Yet another sign of the improving U.S. economy is the increased demand for H-1B visas. On April 2, 2012, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting petitions for new H-1B visas, subject to the FY2013 annual visa cap. The most recent USCIS update on April 20th reports it has already received 35,900 petitions. These filings double the number of new visa petitions filed during the entire month of April in 2011.
By now, many are familiar with the H-1B professional worker visa, which is known for being an excellent option for many bachelor-degree-educated foreign nationals. But the visa is also elusive. Relatively few – 65,000 new H-1B visas, plus another 20,000 H-1B visas set aside for those holding a U.S. masters degree – are issued each year.
For an employer, H-1B visa workers provide vital professional services. For the foreign employee, securing this visa may eventually lead to a “green card” and U.S. citizenship. As an attorney practicing immigration law throughout the country, I am often approached by people and employers with questions such as: “How can I lawfully fill important positions within my U.S. business with foreign workers?” and “How can I immigrate to, and work in, the U.S.?” While every situation is unique, the H-1B visa is a dependable option for thousands each year.
The H-1B visa allows a U.S. employer to hire a professional foreign worker, who can provide important specialty services. Initially, this visa may be issued for up to three years, with an opportunity to renew for up to another three years. Typically, at any time during that employment, an employer satisfied with the H-1B employee’s performance, may sponsor and help the foreign worker to secure a permanent employment-based immigrant visa, as well as U.S. lawful permanent resident status (commonly known as “green card” status). This is a reliable process whereby a U.S. employer may hire and evaluate an employee on a temporary basis, while reserving the opportunity to make a permanent employment offer later on. For the foreign employee, it is a legal and efficient path to a “green card” or U.S. citizenship.
Generally, the employer must possess the financial resources to employ the foreign worker in a specific “specialty” or professional position. There are countless jobs that qualify as “specialty” occupations eligible for H-1B visa classification. A few examples include charge nurses, nurse supervisors, nurse managers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, engineers, computer programmers, business analysts, business managers, and accountants. There are many more occupations, too numerous to list here, that qualify for an H-1B visa. Importantly, the job title alone does not determine whether the position will be deemed a “specialty” occupation. Instead, the determining factors are the actual duties and responsibilities assigned to the job.
A sole proprietor, small business, consulting company, staffing firm, corporation, etc. can hire a foreign worker under this visa program. The trust and commitment shown by an employer hiring an H-1B foreign worker, is often reimbursed tenfold by that employee, in loyalty and dedication to the job. It is no wonder that both parties eventually decide to evolve their initial relationship into a permanent commitment (but, if desired, still maintain an at-will employment relationship) wherein the foreign worker can eventually obtain a “green card.”
As I explained above, since only a limited number of new H-1B visas are available each year, it is important to have an H-1B visa petition prepared and filed as soon as possible. The window within which to file a new H-1B visa petition opened on April 2nd. But that window will close abruptly once USCIS deems it has received enough petitions to issue the limited number of new H-1B visas available this year. Exactly when that window will close is unpredictable, so if you believe you may be eligible for an H-1B visa, or if your business wishes to petition for a prospective foreign employee, you should act now. If you do not file your H-1B visa petition in time, you may have to wait until April 1, 2013, to file your petition.
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Rio M. Guerrero, Esq.