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​Get a Head Start on Next Year's H-1B Visas
Published on 8/17/2015 12:00:00 AM
Hiring Foreign Workers? 7 Tips for Handling H-1B Visa Filing Season

Every year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) accepts a limited number of applications for H-1B visas – the temporary visa that allows U.S. employers to hire foreign workers in specialty high-tech, medical and managerial positions, such as scientists, engineers and computer programmers. As the economy picks up, especially in these affected industries, the demand for H-1B visas often exceeds supply.

The available slots for H-1B visas is currently capped at 65,000 for foreign workers with bachelor’s degrees and 20,000 for workers holding master’s degrees or higher. If the cap is exceeded during the five-day filing period after April 1, the USCIS uses a computer-generated, random selection process known as a “lottery” to select the appropriate number of petitions. (The 20,000 advanced degree holders are chosen first; after that, those not selected are made part of the 65,000 “general” lottery pool.) As a point of reference, the USCIS obtained almost 124,000 applications for visas in the first five business days in April in 2013.

Due to growing demand for H-1B visas and how quickly the quota is exhausted, it’s essential that you’re prepared. This year’s filing period has passed, but the following guidelines will help ensure you’re fully prepared for the next H-1B visa season:

  • Know y​our deadlines – H-1B petitions should be ready for filing no later than April 1 if you’re looking to secure employment for a foreign worker by October 1 that same year. Any applications filed after the USCIS reaches its quota will be returned and cannot be re-filed until the following year.

  • Get an LCA approved from the DOL – Before you can file an H-1B visa petition with the USCIS, you must submit a Labor Condition Application (LCA) to the Department of Labor (DOL). Certification from the DOL attests you’ll pay the prevailing wage for the position and work location, based on the wage database. To be on the safe side, you should take care of this in early March – well in advance of the early April filing period for H-1B visas.

  • Obtain a credentials evaluation, if necessary – Something else to consider: If the foreign worker earned a degree outside the U.S., you’ll need to secure a third-party educational evaluation stating the degree is equal to one awarded by an accredited U.S. institution.

  • Be accurate and thorough – Double check for typos on the application, provide all support documentation and pay the correct fees to the federal government via a signed check or money order. (If your application is rejected, you’ll be refunded the filing fees.)

  • Manage your expectations – For accepted petitions, expect a processing time of three to five months, or 15 calendar days if you paid the expedited fee. Upon approval, the USCIS will issue an I-797 Approval Notice, which authorizes the employee to begin work immediately.

  • Know the exceptions – An individual may hold H-1B status for a maximum of six years, with the classification issued in increments of up to three years by the USCIS. Employers filing extensions for current H-1B employees – or applying for changes in the worker’s terms of employment – are not subject to the annual cap.

  • Prepare for rejection – A denied application means that you cannot employ the non-U.S. citizen that year. Due to the 30 to 50 percent rejection rate with H-1B visas, it’s smart to explore other temporary visas a prospective employee may be eligible for.
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