H-1B Information

This information is meant to provide only very basic information regarding what H-1B is and how it may pertain to our F and J students and scholars.  International Student and Scholar Services cannot give advice regarding H-1B status.

What is H-1B status?

H-1B status allows for the temporary employment of individuals who perform services for a specific employer in a "specialty occupation.”

Who is eligible for H-1B status?

A person with the minimum qualifications for working in a "specialty occupation."  Generally this means having at least a bachelor's degree, or the equivalent in education and experience, in the appropriate field.

What is the procedure for obtaining H-1B status?

H-1B status requires an employer to file certain paperwork with the appropriate government agencies.  It is not possible for an individual to obtain H-1B status without the participation of a prospective employer.

Two government agencies are involved with H-1B processing-- the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  Employers wishing to petition the DHS for an H-1B employee must first file a Labor Condition Application or “LCA” with the DOL office having jurisdiction over the place of employment.  The LCA provides documentation that the employer intends to pay the H-1B employee what the law requires:  either the “actual wage” for the particular occupation at the place of employment, or within 5 per cent of the “prevailing wage” for the occupation in the general geographical area—whichever of the two is higher. 

When the DOL approves the LCA, the employer then another form with DHS, which provides information about the employer, the position, and the employee. 

A good resource to consult if you are researching employers who have sponsored H-1B petitions in the past is the Pomerantz Career Center's Going Global site.

What are the limitations and restrictions on a person in H-1B status?

  • "Cap" on the number of visas.  Only a certain number of H-1B’s are available in the “private sector” each year.  Once that “cap,” or limit, is reached, no more are available for the rest of the year.
  • Time limits.  Permission to remain in the United States in H-1B status can be granted for three years, and then can be extended annually up to a total of six years.  After an absence from the United States of at least one year, a person can re-enter and undertake another six years in H-1B status.

How long does it take to acquire H-1B status?

Processing times vary among the various DHS jurisdictions.  Two to three months is the usual minimum for the entire procedure.  The maximum time can be several months longer.

If I am in H-1B status, do I have to work full time?

No.  H-1B status can be based on part-time employment, or on a combination of part-time positions.  (In the latter case, an employer petition is required for each position.)

If I am in H-1B status, can I enroll in school?

Yes.  If your main purpose in being in the United States is to be in school, you should be in F-1 student status.  But if your main purpose is working while in H-1B status, you can attend school part time.

Can I work for a while in H-1B status, and then return to student status?

In principle, yes.  If you receive an I-20 from a university you could apply to DHS to change to student status.  In practice, such an application might be denied because DHS might not believe you have the required intention to return to your home country.

What is the status of an H-1B person's family members?

Dependents of individuals in H-1B status can acquire H-4 status.  Individuals in H-4 status are not eligible to be employed under any circumstances.  They may attend school full time or part time.

Do I need a lawyer to obtain H-1B status?

Most colleges and universities have staff to handle H-1B matters, and large corporations usually have human resource officers who are familiar with immigration procedures.  If an employer does not know how to file H-1B petitions, the employee will often hire an immigration attorney to handle the case. 

I am/was in J status, and want to get an H-1B. What is this two-year restriction I hear about?

As a J, you may have been subject to 212(e), the “two-year home residency requirement.”  J’s subject to this provision cannot obtain an H-1B (or O-1, or Green Card) without either going back to the home country for two years or obtaining a waiver.  See 212(e) for more information.

I am an F-1 Student on Optional Practical Training.  My OPT is ending soon but my company is going to/has already applied for an H-1B for me.

You may be eligible for H-1B Cap Gap coverage, which may permit you to continue working until the H-1B becomes effective.

A University of Iowa department wants to hire me and sponsor me for an H-1B.  How do I get the H-1B?

Please have the department contact Faculty and Staff Immigration Services.  Do not contact the office yourself; they are not able to answer individual questions that you may have.  Only the employing department should contact them for information on the H-1B and other employment-based processing.