One of the challenges facing business owners in the U.S. is finding highly skilled professionals domestically, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). For this reason, it is common for businesses to rely on outsourcing work to international workers. Contrary to popular misconceptions, however, this is a strictly regulated process that requires employers to petition the government to qualify temporary workers under the H-1B Visa program.
Who is eligible for an H-1B Visa?
The H-1B Visa program was established under the Immigration Act of 1990. An H-1B Visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows highly educated foreign nationals to work in the U.S. temporarily. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the federal agency that enforces immigration laws, workers eligible to have an H-1B petition filed on their behalf include:
- Those in specialty occupations that require a bachelor’s degree or higher
- Workers in cooperative research and development projects administered by the U.S. Department of Defense
- Fashion models of distinguished merit and ability
An H-1B Visa is valid for three years, but this period may be extended for up to six years; a temporary worker who has been in the country for six years is required to leave.
Prior to filing an H-1B petition with the USCIS, employers must (1) attest that employing an H-1B worker will not have an adverse impact on the wages similar native-born workers and (2) notify current employees that they intend to hire an H-1B worker. Finally, there are statutory limits on the number of H-1B Visas granted each year: 65,000 for new hires and 20,000 additional H-1B visas for international workers who obtain a master’s degree or doctorate from a U.S. university.
In light of these caps, it is crucial to plan ahead if you intend to sponsor an international worker for an H-1B visa. Moreover, navigating the USCIS’ procedures for bringing highly skilled workers to the U.S. can be challenging. This is why it is crucial to consult an experienced immigration lawyer. Your lawyer can assist with filing the Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) with the USCIS along with the required evidence and supporting documentation.
What are the benefits of an H-1B Visa?
Foreign professionals enjoy numerous benefits from H-1B Visas in terms of employment opportunities, higher wages than they could otherwise earn in their home countries, and the potential of becoming legal permanent residents. H-1B workers have additional protections as well. First, employers must pay them at least the actual or prevailing wage for their occupation, whichever is higher. In addition, H-1B holders can move to another employer while their visa is valid, as long as that employer will sponsor them.
For their part, employers can benefit from having access to highly skilled STEM professionals throughout the world. This is particularly important for employers located in areas experiencing a labor shortage or that cannot find or attract qualified workers from elsewhere in the U.S. In short, the H-1B program allows employers to hire foreign professionals to complete projects or fill highly specialized roles. Moreover, hiring H-1B workers can strengthen the competitiveness of U.S. businesses in the global marketplace.
In addition to the H-1B Visa, there are other types of temporary, nonimmigrant visas, including:
- E Visa — Available for foreign employees of Treaty-Trader organizations or foreign nationals designated as Treaty-Investors
- L Visa — Allows an employee of foreign company with managerial skills or specialized knowledge to transfer within the company to the U.S.
- O Visa — Specifically designed for individuals with “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, arts, athletics, education, or business
- P Visa — Allows foreign nationals to travel to the U.S. for a unique cultural event, performing/entertainment or coaching athletics
- R Visa — Available for religious workers and their immediate family traditional religious purposes
- B-1 Visa — Allows foreign nationals to visit the U.S. for business or pleasure
Although immigration has become a hot button political issue, the H-1B Visa and other visa programs are still in effect. While companies in the technology sector frequently rely on H-1B workers to fill highly specialized roles, the H-1B Visa program can enable a wide range of businesses to compete in the global marketplace.
Nonetheless, U.S. immigration law can be complicated and confusing, not only for employers but international workers hoping to work in the U.S. In the long run, the best way for your business to sponsor a highly skilled foreign worker for H-1B status is to consult an experienced immigration attorney.