Who Qualifies for an H-1B Visa?

Learn the basic requirements for this popular U.S. visa for temporary specialty workers.

To qualify for an H-1B visa for temporary specialty workers, you must satisfy the following H-1B visa requirements (which come from the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) at § 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b); and the immigration regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 214(h)):

  • You must be coming to the U.S. to perform services in a “specialty occupation” -- meaning one that requires “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge,” and attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree in the specialty or its equivalent in work experience; or else to be a distinguished fashion model. Examples of some qualifying specialty occupations include accountants, architects, engineers, artists, dietitians, chiropractors, librarians, computer systems analysts, physical therapists, chemists, pharmacists, medical technologists, hotel managers (large hotels), and upper-level business managers.
  • You must have a job offer from a U.S. employer for work to be performed in the U.S.
  • The employer must be offering you at least the prevailing wage that is paid in the same geographic area for that same type of job (or the actual wage paid to similar workers at that employer -- whichever is the higher of the two).
  • You must have the correct background to qualify for the job you have been offered.
  • Your employer must have filed a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) before you can proceed with the visa application.

The job you have been offered must itself meet certain criteria, including at least one of the following:

  • The minimum requirement for entry into the position is a bachelor’s degree or higher or substantial on-the-job experience that is the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. If you are qualifying through a bachelor’s degree, it is preferable that it not be in a liberal arts or general business major or subject area. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which will be reviewing the initial visa petition that the employer files on your behalf, tends to see these as insufficiently specialized. If you do not have a bachelor’s degree but will be attempting to qualify through your work experience, USCIS will likely want to see three years of specialized training and/or work experience for every year of college that you would have attended. Therefore, if you have not attended any universities, you will need to show 12 years of professional experience.
  • The degree requirement stated by your employer must be common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations; or else the duties of the position must be so complex that the job can be performed only by a person with a degree.
  • The employer must normally require a degree or its equivalent for the position you have been offered.
  • The nature of the specific duties must be so specialized and complex that knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with a bachelor’s or higher educational degree.

Even if you successfully meet all these criteria, it is also necessary to show that your background is a match for the job you are offered. If your academic and professional credentials are strong, but they do not quite fit the job requirements, then you are not eligible for an H-1B visa.

For more on the types of jobs that work best, see Best Types of Jobs To Get an Employment-Based Green Card.

Special Requirements for Fashion Models

Although fashion models may qualify for H-1B visas, they need not meet the same specialty occupation requirements. Instead, they must show that they are nationally or internationally recognized for their achievements, and that they will be employed in a position requiring someone of distinguished merit and ability. They must be renowned, leading, or well known.

For more information on H-1B visas for fashion models, see the USCIS regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(vii). The regulations do a good job of spelling out the documentary and other requirements.

Meeting Separate Licensing Requirements

If a license to practice your particular occupation is required by the U.S. state in which you will be working then, in addition to your educational credentials, you will also need to obtain the appropriate license.

Who Usually Does Not Qualify for an H-1B Visa

Many highly qualified workers should not look to H-1B visas as their best strategy for U.S. entry. For example, H-1Bs are only rarely given to prominent businesspeople without college degrees, despite their vast on-the-job experience. (O-1 visas may be available to this group.) H-1B visas are likewise not given to athletes and entertainers, who should instead consider applying for O or P visas. Professional nurses are rarely eligible for H-1B visas, because most nursing jobs require a two-year degree rather than a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Some occupations that require licenses – but not college degrees -- do not usually fit the H-1B category. Such occupations include many types of medical technicians, real estate agents, plumbers, and electricians. Unless at least a four-year bachelor’s degree is required, people in such occupations may have better success applying for the more restrictive H-2B visa, or might try to qualify directly for a U.S. green card.

Dual Intent Accepted

Unlike many other nonimmigrant visas, you don’t have to prove that you plan to return home at the end of your U.S. stay in H-1B status. In fact, you can (if you are separately eligible) have family members or employers submit applications for you to get a permanent green card at the same time that you’re pursuing your H-1B visa -- which would be a huge problem for most other temporary visa applications. Of course, if you aren’t eligible for a green card now, but openly admit that you have no intention of leaving the U.S. after your visa expires, then your visa will be denied.

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