H-2B Work Visa Requirements, Fees, and Application Process

Overview of the required documents and procedures to apply for an H-2B temporary work visa.

Seasonal non-agricultural workers, both skilled and unskilled, may apply for an H-2B visa to the United States. You must have a job offer first, for a position for which there is a shortage of U.S. workers willing or able to take the job. You must be able to show that you intend to return home at the end of the permitted stay.

Such visas are used for a wide variety of workers, such as business trainers, entertainers, athletes, camp counselors, ski instructors, and home attendants for terminally ill patients.

The H-2B visa holder may bring a spouse and children (unmarried, under age 21) to the United States. The dependents may attend school while in the United States, but may not work.

This article covers some practical and procedural issues relating to filing for an H-2B visa. For more on eligibility, see Overview of H-2B Work Visa Eligibility Legal Issues.

How Long Can You Stay on an H-2B Visa?

The initial H-2B visa is good for up to one year. If the employer can show that it needs you for a longer time, and you can show that you still plan to return to your home country when required, the visa can be extended upon request in one year increments. Such extensions can be hard to get, however -- they're not automatic at all.

The maximum time you can stay in the U.S. with an H-2B visa is three years.

H-2B Visa Numerical Limits

The H-2B numerical limit set by Congress per fiscal year is 66,000, with 33,000 to be allocated for employment beginning in the 1st half of the fiscal year (October 1 - March 31) and 33,000 to be allocated for employment beginning in the 2nd half of the fiscal year (April 1 - September 30). This category tends to bring in a lot of applications, meaning a visa might not be available to you in the year you apply. 

H-2B Visa Requirements

To qualify for an H-2B visa, your employer must meet the following requirements:

  • The employer must have a need which is seasonal, one-time, intermittent, or peak load.
  • The job time-frame must be for less than one year.
  • There must be no qualified and willing U.S. workers available for the job.

The employee must meet the following H-2B visa requirements:

  • You must have a valid job offer from a U.S. employer to do seasonal or temporary work.
  • You must have the correct background and abilities for the job.
  • You must intend to return home before the expiration date on the visa.

H-2B Visa Fees and Costs

The H-2B visa costs include a filing fee paid by the employer for the I-129 Petition of Nonimmigrant Worker. At the U.S. consulate, you will need to pay a visa application fee. For the latest amount, see the "Fees for Visa Services" page of the State Department website.

H-2B Visa Application Process

Your employer must start the process by advertising and recruiting for the job, in an attempt to find U.S. workers. If none are found, the employer can apply to its local state workforce agency (SWA) for a temporary labor certification. The SWA will transfer the case to the U.S. Department of Labor for a final decision on the labor certification.

After the labor certification has been approved, your employer must next file a visa petition on Form I-129 and submit it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If you're already legally in the U.S. at this time, your employer can simultaneously ask that your status be changed to H-2B worker.

When USCIS approves the I-129 petition, applicants who are already in the U.S. and simultaneously received a change of status are good to start working. If you're outside the U.S., your next step is to apply for a visa through a U.S. consulate in your home country.See your local consulate's website for its application and appointment procedures. Or if you're from Canada, you can head straight to the U.S. border with the documents described below.

Documents to Bring to Your Visa Appointment

The U.S. consulate will likely ask you to bring:

  • A printout of the Form DS-160 that you filled out online.
  • Notice from USCIS showing I-129 approval.
  • Valid passport for you and each accompanying family member.
  • One photo of each applicant, passport style.
  • If your spouse and children will be accompanying you, documents showing the family relationship, such as birth and marriage certificates.
  • Documents establishing your intent to leave the U.S. when your H-2B status expires, such as copies of a deed to a house or a lease for an apartment, letters from an employer saying your job will be waiting for you, and so on.

If You Need Help

Some employers will be able to help you with your H-2B visa application process, most likely if they regularly hire employees from outside the U.S. If your employer does not provide an attorney, consider hiring one yourself. The attorney can help you assess which visa category is most appropriate for your employment purposes and, if you apply for an H-2B, help you not only prepare the paperwork but try to get it submitted early enough that visas for that year won't have run out when you apply.

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