H1B visa. As with everything on the web, be careful about the results. Some results will lead you to reputable companies, while others will lead you to over-paying for bad advice. Some sites try to make themselves look more official, by adding flags, 'official' looking logos, or pictures of government buildings. Remember that the only sites approved by the US government have the ".gov" suffix.
Is the H-1B portable?
Yes. If you change jobs, your H-1B status will not be affected. However, your new employer will need to file a new petition before you begin working. According to the USCIS website, mergers and buyouts of your employer do not have any impact on your H-1B status (the new parent company would not need to file a new petition). On the other hand, if there is a change that means that you are working in a job outside the specialty area your H-1B was granted for, it is a status violation.
Can I renew my H-1B?
As a general rule, the H-1B visa can be renewed only after spending a year outside the US, according to the USCIS website. There are exceptions. For example, certain Defense Department employees may stay for ten years, and there are exceptions to the requirement that a year be spent overseas.