When an international student’s optional practical training (OPT) begins to wind down, making the switch to an H-1B or Green Card is a common idea that comes up. While it is possible to remain in the US on the OPT program for several years, many people decide that a more permanent working situation within the United States could fit their goals better. In these cases, making the switch to an H-1B or a Green Card begins to make a lot of sense.
Making the switch
The first thing that you will need to do when making the switch from an F1 visa to an H-1B is to gather all the required documents. A helpful checklist can be found here.
In short, Form I-129 must be completed and submitted along with all other required documentation. However, there are a few things that H-1B hopefuls must keep in mind while embarking on the H-1B journey.
Here is a brief outline of the process:
Gather documents for OPT to H-1B transition
When preparing a petition for an H-1B, you will need several essential documents.
- A CV or Resume – One of the requirements of the H-1B is that applicants have a specific field or expertise. Submitting a detailed CV or resume helps the USCIS identify what that expertise is.
- Passport – A passport is also required for change-of-status requests and visa applications.
- Degree – Another requirement for an H-1B is to show that you hold a university degree. While there are some exceptions to this requirement, most applicants will need to provide proof that they are, indeed, skilled workers who can fill the job roles they are applying for. Along with a university degree, transcripts are also requested.
- Forms I-20 and I-94 – Form I-20 and I-94 are proof that an F-1 visa exists and that immigration status is valid. Showing these as part of the process of switching from an F-1 visa to an H-1B visa is necessary.
- When applying for an H-1B from an OPT program, showing documentation for OPT is also required.
To apply for an H-1B visa, whether you are on OPT or not, it is necessary to find an employer who is willing to be a sponsor. There are many employers who are happy to do this and knowing where to look for potential options is a great place to begin.
There are two conditions that the USCIS looks at when determining the employer’s ability to be a valid sponsor.
The first consideration is whether the employer is prepared to pay a wage that equals at least 95% of what US citizens would make for the same job title. For obvious reasons, this requirement is in place to protect the H-1B holder and it is always a good idea to make sure that the employer follows this rule.
Another consideration that the USCIS takes into account is the level of competition for a particular job description. This rule is in place to protect American workers from losing jobs to foreign nationals and the employer is required to offer the same position to local workers as well as H-1B holders. This second consideration is important to know about because different fields and jobs will carry varying levels of competition and some can be, therefore, more difficult to get approval for.
The employer is the one who will file the application for an H-1B. There are numerous rules associated with the application process, as well as a cap on how many applicants can be approved.
While the process and payments involved with applying for an H-1B visa are relatively straightforward, one of the more challenging parts of the process is dealing with the cap that is placed on new applicants. Important information regarding the timeline for the application process can be found here.
Generally speaking, there is a cap of 85,000 new H-1Bs each year with 20,000 of those reserved for graduate degree holders. Regardless of how many new applicants there are only those who ‘beat the cap’ will be able to work on an H-1B. It is good to apply as soon as possible to avoid getting left behind.
Cost of filing an H-1B
The cost of filing an H-1B is multi-faceted and applicants should be aware of the various fees included in the process. There is a filing fee, an ACWIA fee, a fraud prevention fee, and a legal fee. Here is a breakdown on each:
- Filing Fee – The filing fee is required to start the process of getting an H-1B visa. The filing fee is $460, though this is updated from time to time. It is always a good idea to check the latest updates on fees here and here.
- ACWIA Fee – The American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) states that employers with fewer than 25 employees must pay a fee of $750 and employers with more than 25 employers should pay a fee of $1,500.
- Fraud Prevention Fee – The fee for fraud prevention is $500.
Final thoughts on switching from OPT to H-1B
Whether you are going to an H-1B from an F-1 visa or from an OPT program, the process is pretty straightforward, though not always easy. Many international students have trouble finding employers who not only meet the criteria to be valid employers for the H-1B visa, but also who are willing to go through the hosting process. The process can be both time-consuming and expensive for some employers. That should not stop you though. There are many employers who understand the value that international workers bring to the table, and they are certainly ready and able to help.
Check out the H-1B employment resources at Interstride for more comprehensive guidance in finding and securing your H-1B status.
Is it possible to apply for H-1B status by myself?
It is not possible to apply for an H-1B alone. Part of the application process asks for information from an employer, and this information is required for the successful completion of Form 1-129.
What should I do if my H-1B visa application was denied?
It depends on the reason for the denial. If the applicant missed the deadline or was not chosen for the H-1B lottery, it is possible that waiting and filing early the following year is the best course of action. If the application was denied for any other reason, such as an employer fault, missing paperwork, incomplete payment, etc. A new application with corrected information will be required.