H1 Visa The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa in the United States under the Immigration and Nationality Act, section 101(a)(15)(H). It allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. If a foreign worker in H-1B status quits or is dismissed from the sponsoring employer, the worker must either apply for and be granted a change of status to another non-immigrant status, find another employer (subject to application for adjustment of status and/or change of visa), or leave the U.S.
The regulations define a “specialty occupation” as requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field of human endeavor including but not limited to biotechnology, chemistry, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology, and the arts, and requiring the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent as a minimum (with the exception of fashion models, who must be “of distinguished merit and ability”)Likewise, the foreign worker must possess at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and state licensure, if required to practice in that field. H-1B work-authorization is strictly limited to employment by the sponsoring employer.
Duration of stay
The duration of stay is three years, extendable to six years. An exception to maximum length of stay applies in certain circumstances
- If a visa holder has submitted an I-140 immigrant petition or a labor certification prior to their fifth year anniversary of having the H-1B visa, they are entitled to renew their H-1B visa in one-year or three-year increments until a decision has been rendered on their application for permanent residence.
- If the visa holder has an approved I-140 immigrant petition, but is unable to initiate the final step of the green cardprocess due to their priority date not being current, they may be entitled to a three-year extension of their H-1B visa. This exception originated with the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000.
- The maximum duration of the H-1B visa is ten years for exceptional United States Department of Defense project related work.
H-1B holders who want to continue to work in the U.S. after six years, but who have not obtained permanent residency status, must remain outside of the U.S. for one year before reapplying for another H-1B visa. Despite a limit on length of stay, no requirement exists that the individual remain for any period in the job the visa was originally issued for. This is known as H-1B portability or transfer, provided the new employer sponsors another H-1B visa, which may or may not be subjected to the quota. Under current law, H-1B visa has no stipulated grace period in the event the employer-employee relationship ceases to exist.
Congressional yearly numerical cap
The current law limits to 65,000 the number of foreign nationals who may be issued a visa or otherwise provided H-1B status each fiscal year (FY). Laws exempt up to 20,000 foreign nationals holding a master’s or higher degree from U.S. universities from the cap on H-1B visas. In addition, excluded from the ceiling are all H-1B non-immigrants who work at (but not necessarily for) universities, non-profit research facilities associated with universities or government research facilities.This means that contractors working at, but not directly employed by the institutions may be exempt from the cap. Free Trade Agreements carve out 1,400 H-1B1 visas for Chilean nationals and 5,400 H-1B1 visas for Singapore nationals. However, if these reserved visas are not used, then they are made available in the next fiscal year to applicants from other countries. Due to these unlimited exemptions and roll-overs, the number of H-1B visas issued each year is significantly more than the 65,000 cap, with 117,828 having been issued in FY2010, 129,552 in FY2011, and 135,991 in FY2012.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services starts accepting applications on the first business day of April for visas that count against the fiscal year starting in October. For instance, H-1B visa applications that count against the FY 2013 cap could be submitted starting from Monday, 2012 April 2. USCIS accepts H-1B visa applications no more than 6 months in advance of the requested start date. Beneficiaries not subject to the annual cap are those who currently holdcap-subject H-1B status or have held cap-subject H-1B status at some point in the past six years.
Tax status of H-1B workers
The taxation of income for H-1B employees depends on whether they are categorized as either non-resident aliens orresident aliens for tax purposes. A non-resident alien for tax purposes is only taxed on income from the United States, while a resident alien for tax purposes is taxed on income from both inside and outside the United States.
The classification is determined based on the “substantial presence test”: If the substantial presence test indicates that the H-1B visa holder is a resident, then income taxation is like any other U.S. person and may be filed using Form 1040 and the necessary schedules; otherwise, the visa-holder must file as a non-resident alien using tax form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ; he or she may claim benefit from tax treaties if they exist between the United States and the visa holder’s country of citizenship.
Persons in their first year in the U.S. may choose to be considered a resident for taxation purposes for the entire year, and must pay taxes on their worldwide income for that year. This “First Year Choice” is described in IRS Publication 519 and can only be made once in a person’s lifetime. A spouse, regardless of visa status, must include a valid Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or Social Security number (SSN) on a joint tax return with the H-1B holder.
Tax filing rules for H-1B holders may be complex, depending on the individual situation. Besides consulting a professional tax preparer knowledgeable about the rules for foreigners, the IRS Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens, may be consulted. Apart from state and federal taxes, H-1B visa holders pay Medicare and Social Security taxes, and are eligible for Social Security benefits.
H-1B and legal immigration
Even though the H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa, it is one of the few visa categories recognized as dual intent, meaning an H-1B holder can have legal immigration intent (apply for and obtain the green card) while still a holder of the visa. In the past the employment-based green card process used to take only a few years, less than the duration of the H-1B visa itself. However, in recent times the legal employment-based immigration process has backlogged and retrogressed to the extent that it now takes many years for guest-work visa holders from certain countries to obtain green cards. Since the duration of the H-1B visa hasn’t changed, this has meant that many more H-1B visa holders must renew their visas in one or three-year increments for continued legal status while their green card application is in process.
Dependents of H-1B visa holders
H-1B visa holders can bring immediate family members (spouse and children under 21) to the U.S. under the H4 Visacategory as dependents. An H4 Visa holder may remain in the US as long as the H-1B visa holder retains legal status. An H4 visa holder is not eligible to work or get a Social Security number (SSN).An H4 Visa holder may attend school, get a driver’s license, and open a bank account in the U.S. To claim a dependent on a tax return or file a joint tax return, the dependent must obtain an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), which is only used for tax filing purposes.
When an H-1B worker goes outside of U.S. for vacation, he or she has to get the visa stamped on his passport unless he has already done so for re-entry in the United States. The interview is taken in U.S. Embassy by a visa officer. In some cases, H-1B workers can be required to undergo “administrative processing”, involving extra, lengthy background checks. Under current rules, these checks are supposed to take ten days or less, but in some cases, have lasted years.
Evolution of the program
Changes in the cap, number of applications received, and numbers of applications approved vs. visas issued
During the early 1990s, the cap was rarely reached. By the mid-1990s, however, the allocation tended fill each year on a first come, first served basis, resulting in frequent denials or delays of H-1Bs because the annual cap had been reached. In 1998, the cap increased to 115,000.
American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 (Hatch-Abraham-Gramm; PL106-313 sections102 and 103; 114 Stat 1251; enacted 2000-10-03; signed by Bill Clinton 2000-10-17) granted government functionaries amnesty for over-shooting the H-1B limit by 22,500 in FY1999 and by about 30,000 in FY2000; temporarily increased H-1B “cap”/”limit” to 195K for FY2001 through FY2003; exempted all individuals being hired by institutions of higher education, as well as non-profit and government-research organizations, from the cap, and § 105, 114 Stat. 1253 permitted portability, i.e. employer/sponsor change.
The H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004 mandated that, “…the first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of aliens with U.S.-earned masters’ or higher degrees will be exempt from any fiscal year cap…” Additionally, universities, nonprofit research organizations affiliated with universities, and governmental research organizations are exempt from the H-1B cap. For all other new H-1B applicants, the congressionally mandated H-1B visa cap is 65,000 annually.
For FY2007, with applications accepted from 2006 April 1, the entire quota of visas for the year was exhausted within a span of 2 months on May 26,well before the beginning of the financial year concerned. The additional 20,000 Advanced Degree H-1B visas were exhausted on July 26.
For FY2008, the entire quota was exhausted before the end of the first day that applications were accepted, April 2.Under USCIS rules, the 123,480 petitions received on April 2 and April 3 that were subject to the cap were pooled, and then 65,000 of these were selected at random for further processing. The additional 20,000 Advanced Degree H-1B visas for FY2008 was exhausted on April 30.
For FY2009, USCIS announced on 2008 April 8, that the entire quota for visas for the year had been reached, for both 20,000 Advanced and the 65,000 quota. USCIS would complete initial data entry for all filing received during 2008 April 1 to April 7, before running the lottery, while 86,300 new visas were approved.
For FY2010, USCIS announced on 2009 December 21, that enough petitions were received to reach that year’s cap.
For FY2011, USCIS announced on 2011 January 27, that enough petitions were received to reach that year’s cap on January 26.
For FY2015, USCIS announced on 2014 April 10 that received about 172,500 H-1B petitions during the filing period which began April 1, including petitions filed for the advanced degree exemption.
Numbers of applications approved
The applications received are evaluated by USCIS, and some subset are approved each year. It is possible for an individual to file multiple applications, for multiple job opportunities with a single employer/sponsor or with multiple employer/sposors. It is possible for an individual applicant to have multiple applications approved and to be able to choose which one to take.
In its annual report on H-1B visas, released in 2006 November, USCIS stated that it approved 130,497 H-1B visa applications in FY2004 (while 138,965 new visas were issued through consular offices) and 116,927 in FY2005 (while 124,099 new visas were issued via consular offices).
In FY2008, a total of 276,252 visa applications (109,335 initial, 166,917 renewals and extensions) were approved, and 130,183 new initial visas were issued through consular offices.
In FY2009, 214,271 visas were approved, with 86,300 being for initial employment, and 127,971 being for continued employment) and 110,988 initial H-1B visas were issued from consular offices.
In FY2010, 192,990 new visas were approved, with 76,627 being for initial employment and 116,363 being for continuing employment. 117,828 new visas were issued through consular offices
In FY2011, 269,653 new visas were approved, with 106,445 being for initial employment and 163,208 being for continued employment. 129,552 new visas were issued through consular offices.
In FY2012, 262,569 new visas were approved with 136,890 being for initial employment and 125,679 being for continued employment.
American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000
The American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act of 2000 (AC21) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s PERM system for labor certification erased most of the earlier claimed arguments for H-1Bs as indentured servants during the green card process. With PERM, labor certification processing time is now approximately 9 months (as of Mar 2010).
Because of AC21, the H-1B employee is free to change jobs if they have an I-485 application pending for six months and an approved I-140, and if the position they move to is substantially comparable to their current position. In some cases, if thoselabor certifications are withdrawn and replaced with PERM applications, processing times improve, but the person also loses their favorable priority date. In those cases, employers’ incentive to attempt to lock in H-1B employees to a job by offering a green card is reduced, because the employer bears the high legal costs and fees associated with labor certification and I-140 processing, but the H-1B employee is still free to change jobs.
However, many people are ineligible to file I-485 at the current time due to the widespread retrogression in priority dates. Thus, they may well still be stuck with their sponsoring employer for many years. There are also many old labor certificationcases pending under pre-PERM rules.
Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008
The Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, which, among other issues, federalizes immigration in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, stipulates that during a transition period, numerical limitations do not apply to otherwise qualified workers in the H visa category in the CNMI and Guam.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
On Feb. 17, 2009, President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“stimulus bill”), Public Law 111-5. Section 1661 of the ARRA incorporates the Employ American Workers Act (“EAWA”) by Senators Sanders (I-Vt.) and Grassley (R-Iowa) to limit certain banks and other financial institutions from hiring H-1B workers unless they had offered positions to equally or better-qualified US workers, and to prevent banks from hiring H-1B workers in occupations they had laid off US workers from. These restrictions include:
- The employer must, prior to filing the H-1B petition, take good-faith steps to recruit US workers for the position for which the H-1B worker is sought, offering a wage at least as high as what the law requires for the H-1B worker. The employer must also attest that, in connection with this recruitment, it has offered the job to any US worker who applies who is equally or better qualified for the position.
- The employer must not have laid off, and will not lay off, any US worker in a job essentially equivalent to the H-1B position in the area of intended employment of the H-1B worker within the period beginning 90 days prior to the filing of the H-1B petition and ending 90 days after its filing.
Changes in USCIS policy
After completing a policy review, the USCIS clarified that individuals who spent more than one year outside of U.S. and did not exhaust their entire six-year term can choose to be re-admitted for the “remainder” of initial six-year period without being subject to the H-1B cap.
After completing a policy review, the USCIS clarified that, “Any time spent in H-4 status will not count against the six-year maximum period of admission applicable to H-1B aliens.”
USCIS recently issued a memorandum dated 8 Jan 2010. The memorandum effectively states that there must be a clear “employee employer relationship” between the petitioner (employer) and the beneficiary (prospective visa holder). It simply outlines what the employer must do to be considered in compliance as well as putting forth the documentation requirements to back up the employer’s assertion that a valid relationship exists.
The memorandum gives three clear examples of what is considered a valid “employee employer relationship”:
- a fashion model
- a computer software engineer working off-site/on-site
- a company or a contractor which is working on a co-production product in collaboration with DOD
In the case of the software engineer, the petitioner (employer) must agree to do (some of) the following among others:
- Supervise the beneficiary on and off-site
- Maintain such supervision through calls, reports, or visits
- Have a “right” to control the work on a day-to-day basis if such control is required
- Provide tools for the job
- Hire, pay, and have the ability to fire the beneficiary
- Evaluate work products and perform progress/performance reviews
- Claim them for tax purposes
- Provide (some type of) employee benefits
- Use “proprietary information” to perform work
- Produce an end product related to the business
- Have an “ability to” control the manner and means in which the worker accomplishes tasks
It further states that “common law is flexible” in how to weigh these factors. Though this memorandum cites legal cases and provides examples, such a memorandum in itself is not law and future memoranda could change this.
Some argue that this has effectively “killed the job-shop industry. While clear that, as of 2012, it takes longer to reach the H-1B visa numerical cap, it is not clear whether this is a result of simple political pressure to put the program on hold, or a result of the decreased economic growth.
Protections for U.S. workers
Labor Condition Application
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for ensuring that foreign workers do not displace or adversely affect wages or working conditions of US workers. For every H-1B petition filed with the USCIS, there must be included a Labor Condition Application (LCA) (not to be confused with the labor certification), certified by the U.S. Department of Labor. The LCA is designed to ensure that the wage offered to the non-immigrant worker meets or exceeds the “prevailing wage” in the area of employment. (“Immigration law has a number of highly technical terms that may not mean the same thing to the average reader.” last updated 2011 March 31, visited 2012 November 5) The LCA also contains an attestation section designed to prevent the program from being used to import foreign workers to break a strike or replace US citizen workers.
While an employer is not required to advertise the position before hiring an H-1B non-immigrant pursuant to the H-1B visa approval, the employer must notify the employee representative about the Labor Condition Application (LCA)—or if there is no such representation, the employer must publish the LCA at the workplace and the employer’s office. Under the regulations, LCAs are a matter of public record. Corporations hiring H-1B workers are required to make these records available to any member of the public who requests to look at them. Copies of the relevant records are also available from various web sites, including the Department of Labor.
History of the Labor Condition Application form
The LCA must be filed electronically using Form ETA 9035E. Over the years, the complexity of the form increased from one page in 1997 to three pages in 2008 to five pages as of August 2012.
By signing the LCA, the employer attests that:
- The employer pays H-1B non-immigrants the same wage level paid to all other individuals with similar experience and qualifications for that specific employment, or the prevailing wage for the occupation in the area of employment, whichever is higher.
- The employment of H-1B non-immigrants does not adversely affect working conditions of workers similarly employed.
- On the date the application is signed and submitted, there is not a strike, lockout, or work stoppage in the course of a labor dispute in the occupation in which H-1B non-immigrants will be employed at the place of employment. If such a strike or lockout occurs after this application is submitted, the employer must notify ETA within three days, and the application is not used to support petition filings with INS for H-1B non-immigrants to work in the same occupation at the place of employment until ETA determines the strike or lockout is over.
- A copy of this application has been, or will be, provided to each H-1B non-immigrant employed pursuant to this application, and, as of the application date, notice of this application has been provided to workers employed in the occupation in which H-1B non-immigrants will be employed:
- Notice of this filing has been provided to bargaining representative of workers in the occupation in which H-1B non-immigrants will be employed; or
- There is no such bargaining representative; therefore, a notice of this filing has been posted and was, or will remain, posted for 10 days in at least two conspicuous locations where H-1B non-immigrants will be employed.
The law requires H-1B workers to be paid the higher of the prevailing wage for the same occupation and geographic location, or the same as the employer pays to similarly situated employees. Other factors, such as age and skill were not permitted to be taken into account for the prevailing wage. Congress changed the program in 2004 to require the Department of Labor to provide four skill-based prevailing wage levels for employers to use. This is the only prevailing wage mechanism the law permits that incorporates factors other than occupation and location.
The approval process for these applications are based on employer attestations and documentary evidence submitted. The employer is advised of their liability if they are replacing a US worker.
Limits on employment
According to the USCIS, “H-1B nonimmigrants may only work for the petitioning U.S. employer and only in the H-1B activities described in the petition. The petitioning U.S. employer may place the H-1B worker on the worksite of another employer if all applicable rules (e.g., Department of Labor rules) are followed. Generally, a nonimmigrant employee may work for more than one employer at the same time. However, each employer must follow the process for initially applying for a nonimmigrant employee.”
H-1B fees earmarked for U.S. worker education and training
In 2007, the US Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (ETA), reported on two programs, the High Growth Training Initiative and Workforce Innovation Regional Economic Development (WIRED), which have received or will receive $284 million and $260 million, respectively, from H-1B training fees to educate and train US workers.According to the Seattle Times $1 billion from H1-B fees have been distributed by the Labor Department to further train US workforce since 2001.
Criticisms of the program
The H-1B program has caused a number of criticisms.
No labor shortages
Paul Donnelly, in a 2002 article in Computerworld, cited Milton Friedman as stating that the H-1B program acts as a subsidy for corporations. Others holding this view include Dr. Norman Matloff, who testified to the US House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration on the H-1B subject. Matloff’s paper for the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reformclaims that there has been no shortage of qualified American citizens to fill American computer-related jobs, and that the data offered as evidence of American corporations needing H-1B visas to address labor shortages was erroneous. The United States General Accounting Office found in a report in 2000 that controls on the H-1B program lacked effectiveness. The GAO report’s recommendations were subsequently implemented.
High-tech companies often cite a tech-worker shortage when asking Congress to raise the annual cap on H-1B visas, and have succeeded in getting various exemptions passed. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), described the situation as a crisis, and the situation was reported on by the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek and Washington Post. Employers applied pressure on Congress.Microsoft chairman Bill Gates testified in 2007 on behalf of the expanded visa program on Capitol Hill, “warning of dangers to the U.S. economy if employers can’t import skilled workers to fill job gaps”.Congress considered a bill to address the claims of shortfall but in the end did not revise the program.
According to a study conducted by John Miano and the Center for Immigration Studies, there is no empirical data to support a claim of employee worker shortage. Citing studies from Duke, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Georgetown University and others, critics have also argued that in some years, the number of foreign programmers and engineers imported outnumbered the number of jobs created by the industry. Organizations have also posted hundreds of first hand accounts of H-1B Visa Harm reports directly from individuals negatively impacted by the program, many of whom are willing to speak with the media.
Studies carried out from the 1990s through 2011 by researchers from Columbia U, Computing Research Association (CRA), Duke U, Georgetown U, Harvard U, National Research Council of the NAS, RAND Corporation, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rutgers U, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Stanford U, SUNY Buffalo, UC Davis, UPenn Wharton School, Urban Institute, and US Dept. of Education Office of Education Research & Improvement have reported that the USA has been producing sufficient numbers of able and willing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) workers, while several studies from Hal Salzman, B. Lindsay Lowell, Daniel Kuehn, Michael Teitelbaum and others have concluded that the USA has been employing only 30% to 50% of its newly degreed able and willing STEM workers to work in STEM fields. A 2012 IEEE announcement of a conference on STEM education funding and job markets stated “only about half of those with under-graduate STEM degrees actually work in the STEM-related fields after college, and after 10 years, only some 8% still do”.