If you are are the beneficiary of a recently approved H-1B petition, there are several important things you should know regarding visa issuance, validity, international travel, and more. Please review this material carefully. You should review all of this information after each H-1B approval. Later, you may jump ahead to certain sections:

H-1B STATUS

Your H-1B status is valid until the end validity date of your most recently issued I-94 card.  The H-1B status is employment-based, so your status immediately ends on the date of employment is terminated.

If a change of status or extension of stay has been granted, then you are not required to travel outside the U.S. and apply for an H-1B visa in order to “activate” your H-1B approval.

If your H-1B petition has been approved for consular notification, then you will not receive an I-94 card at the bottom of your H-1B I-797 approval notice. You will need to apply for a visa stamp at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad before your H-1B status can be ‘activated”.

EMPLOYMENT AUTHORIZATION

Your H-1B status is valid only for the position stated on the H-1B petition, and for the period requested. You cannot accept any other employment outside of the sponsoring employer without filing another H-1B petition. Please let us know immediately if any significant changes occur in your job during your period of employment for your sponsoring employer. This includes changes in work location, salary, and job duties. Some changes may require an amended H-1B petition.

DEPENDENTS

Your dependents’ H-4 status is valid until the end validity date of their most recently issued I-94 cards.

Your spouse and children may not accept employment in the U.S. without separate authorization since they are obtaining their H-4 status as the dependents of a temporary worker.

Your spouse and any dependent children will need to present the following documents when they apply for their H-4 visas:

  • A copy of your H-1B approval notice
  • Application Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application OR
  • Their machine-readable passports (valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay
  • Two color, passport-style photographs (each)

They may also be required to present a copy of your H-1B petition documents, their birth certificates (with certified translation, if applicable), marriage certificate, and copies of your financial documents such as pay stubs from your current employer. For more information, please refer to the U.S. Department of State website specifically designed for people seeking U.S. visas.

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

Please do not make plans to travel outside of the U.S. without contacting our office first.

You must have a valid visa stamp in your passport to return to the U.S, unless you are a Canadian citizen or are making a short trip to Canada or Mexico. Please contact our office before making travel plans.

If you already hold a valid H-1B visa stamp in your passport, we recommend that you take the following documents with you when you leave the U.S.:

  • Copy of the I-797 approval notice for the H-1B petition*
  • Evidence that you are maintaining your H-1B status (a recent paystub and/or letter from your employer. Our office can prepare a “travel letter” for your employer upon request, as a courtesy service.)
  • Your machine-readable passport (valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay.)
  • Valid non-immigrant visa stamp

If travel is required, advance planning and early visa application are critical. The Department of State has stated that applicants are advised when they apply that there is no time period within which administrative processing must be completed. Individuals will have to weigh the risk before making travel plans in advance of receiving a visa. Please contact our office prior to making irrevocable travel arrangements to discuss your plans.

* You do not need to present your original I-797 approval notice when you apply for entry into the U.S. The receipt number on your visa stamp, beginning with EAC or WAC, is sufficient for officials at the port of entry to look up your petition approval in the system. We do recommend that you carry a copy of the I-797 approval notice and the petition documents to avoid delays.

As a general reminder, please be sure to double-check with your travel agent or airline about any transit visa(s) you may need for international flights, even quick stopovers.

VISA PROCESSING

If you are porting to a new employer and your extension of stay has been granted and you are not required to travel outside of the United States, you may continue to utilize the H-1B visa stamp in your passport for as long as it is valid.

If your change of status has been granted and you are traveling outside of the United States, or if your H-1B petition has been approved for consular notification, it will be necessary for you to apply at a U.S. Consulate for a new H-1B visa. At the Consulate, you will be required to present the following:

  • Copy of the I-797 Approval Notice for the H-1B petition*
  • Application Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application
  • Your machine-readable passport** (valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay)
  • Two color, passport-style photographs

You may also be required to present copies of the H-1B petition documents and proof or your employment, such as paystubs. For more information, please refer to the U.S. State Department website specifically designed for people seeking U.S. visas.

For information and tips on filling out Form DS-160, please see this website. You will be required to upload a digital photograph. Please set aside time to complete this form. If you are applying for H-4 visas for your family, each non-U.S. citizen will also need a completed DS-160. You can create additional DS-160 forms by clicking the option to create a family or group application when you reach the “Thank You” page. You can alter the auto-generated information to tailor it for your dependents.

There will be a visa fee of at least $190 for each machine-readable visa issued. A reciprocity fee may also be required. You should confirm, with the U.S. Consulate, any specialized application procedures, processing time, and whether or not an appointment is required. Please note that U.S. Consulates, Embassies, and Ports of Entry may, in their discretion, choose to investigate any H visa application. It is therefore difficult to predict how long the wait will be for each visa issuance. You can check visa-waiting times here, and you can check consular procedures here.

Most visa applicants must appear at a consulate for personal interviews. Many consulates use an online appointment system for visa applicants. It can take four to six weeks or longer for visa appointments. You can schedule your visa interview with your receipt number, beginning with EAC or WAC, once your H-1B petition is approved.
During a visa appointment, you will be fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed about your visa application and your prospective stay in the United States.

Consular officers are not supposed to re-adjudicate H-1B petitions that USCIS has already approved, unless the answers provided at the interview are very different from the information provided in the petition to USCIS. See 9 FAM 402.10-9(B) Approved Petition Is Prima Facie Evidence of Entitlement to H Classification.

You can apply for your visa stamp in a Third Country such as Canada, or you can apply in your home country the next time you go home. Most clients do not have problems with their visa applications in Canada especially if they graduated from a school in the U.S. or Canada and most of their work experience is from the U.S. or Canada.

You should be aware that no matter where you go to apply for your visa stamp, there is always the small risk of administrative delays or security checks that could affect the processing time of your visa. Estimated visa processing times can be found here.

You may also be subject to a sometimes lengthy security clearance including Visa Mantis, especially if you are involved in high-tech work. While there is no specific formula for avoiding such a delay, we generally recommend describing the potential use of technology on Form DS-160. For example, if you are engaged in bio-engineering, describe the purpose of your work – renewable energy, for instance. This may help a consular office understand that your work does not have potential application for national security or terrorism.  See this article for more information.

*You do not need to present your original I-797 approval notice at your visa interview. U.S. consulates and embassies are required to verify the approval of the H-1B petition by consulting the State Department’ Petition Information Management Service (PIMS), an electronic database that contains information on petition approvals. Please note that it may take several days or more for the consulate to verify the approval in the PIMS system, particularly if the visa application was the beneficiary of a petition to change or extend nonimmigrant status. Visa applications should be prepared for the possibility of delays while the consulate verifies the petition approval.

** Note that the name on your passport must match the name on your I-797 approval notice. Otherwise the issuance of your visa may be delayed. If you have only one name, or if your name appears in one line in your passport, your full name goes into the surname field and “first name unknown” or “FNU” goes into the given name. We recommend obtaining a new passport with given and surnames if possible.

PORT OF ENTRY AND I-94 RETRIEVAL INFORMATION

You may enter the U.S. ten (10) days before the start date on your I-797 approval notice. At the port of entry, you may request that your I-94 card be issued with an additional ten (10) days beyond the expiration data of the I-797 approval notice. CBP officers at the port of entry are not required to grant these additional days, but you may still request them. If you receive additional days, you are not authorized to work beyond the expiration date of the I-797 approval notice.

You do not need to present your original I-797 approval notice when you apply for entry into the U.S. The receipt number on your visa stamp is sufficient for officials at the port of entry to look up the petition approval. We do recommend that you carry a copy of the I-797 approval notice and the petition documents to avoid potential delays.

After you have entered the U.S., please be sure to carefully check your new I-94 card online and visa stamp in your passport to confirm that the category and expiration date are correct. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has implemented an electronic I-94 system. Please be sure to visit https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov to confirm that your information was entered correctly into the system and also to print the I-94 information for your records. Please also be sure to email us a copy of the I-94 printout for your file. If there is an error, check here for instructions on how to fix an I-94 card within the U.S.

Once you receive your visa, please forward a copy of the visa and I-94 card to our office. Please be sure to do the same for your dependent(s).

In general, your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the expiration of your period of admission to the United States, to ensure that you will be able to depart the U.S. at the end of your stay and proceed to your home country or another country. There are some exceptions to this rule. If your country is in agreement with the U.S., your passport is deemed valid for an additional six months past its expiration date so that you can return to your country of citizenship. The list of member countries is here.

The expiration date of your I-94 card should match the expiration date on the H-1B approval notice. However, if your passport expires before the end date of your H-1B approval notice, you may not be admitted to the United States for the full-term of your visa and your I-94 card will expire on the date your passport expires. If this happens, please contact us so we can discuss how to maintain and extend your status. If your passport is renewed within 30 days of your entry, then you may be able to present your passport to a Deferred Inspection united to have a new I-94 card issued. We recommend that you contact the Deferred Inspection unit ahead of time for this type of issue – don’t just walk in. After 30 days, it will have to be done through an extension with USCIS.

If you receive a new I-797 approval notice extending your stay prior to your departure, be sure to present the I-797 approval with the latest validity date to ensure that your I-94 card will have the latest expiration date.

IF YOU MOVE OR CHANGE YOUR ADDRESS

In addition, you should be aware that CIS requires all non-U.S. citizens to carry their I-94 cards at all times and to inform CIS of any change of address. You can notify CIS of any change of address online.

SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER

You may begin work for an employer while your application for a Social Security Number is pending. Before an SSN can be issued to you, the Social Security Administration must verify your nonimmigrant status with the Department of Homeland Security. It takes approximately 10 business days from the time you enter the United States for your entry data to be entered into DHS systems and made available for verification purposes. You may therefore wish to wait 10 business days after entry to file the application for an SSN, to minimize verification difficulties. Note that if you depart the U.S. while your SSN application is pending, the system may indicate your departure and your application may be suspended. You may then have to reapply for an SSN upon your re-entry to the U.S. We therefore recommend that you remain in the U.S. until your Social Security card is issued.

H-1B EXTENSIONS

Be sure to keep evidence of time spent outside the U.S. so that you may recapture this time should you need to file an extension of H-1B status beyond the six (6) year limit. Evidence can include exit and entry stamps in your passport, plane tickets, itineraries, credit card statements, etc.

PERMANENT RESIDENCE

Please contact our office if you would like to initiate a permanent residence application. We recommend beginning the permanent residence application as early as possible so that you may be eligible to extend your H-1B status beyond the six (6) year limit.

If you have already applied for permanent residence and you are considering the use of your EAD/AP documents, please check this article for more information about the benefits and drawbacks.

QUESTIONS?

If you would like a hard copy of the H-1B petition and approval notice mailed to you, or you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the attorney or paralegal that handled your case. It is our pleasure to assist you in this matter.