How to obtain an H-1B visa

In my column this week in La OpiniónI explain how to obtain an H-1B visa:

One of the ways to legally enter the United States is through the H-1B visa which is extended to professional foreign workers in specialty occupations.

Beginning today, April 2, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is accepting applications for these visas for fiscal year 2013 (October 1, 2012 through September 30, 2013). Petitions will continue to be accepted until the designated visas for the fiscal year are exhausted.

There are currently 65,000 H-1B visas available, of which 6,800 are reserved for citizens of Chile and Singapore, under terms of free trade agreements with those countries.

Another 20,000 visas are designated for workers with graduate degrees (masters and doctorates) obtained in the United States. In addition, applications filed by universities and government or non-profit research institutions do not count toward the 65,000 visa cap; nor do applications from individuals who are seeking an extension of their H-1B status in the U.S., either for the same employer or a new employer.

Employers in the U.S. are the petitioners of workers, not the employees themselves. In other words, employers are the sponsors.

The H-1B is a nonimmigrant visa and once granted only permits the temporary hiring of foreign employees who have theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields, such as scientists, engineers or computer programmers. It also requires that they have a college degree in the specialized profession.

An H-1B petition may not be filed more than six months prior to the date of commencement of employment. To file, evidence of the employee's college degree must be submitted. If the employer indicates that the worker qualifies for this visa due to a combination of education and experience, evidence confirming this must be provided at the time the petition is filed.

The H-1B visa allows stay of no more than six consecutive years, with some exceptions. A new six-year stay is allowed once the foreign worker has spent one year outside the U.S. after initial entry into the country.

The H-1B visa allows the nonimmigrant to apply for permanent residence through a family-based or employment-based immigrant visa without prejudicing his or her current immigration status.

Please consult with an immigration attorney before beginning the process.