H-1B visas are the most common temporary work permits available to foreign national professionals. They are obtained routinely by U.S. corporations and other organizations that require foreign professional workers. A U.S. employer can file an H-1B petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of a foreign employee provided that the job requires (and the employee possesses) at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in a particular field. An H-1B employer also must attest to paying the same salary and benefits packages normally offered U.S. workers in similar positions and to observing the H-1B program’s specific public notice and recordkeeping requirements.

The government strictly limits H-1B petitions by fiscal year. USCIS may only approve 65,000 new H-1B petitions per fiscal year with an additional set aside available each fiscal year for individuals with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions. The H-1B quota numbers become available on April 1 for an October 1 start date. In addition, there is a carve out provision of the total 65,000 cap for nationals of Chile and Singapore. Any numbers not used for these cases are typically added back to the following year’s overall quota. Other exemptions to the 65,000-per-year limitation also exist for the following individuals: employees of colleges and universities and their related or affiliated nonprofit entities or research organizations.

Employees of government research organizations; Individuals presently in H-1B status; Individuals who previously held H-1B status within the past 6 years and have not left the U.S. for more than one year after their last stay in H-1B status; and, Physicians who held J-1 (exchange visitor) status and received a waiver of the 2-year home residence requirement pursuant to the request of an interested government agency. The prospective employee may either change his or her status from an existing immigration category to H-1B or present the approved H-1B petition at a U.S. consulate abroad to receive an H-1B visa. H-1B status, when initially approved, gives the individual up to three (3) years of authorized employment with the sponsoring employee. The employer may seek extensions of the H-1B employment after this period up to six (6) years total. In some cases, the employee may receive more than six (6) years of H-1B time depending on his/her progress through the green card process.

The H-1B category also entitles spouses and children of the employee to accompany him or her in H-4 dependent status. H-4 spouses of certain H-1B visa holders who have applied for lawful permanent residency may be eligible to apply for employment authorization beginning May 26, 2015.