Understanding What the H-1B Designation Means
You’ve made it to this point because you know you need the H-1B visa to stay in the US after your OPT ends. But what exactly does this H-1B visa classification give you?
The H-1B visa is actually one of the most flexible working-class visas you can have. It’s also referred to as the “dual-purpose” visa because you can apply for your green card and permanent US citizenship while working in the US as an H-1B holder.
Under your OPT status, you can work for one year in the US. But if you wish to stay in the country and work in a specialty occupation, you may qualify for an H-1B visa.
Specialty occupations require specialized knowledge acquired through a bachelor’s degree or equivalent education. They’re usually held in fields like architecture, mathematics, accounting, healthcare, and other STEM and art subjects.
How to Obtain the H-1B Visa
You can’t apply for an H-1B visa yourself as a student. However, if you are given a job offer, the prospective employer initiates the application process and covers most of the fees.
Once there’s an employer/employee relationship and a job offer on the table, the employer requests approval from the US Department of Labor for the specialty occupation through a Labor Condition Application (LCA). When the LCA is approved, the next step is to contact the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and begin the petition.
You’re already in the US under an F-1, which is beneficial. Changing your status to an H-1B is easier than beginning the process from scratch. But if your job offer is not cap-exempt, you’ll still need to go through the lottery before your request for an H-1B is approved.
The H-1B Lottery and Cap
Hundreds of thousands of H-1B requests are submitted yearly, and USCIS approves a limit of 65,000 of these submissions. USCIS instituted a lottery process split into two parts to make this fair. In the first lottery, 20,000 advanced degree petitions are chosen.
Your petition is entered into this lottery if you have a master’s degree or higher. If it’s chosen, you move on to the next steps of your application. If you’re not accepted in the first lottery drawing, you have a second chance in the second one.
Some employers are “cap-exempt,” so your petition would skip this lottery process. These are institutions of higher education, nonprofit entities affiliated with universities, and governmental or nonprofit research organizations.
How to Apply to Change From OTP to an H-1B Visa
If your job is cap-exempt, you can apply for an H-1B visa and begin working at any time during the year. But there are time constraints for those subject to the cap.
Employers can begin submitting applications no earlier than six months before the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1. This is also the first date employees outside of the country can enter and begin working. If your OPT authorization expires before October 1, it is extended while your H-1B petition is in progress.
However, your OPT extension terminates if the petition is not accepted through the lottery process or is rejected.
Keep in mind that once you change your status to H1-B from OPT, you can return to school for a new 12-month OPT period, but you may not reclaim any time lost on the previous OPT.
Changing to an H-1B status from an OPT assignment is complex, and any mistakes can result in a denial of your petition. But at Visa2US, we know the system and understand how important it is for you to continue working in the country. Our professional experts are here 24/7 to answer your questions, review your application, and give you advice.
You or your potential employer can hire Visa2US at any time in your application process, but the sooner you retain legal counsel, the easier and quicker your petition will go. Contact us today to see how we can help you change your status from an OTP student to an H-1B foreign worker.