An H-1B visa enables employers to hire skilled foreign graduates for their U.S. businesses. However, the United States maintains an annual cap of 65,000 visas awarded every year, with an additional 20,000 visas available to foreigners who graduate with at least a master’s degree from a U.S. institution.
The amount of time it takes for the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) to approve an H-1B visa depends on the applicant, the state and the type of processing an employer opts to use.
Some applicants have seen their visas approved in as little as 30 days, whereas others wait months to receive a decision. After a petition has been filed, the foreign employee is free to begin working for their U.S. employer using their receipt number.
The Different Types Of H-1B Visa Processing
The USCIS has provided multiple visa processing options for employers. Employers may decide to opt for the regular, premium, or expedited processing. These come with different price points. If an employer opts to use a faster processing option, the applicant is not required to pay this fee in the majority of cases.
Regular H-1B visa processing time varies depending on the state service center used. Some states take just a few weeks, whereas others may take over a year to process a regular application for an H-1B visa. Employers and applicants should be aware of this before opting for regular processing. Businesses in certain states may find that waiting for regular processing is too inconvenient.
U.S. businesses unwilling to wait for applications to be processed should opt for premium processing. Premium processing guarantees a petition will be processed within 15 business days of the service center receiving the application. In the event that the service center is unable to process the application in this timeframe, the entire premium processing fee is refunded. Premium processing currently costs $1,440.
Expedited processing means a petition will be placed at the front of the line for processing. Obtaining expedited processing for an H-1B petition is not as simple as paying a fee. The USCIS will only provide expedited processing on a case by case basis. Employers must provide supporting documents if they petition for expedited USCIS processing. Generally, the USCIS will only approve an application for expedited processing for an emergency situation, humanitarian reasons, or an error made by USCIS, or if the petition comes from a U.S. government department or an employer will suffer severe financial loss. USCIS decisions on expedited processing are final.
What Is The Average H-1B Visa Processing Time?
The processing time of H-1B visa petitions depends on a range of factors. First, it largely depends on which service center is used. Businesses located in California and Nebraska, for example, will see average processing times of 2.5 to 4.5 months. On the other hand, it can take up to 15 months for the service center in Vermont to process an application, on average. This is an estimate based on recent data that is freely available. Employers and applicants should take this into account before deciding whether to pay the additional premium processing fee.
Premium processing guarantees 15 business days or less, regardless of the state, or the employer is refunded their premium processing fee. In the event that a premium processing fee is refunded, the petition will continue to be processed but there are no guarantees as to when the USCIS will reach a decision. Expedited petitions may be processed within as little as a few hours. It should be stressed that approval for an expedited H-1B petition remains relatively rare. Note that these are the standard processing times for first-time applicants. The USCIS may still request further supporting documentation before they make a decision.
What Happens If My Application Is Not Approved?
A foreign employee may not continue to work for their chosen employer on U.S. soil if their application for an H-1B visa is not approved. A visa denial means the applicant has no lawful right to work in the U.S. Immigrants who find their visa application denied should carefully inspect their denial letter. Depending on the reason for denial, it may be possible to apply for a different visa or to lodge an appeal. Because this can be complicated, it is recommended that foreign employees in this situation speak to an immigration attorney. If a decision has yet to be made on an H-1B visa petition, the foreign employee may continue to work in the United States until a decision is made.
Work With Experienced Immigration Attorneys
The H-1B visa application process is complex, and the appeals process can be even more complex. Whether you are in the process of making an application or you have been rejected and need to lodge an appeal, consult a professional immigration attorney. Call Pride Immigration for a free consultation to find out which options are available to you.