If you are a foreign national working in the United States on an H-1B visa, you may eventually come to a point where you have to file for an extension of your permitted stay. The maximum period you'll be allowed to stay on your initial H1-B visa is three years. After that, you can apply for extensions up to a maximum of an additional three years.
In limited circumstances, you may even be able to get permission for an extension of stay beyond the six-year maximum. For details, see "Can an H-1B Visa Holder Extend Stay Beyond Six Years?"
Watch out if you've also spent time in the U.S. on an L visa or another H visa: These stays also count against your six-year maximum. However, you do have the option of leaving the United States for a year, then reapplying for any of these visas.
The process of applying for an extension involves going through much the same process as you did originally, in applying for the H-1B visa. We describe this process below.
You need to file your renewal before, not after your currently permitted stay expires. Once you're out of status, you are not eligible for an extension unless you can prove (1) the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond your control; (2) the length of the delay was reasonable; (3) you have not otherwise violated the terms of your H-1B status; (4) your are still a bona fide nonimmigrant; and (5) you have not been placed into removal (immigration court) proceedings.
As before, your employer will need to file a Form I-129 on your behalf, with the H Supplement and supporting documents. These documents include a letter describing your position within the company, an attachment laying out your employment history over the past seven years, and the Form I-797 that USCIS originally issued to approve you for H-1B status.
If you have a spouse and children who also need extensions, then you'll need to file a Form I-539 for them -- they can all be included on a single Form I-539.
Your employer will also need to submit a new labor condition application (LCA) for any extensions beyond the three-year period of initial USCIS approval of your H-1B petition. Unlike in the past, it is not enough for the employer to submit the Form I-129 with evidence that the LCA is pending -- your employer must actually receive certification of the LCA from the Department of Labor (DOL) first, and submit proof of that.
You will also need to submit a copy of your Form I-94, which is the Certificate of Arrival or Departure, which will show the expiration date of your permitted stay.
In addition, your renewal application must list any dependents you have as well as offer a clear and strong explanation as to why the visa is needed for your continued employment within the United States.
Before approving your extension, USCIS has the power to conduct a site visit, and interview you and your supervisors in person, through its Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) office.
For nonimmigrant (temporary) visas, applicants must prove that they do not secretly intend to live permanently in the United States. However, many H-1B applicants apply for a green card while in the U.S., often through the same employer as sponsored them for the H-1B. Fortunately, all you need to do in this situation is give your assurance that you will depart the United States upon the completion of your authorized stay.
Only two circumstances will justify asking for more than six years on an H or L visa. The first is if you have an approved preference petition (for a U.S. green card) and are otherwise eligible for adjustment of status but for the unavailability of an immigrant visa due to the waiting period created by per-country limits. In such a situation, you'd want to include a copy of your I-140 approval notice with the extension application.
The second situation allowing you to request an extension beyond six years is if a labor certification or I-140 petition was filed on your behalf more than one year ago and USCIS has not denied it.
If you have difficulty applying for an extension of your H-1B visa or you have questions about the application process, consult with an experienced U.S. immigration attorney, who can guide you through the process.