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 this type of visa, an applicant must first find an H-1B sponsoring employer. Without the sponsor, the H-1B visa cannot be granted.
Unlike many other visas, the H-1B visa enables its recipients to be open about their intentions to ultimately apply for a green card. It is a so-called "dual-intent" visa. (With many other visas, if the 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 partially responsible for making sure your immigration paperwork gets done correctly, and that you may be working with this employer for a number of years, it's worth choosing your employer carefully, or at least asking some 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 $150. (For the latest fees, check the Fees for Visa Services page 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 may 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 may want to hire one on your own.
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 to work. Ask your potential sponsor (employer) whether its lawyer will help you obtain these 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 may 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.