H-1B is a United States Immigration Service visa classification that permits employers to hire highly skilled foreign workers who possess theoretical and practical application of a body of specialized knowledge. The applicant must hold a bachelor's degree or the equivalent in the specific specialty.
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In addition to specialty occupations in fields such as science, medicine, health care, education, information technology and business, the visa also applies to aliens seeking to perform services of exceptional merit and ability relating to a Department of Defense (DOD) cooperative research and development project, or services as a fashion model of distinguished merit or ability.
To be eligible for an H-1B visa, an alien must have a employer sponsor. The employer is required to state or demonstrate that a U.S. worker will not be displaced by the H-1B applicant and file a petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of the alien. In 2015, two-thirds of the petitions granted in 2015 were for employees in computer-related occupations.
Current laws limit the annual number of qualifying foreign workers who may be issued a new visa to 65,000 with a cap of an additional 20,000 under the H-1B advanced degree exemption. Alien employees at government research organizations, instituter of higher education or nonprofit research organization may be exempt from the cap.
Applications for new visas are accepted each year on April 1. If the number of applications exceeds the cap approved by Congress after five days, a computer-based selection process (sometimes referred to as a lottery) picks 20,000 advanced degree petitions from the applicant pool. Applicants who are not accepted are added to the regular pool and the computer-based selection process continues until the additional 65,000 visas have been granted.
The duration of stay allowed by an H-1B visa is up to three years, but extensions are permitted. H-1B visa holders who want to continue to work in the U.S. after six years, but who have not obtained permanent residency status, must live outside the U.S. for one year before applying for a new H-1B visa. The maximum duration of the H-1B visa is ten years for exceptional United States Department of Defense project related work.
In 2017, bills to reform the H-1B program were introduced in both the House and the Senate.