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How to Check your H1B Case Status

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Table of Contents

How to Check your H1B Case Status

There are multiple stages to the H1B cap visa application process, including the electronic registration, Labor Condition Application and the H1B petition.

The first three stages will be completed by the US-based employer on the beneficiary’s behalf – the beneficiary being the overseas national seeking authorization – while the last three stages must be completed by that individual applicant.

The prospective employer must register the individual for the H1B lottery; if the individual is selected, the employer/sponsor must then submit a labor condition application (LCA) and then file the H1B petition.

The prospective employee must file an H1B visa application, attend an H1B visa interview and finally, seek permission to enter at a US port of entry.

With so much at stake, and so much to plan and organize in the event you are successful in obtaining an H1B, it’s natural that applicants will want to follow the progress of their application once it has been filed.

In this guide, we look at each stage of obtaining H1B status, as well as when you can expect to receive a decision and how you can check your H1B case status, where applicable.

 

Registering for the H1B lottery

The H1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa allowing skilled overseas nationals to temporarily work in the United States in a specialty occupation. This is not only a sponsored visa category, where a US-based employer will first need to file a petition on behalf of the beneficiary, but also subject to a cap on the number of nonimmigrant visas that can be approved each fiscal year by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Under the current H1B visa cap, only 85,000 visas — with 65,000 for beneficiaries holding bachelor’s degrees and 20,000 for those holding master’s degrees — will be adjudicated by USCIS. However, with annual demand significantly in excess of this numerical limit, USCIS runs a computerised lottery selection process to make applying for an H1B visa fair. This means that only those petitions randomly selected will go on to be adjudicated.

There are limited exceptions to this cap, but for those employers looking to file H1B cap-subject petitions, including for beneficiaries who are eligible for the advanced degree exemption, they must first electronically register with USCIS. The registration stage involves a time-limited window, and applicants are informed of whether they have been selected soon after the registration deadline has passed. The registration period typically runs in March of each year for a limited window of time, where it is only employers with selected registrations that will be able to file a petition. USCIS will usually notify selected registrants by the end of the same month or shortly after. For anyone not selected in the initial round of selections, if insufficient numbers are met to meet the annual H1B cap, there is likely to be a further round in approximately July of the same year. Once a registration has been submitted and is eligible for selection, it will remain eligible for any subsequent selection for that year. However, registrants that are not selected will not be notified of this until after USCIS has determined that they have reached the H1B cap.

For the registration stage in 2024, registrants will be advised after March 22, 2024, when the registration period ends, but before April 1, 2024, when petitions can be filed.

 

Submitting a labor condition application

Even if an employer has a selected registration, they will still need to obtain certification for a Labor Condition Application prior to petitioning to USCIS on the beneficiary’s behalf.

An LCA must be filed with the US Department of Labor (DOL) by prospective US employers on behalf of overseas nationals applying for work authorisation for certain nonimmigrant statuses, including H1B status as a specialty occupation worker. This is because US immigration laws require that hiring a foreign worker will not adversely affect either the wages or working conditions of any US workers comparably employed. The application for LCA certification includes certain attestations to this effect, a violation of which can result in fines, a bar on sponsoring petitions and other sanctions for the employer.

An LCA must not be submitted any more than 6 months before the beginning date of the employment in H1B classification. However, the process to get a DOL-certified LCA for an H1B petition is typically only 7 working days. If employers have submitted their application electronically using Form ETA-9035E, they may check the status of their application by logging into the Foreign Labor Application Gateway (FLAG) system. This is a cloud-based portal where, to create a FLAG account, the employer must first register on DOL’s website.

 

Filing an H1B petition

Once the employer is in possession of a DOL-certified LCA, they can file Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) on behalf of the beneficiary with USCIS, together with the applicable fee and supporting documentation. Having a selected registration and approved LCA does not guarantee approval of an H1B petition, where the petition must be supported by evidence to demonstrate that the job role the beneficiary will be doing qualifies for H1B classification and that the beneficiary is qualified to perform this role.

If a registration is selected during the initial lottery selection, USCIS will specify the earliest date that an H1B cap-subject petition can be filed, typically at the beginning of the April following a time-limited selection window in the March. If additional registration selections need to be made during a second round in the July, the earliest date that an H1B cap-subject petition may be filed is likely to be at the beginning of the August. The petitioner will be given a filing window of 90 days on their registration selection notice. They will also be advised of when they must indicate a start date for the H1B qualifying job role.

Unless the employer opts to pay for premium processing, it can take at least 2 to 3 months for an H1B petition to be approved, sometimes longer. The USCIS website provides an online tool to check the current case processing times for different petition-types. By searching “Check case processing times” and clicking on the relevant form, plus the form category and service center, this will provide the current processing times for Form I-129 for an H1B specialty occupation visa from abroad. The first three numerical characters of the 13-digit receipt number, which can be found on Form I-797 (Notice of Action) sent by USCIS on receipt of the I-129 petition, will indicate the service center location.

After obtaining the applicable case processing time, an online inquiry tool will appear on the website page to help the petitioner determine if they can contact USCIS with questions about their H1B case status. If the case is outside normal processing times, the website will automatically provide a service request link for submitting a specific case inquiry. The employer can also check the progress of their H1B case status either by using the USCIS case status online tool (inserting their 13-digit receipt number), by signing into their online account to check for any messages or by signing up for automatic case status alerts.

If the petition is approved, the employer will be sent another Form I-797 by USCIS, at which stage the beneficiary can submit their application for an H1B visa.

 

Filing an H1B visa application

It is only once the H1B petition has been approved by USCIS that the beneficiary can submit their application for an H1B visa to the US Department of State using Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) and paying the applicable fee. Again, approval of an H1B petition does not guarantee the issuance of a visa, where the applicant will still be required to schedule and attend an interview at their nearest US Embassy or Consulate.

The visa applicant will be required to attend this interview with a number of administrative and biographical documents in support, and be prepared to answer any questions about their application and the information provided in it. They will also be asked to enrol their biometric information, including a scan of their fingerprints and a photograph of their face.

 

Attending an H1B visa interview

The purpose of the consulate interview is to verify that the information contained in the H1B visa application is accurate and to ensure that the prospective specialty occupation worker meets the relevant requirements for H1B classification. This means that the visa applicant will not only need to satisfy the consular officer responsible for interviewing them that they meet the H1B requirements, but that their stated intentions are genuine. This is to ensure that anyone applying for a visa is genuinely seeking entry for the purpose sought.

An H1B visa interview will usually be conducted by a single consular officer, who may ask a broad range of questions about all aspects of the application and the applicant’s plans, both in the short and long-term. There are general questions that are asked of most applicants, regardless of the type of visa sought, although the applicant may also be asked a number of visa-specific questions, together with questions about their personal circumstances.

At the conclusion of the interview, the consular officer should inform the applicant whether they have been approved or denied for an H1B visa. In some cases, further documentation or a waiver of ineligibility will be required, for example, where the applicant has a criminal record or a history of immigration violations. If the application is successful, the H1B visa will be placed in the applicant’s passport to be returned to them, typically via courier service a few short days after attending the interview. On receipt of their visa, the visa-holder will be able to travel to the United States, although admission must still be granted on arrival at a US port of entry by US Customs and Border Protection officials.

 

Seeking permission at a US port of entry

Having been granted an H1B visa, this will only provide the successful visa-holder with permission to travel to the United States for the purpose of working as a speciality occupation worker. However, the visa-holder must still satisfy CBP officials that their stated intentions to come to the USA for that purpose are genuine. In most cases, provided the visa-holder has paperwork to evidence their proposed job role and start date, they will be immediately admitted entry and can start getting ready for the first day in their new role.

 

Is premium processing available when applying for H1B status?

Premium processing is usually available when applying for H1B status, a cost which will typically be funded by the petitioning employer if they need to expedite the beneficiary’s start date in their new job role. It is possible to pay for faster petition-processing by filing Form I-907 (Request for Premium Processing Service) at the same time as filing Form I-129.

For a $2,500 fee, USCIS guarantees that some adjudicative action will be taken on the case within 15 calendar days (or they will refund the premium processing fee but still continue with expedited processing). The 15-day period will run from when USCIS properly receives Form I-907 at the correct filing address on that form, together with the applicable filing fee.

 

Avoiding delays when applying for H1B status

If applying for H1B status for the first time, both petitioners and visa applicants are strongly advised to seek advice from an immigration specialist in advance. For the petitioner, they will need to know exactly how and when to register for the H1B lottery selection process. They will also need to prepare their application for labor-certification, together with detailed documentation to be filed along with the I-129 petition to demonstrate that the job role qualifies for H1B classification and that the beneficiary is qualified to perform that role.

For the visa applicant, they too will need to prepare their paperwork to take with them to the consulate interview and be fully prepared for the types of questions that will be asked. The applicant should always check the website for their local Embassy or Consulate to see what documents they will be required to bring with them to their H1B visa interview, although these lists are not necessarily exhaustive, where the applicant may also be asked at interview to provide additional documentation, depending on their circumstances.

By being prepared, this will not only help to avoid any delays, but help to maximise the chances of a successful outcome when applying for H1B status. Additionally, by regularly checking the H1B case status, especially once the petition has been filed with USCIS, this can help to identity any additional steps that may need to be taken to progress the case.

 

NNU Immigration can help

NNU Immigration are specialist US immigration attorneys. We work with employers and individuals seeking to secure a visa to work in the USA, including the H-1B visa route. We can advise on all aspects of the eligibility requirements and can guide applicants through the petitioning process, including advice on the H-1B filing deadline and meeting the strict timescales.

If you have a question about the H-1B visa, speak to our experts.

 

H1B application status FAQs

How long does it take for USCIS to process case for H1B?

The time for USCIS to process an H1B petition can take between a few short weeks to several months. However, you can check your H1B case status by entering the 13-digit receipt number in the USCIS case status online tool.

 

What is H and L status?

In the context of US visas, H-status refers to authorisation for overseas nationals to work in a specialty occupation, while L-status is for executive or managers transferring from an affiliated foreign office to an office in the United States.

 

How fast is USCIS processing time?

The time it takes US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to process petitions and applications depends on the nature of the benefit sought, although you can check the status of your matter using the USCIS case status online tool.

 

How long does I-130 take to get approved?

Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) is the first step in helping an eligible relative obtain a green card, although it can take years for a petition to be approved, depending on the nature of your relationship with the beneficiary.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.

Author

Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

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For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.