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Important considerations for H-1B Visas

Written by Angela Finding

Many of today’s employers know that hiring foreign workers for their internship programs or for other positions can benefit their company in numerous ways such as bringing additional creativity, diversity and perspective to the organization. At the Cleveland Internship Summit, David Leopold, partner and immigration attorney with Ulmer & Burne, shared important information about the H-1B visa program.

Joe Cimperman, president of Global Cleveland, kicked of the session by discussing the many ways that foreign workers can bring value to an organization and talked about how the process does not have to be as intimidating as one may think. Joe introduced David by saying there are several options to hire students, H-1B just happens to be one way.

The H-1B visa is a temporary (non-immigrant) visa category that allows employers to petition for highly educated foreign professionals to work in “specialty occupations” that require at least a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent. Jobs in fields such as mathematics, engineering, technology, and medical sciences often qualify. Typically, the initial duration of an H-1B visa classification is three years, which may be extended for a maximum of six years. (American Immigration Council, 2020)

To set the stage, David shared there are 65,000 H-1B visas per fiscal year, an extra 20,000 for those who have earned a master’s degree at a U.S. institution. This is a very low quota. When the economy is doing well, the government receives about 200,000 applications and a lottery is held. The government has now instituted a registration process that is required prior to filing the petition. Employers must first register with Department of Homeland Security between March 1 – March 20. Only registered companies may file to petition for H-1B. If an employer is not registered, they cannot file. The government will run a lottery and will notify those that have been selected to file the petition for H-1B.

Before going down the path to H-1B, David shared another option called optional practical training. If you are hiring someone from a university, someone who graduated in the U.S., that graduate will get a period of optional practical training. The graduate can work for a private employer in a job related to what they studied for a period of one year only in most cases. For example, someone with an engineering degree can work in an engineering firm. Employers have very few obligations in this example other than going through the I9 process to make sure they are work authorized. There is a 24-month extension option for individuals with certain STEM degrees.

Using the same example, David explained that suppose a company has completed the optional practical training option and now it is time to decide if they are going to keep the employee and pursue H-1B. The government is looking for a job that requires training in a specific specialty. There is more information about requirements on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

There are some key rules that employers should understand:

  • There is a wage obligation tied to H-1B
  • H-1B is not the employee’s petition, it is the company’s petition.
  • If H-1B is approved, the individual is given a three-year period of stay. You must show the position has three years of work. A maximum of six years in H-1B class is permitted under law.

There are many aspects to understand when considering the H-1B visa process. If this is a path a company wants to take but is unsure where to start or how to navigate, consult an attorney. Employers need to determine how this option fits with their hiring strategy and needs. Where is this going to go? If a company only wants a new graduate for a year but will not have a position after the year, then the optional practical training may be a good option. If a company wants the long-term
option, it is recommended they strategize up front and early. All sponsorships are employer based – based on company priorities and decisions.

For more information on H-1B visas, visit U.S. Citizenship and Immigration and/or consult an attorney who specializes in immigration.  

Want to know more about internship best practices? Visit the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Internship Central hub to learn more about how to build a best-in-class internship program at your business.

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