An H-1B visa is, in essence, a work visa. It allows highly skilled, non-U.S. citizens the opportunity to live and work in the United States for a particular employer and for a limited period of time. In order to be granted an H-1B visa, an applicant must first find a sponsoring employer. Without the sponsor, the H-1B visa cannot be granted.
Unlike many other visas, the H-1B enables its recipients to be open about their intentions to ultimately apply for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence). It is a so-called "dual-intent" visa. (With many other visas, if U.S. immigration authorities discover that you actually plan to seek a green card after entering the United States, they'll deny you the visa.) In fact, many H-1B visa holders end up having their H-1B employer sponsor them for a green card after a few years.
Given that your employer will be mostly responsible for making sure your immigration paperwork gets done correctly, and that you might be working with this employer for a number of years, it's worth choosing your employer carefully, or at least asking probing questions before accepting the offer. Below are some questions to ask.
Contrary to popular belief, not all H-1B visa sponsors cover all the application and processing fees for you. Although your employer is likely to pay for the initial petition that it files on your behalf, realize that you'll be expected, at your consular interview, to come up with a processing fee of upwards of $190. (For the latest fees, check the Fees for Visa Services age of the U.S. State Department's website.)
Ask your future employer whether it covers the various application and visa fees and what you will be expected to pay for personally.
Applying for an H-1B requires careful attention to application procedures, and any delays can ruin your chances, because the government could run out of visas entirely during the year in which you apply. Only a limited number of H-1B visas are made available each year. The total is 85,000, and some of these are set aside for particular types of workers, or people from selected countries.
If your employer won't be hiring a lawyer for you, you might want to hire one on your own. Be aware, however, that the Department of Labor expects employers to pay all H-1B-related costs, including attorney fees, and this could limit the role of an attorney you hire individually.
As an H-1B visa holder, you can request visas for your spouse and minor children, to accompany you to the United States. They will be given H-4 visas, which authorize them to live and study in the U.S., but not in most cases to work. The exception is in situations where the employer starts the green card application process for the H-1B worker. Once that has resulted in an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers on the H-1B worker's behalf, the H-4-holding spouse can qualify and apply for a work permit.
Ask your potential sponsor (employer) whether its lawyer will help you obtain these dependent visas as well, and whether it will cover the processing costs for your dependents.
Airfare for you and your family members can be expensive. It might be a good idea to do a bit of research on airfare rates, so that you have a point of negotiation.
Ask how much you'll be making as well as the frequency of paychecks. Realize that, in order to obtain a visa for you, the employer must prove to the U.S. government that it will be paying you at least the prevailing wage that is paid for your type of job in the same geographic area.
In addition, many U.S. companies provide medical, vision, and dental insurance benefits to their employees. You will want to ask what benefits are offered, given that paying for medical care on your own can be extremely expensive.
If your ultimate goal is to get U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card) and to remain in the U.S. indefinitely, it would be good to know at the outset whether your H-1B job will lead down that path.
If not, ask whether you would be eligible for a promotion, after proving yourself of course, into a role that would qualify for green card sponsorship. If not, you might want to forgo the opportunity or be upfront about your plans with the prospective employer to explore other options.