H1B Visa Processing Time & Duration
If you are looking to apply for an H1B visa, or to extend your existing H1B visa, it will be important to understand the H1B visa processing time and the key dates for your application.
The H1B scheme is typically over-subscribed, with only 65,000 visas available under the regular cap and 20,000 under the master’s cap. Exemptions to the H1B visa cap apply only to:
- higher education institutions
- non-profit organisations that are associated with a higher education institution
- non-profit research organisations
- government organisations
Even where the petition is made by a cap-exempt organization, full processing of the H1B petition must still be carried out.
This makes it critical to ensure you work to the correct timings and are providing the required information when requested, to avoid issues, delays or refusal of your application.
H1B visa timings
The USCIS fiscal year starts on 1 October each year. This is when employment in H1B visa roles can begin.
With a valid and approved H1B visa, an individual may not enter the US until 10 days before their employment is due to start.
Your visa, including the initial 3 years period and the total six-year period, begins on the first day that you use it to gain entry to the US.
Any H1B visa roles will end by 30 September of the year that the related visa expires.
How long does H1B Visa processing take?
There are several stages to the H1B process, each with its own time frame, which must be taken into consideration when planning to apply for H1B status.
To ensure you have provided sufficient time to begin employment in the October, you should work backwards from the fixed deadline of the H1B window opening in April of the same year.
H1B electronic registrations
The sponsor must register online with USCIS for each H1B visa applicant it is proposing to employ under the route. The registration window is open for 14 days in March. For the 2024 FY, the H1B electronic registration period opens March 1, 2o23, and closes on March 17, 2023.
If oversubscribed by the close of the H1B registration window, a random selection process will be used to select registrants up to the cap limit to be invited to file a full H1B petition.
The filing window for the full H1B petition usually opens from April 1 to those applicants who have made it through the registration selection process and been invited to file. Applicants have 90 days from the date they are notified of their selection to make their full submission.
As the H1B visa cap window opens in April, the corresponding employment should begin by the beginning of October.
If the employment is due to start more than 6 months later, i.e. after October of that year, then the petition should be filed the following year. Filing a petition for employment to start more than 6 months later will result in the petition being denied.
If insufficient supporting evidence has been provided, the petition may be rejected at this stage. Alternatively, the employer may be issued a Request for Evidence (RFE). This will in all likelihood lengthen the processing time.
Labor Condition Application
The Labor Condition Application (LCA) is a statement filed by the employer with the Department of Labor which assures working conditions for the H1B applicant and confirms that the salary for the H1B role is equivalent to that of similarly employed workers or where more, that it is the prevailing wage in the local area.
If this is the first time that the employer has filed an LCA, the processing time could be up to two weeks. If the employer has previously filed an LCA, the processing time is likely to be around a week.
It is therefore recommended that the employer files their LCA no later than early March, although your employer may wish to file the LCA earlier than this to ensure that everything is in place when the H1B visa window opens at the beginning of April.
Once the LCA has been certified, the employer may file the Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker form I-129 with the correct USCIS Service Centre.
Employee visa petition
Should the H1B petition be granted, the applicant may make their Online Non-immigrant Visa Application and attend an interview at their local US embassy or consulate.
This initial online process, including making an appointment through the US visa service can be completed over the course of a day, or saved and revisited at a later date.
Once the interview has taken place, successful applications are usually processed within 3 to 5 working days, after which time the applicant’s visa will be returned to them.
Processing times and availability of interviews are dependent on the relevant embassy or consulate that is adjudicating the petition, so it is important to check the specific timeframes of the branch that is processing your application.
The H1B petition processing time, depending on the individual circumstances of each petition and whether additional evidence is requested, could take anywhere from two to six months.
Where the premium processing option is taken, the process takes 15 calendar days. However, premium processing may be denied unless it can be proved that it is necessary.
Premium processing also does not offer any enhanced chance of success in the H1B visa lottery.
How long does an H1B visa last?
The H1B visa allows US employers to recruit foreign graduate-level workers for specialist roles. This is a non-immigrant, temporary worker visa which can lead to US permanent residency, provided the individual satisfies the eligibility criteria.
Provided your employment in the US is still valid, the H1B status allows you to stay in the US for up to three years initially, with the option of extending your stay for a further three years. This six-year period is generally the maximum you may stay in the US on an H1B visa. After a period of six years with H1B status, you may become eligible for a US Green Card.
How long can the H1B visa be extended for?
Should you wish to extend your visa, you should discuss the extension application with your employer up to six months before your H1B status is due to expire. Your employer may petition to extend your visa for one year at a time, or for the maximum three-year extension.
To extend an H1B status past your initial three years, you must have qualifying employment and provide the following:
- valid US passport with original H1B visa
- the original approved I-797
- an I-94 Arrival/Departure form showing a departure date that has not yet been reached
- the employee’s curriculum vitae
- evidence of employment such as payslips or a letter from the employer
- evidence of the employee’s degree
- references from previous employers
The extension request can be made up to six months before the H1B visa comes to an end and it is recommended to make the extension request as soon as possible. Processing time varies but can take up to four months. Premium processing may be available, depending on your circumstances, and reduce the processing time down to around two weeks.
In certain circumstances, the H1B status can be extended beyond the six years in accordance with the American Competitiveness in the Twenty First Century Act (AC21).
H1B workers may extend their visa past the 6 years if they are the subject of an approved Immigrant Worker Petition (I-140) but are unable to file for a Green Card because their priority date isn’t current. In this situation, the employer may apply to extend the H1B visa for another three years.
Applying for US permanent residence
Should you remain and work in the US with H1B status for the full six years, you may become eligible for US permanent residency.
You will, however, only be eligible if a sponsoring employer petitions for a change from H1B to Green Card status on your behalf.
In addition to qualifying employment, you will also have to evidence that you meet one of the following eligibility requirements:
As a first preference immigrant worker (EB1):
- You have ‘extraordinary ability’ in science, the arts, education, athletics or business, OR
- You are an ‘outstanding’ researcher or professor, OR
- You are a multinational executive or manager who meets certain criteria.
As a second preference immigrant worker (EB2):
- You are a member of a profession that requires you to hold an advanced degree, OR
- You have ‘exceptional ability’ in the sciences, the arts or business, OR
- You seek a national interest waiver.
As a third preference immigrant worker (EB3):
- You are a skilled worker. This means that your job requires a minimum of 2 years training or work experience, OR
- You are a professional. This means that your job requires at least a US bachelor’s degree or a foreign equivalent, and you are a member of the profession, OR
- You are an unskilled worker. This means that you will perform unskilled labour requiring less than 2 years training or experience.
Due to the competitiveness and uncertainty of the H1B visa route, it is imperative that all related time considerations are taken into account when deciding to proceed with an application, and planning for extensions for longer term employment contracts.
Take specialist immigration legal advice to ensure that the H1B process is handled in the best way possible to support a successful outcome.
For advice about the H1B visa, contact us.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.