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Getting into the USA on a H1B visa
I'm an Australian. I'm working in the USA on H1B status. These are some of my experiences and thoughts on the H1B status.
If you're looking for detailed information about entering the USA and the various visas available, there are several newsgroups you should visit. Much of the information on this page is specific to me, and specific to obtaining H1B status back in 1998. The newsgroups, however, contain a wide range of visa and status experiences, and there are some extremely knowledgeable people who are willing to answer questions. Try these newsgroups:
There are also quite a few attorneys who specialise in immigration law, who have a presence on the Internet. Two popular ones are:
H1B status is permission to work in the USA. The H1B visa is the stamp in your passport that proves you have H1B status and allows you to enter the country. H4 is the equivalent for your spouse. It is usually granted in only a few industries. Computer software, engineering and the fashion industry are the commonest, although fashion models are far less common than programmers and engineers.
You cannot apply for H1B status. Only your future employer can apply for your H1B status. The usual steps are:
There are limits.
The H1B visa is unusual in that it allows immigration intent. It is dual-intent. That is, you can apply for a Green Card once you're in and it isn't considered immigration fraud. Most other visas have a section that asks if you have immigration intent and if you tick Yes, you don't come in, and if you tick No but then apply for a Green Card, it is considered immigration fraud. Many people who enter on a H1B visa apply for Green Cards and get them.
If you have H1B status, and your employer has lodged a Green Card application, and your six year term is over, it now seems to be possible to continue working for the company until your Green Card application is accepted or rejected. If rejected, you must leave the country immediately.
There are some limits to the employer based Green Cards.
This is America. Even though the laws say one thing, the lawyers say another. If you are threatened with deportation or cancellation of anything, you should see an attorney. They can usually squeeze you through the loopholes and help you avoid big problems. If in any doubt about anything, check in the alt.visa.us newsgroup first for advice, and if that advice is to see an attorney, then pay the money and go and see an attorney.
There are a number of ways to get a Green Card.
24th May 2001
It's been almost two and a half years since I entered the USA and started work, and what changes there have been in the H1B. The quota has increased to 195,000 a year, but this year it didn't even get to the half way mark. The US economy is slowing, the dot-coms are crashing, and the insane grab for programmers and web developers has slowed. Many companies are retrenching their staff, and many employees here on a H1B visa have lost their jobs, can't get new jobs, and have to leave the country.
There's still a dislike of H1B employees. Older programmers claim that companies are hiring H1Bs at cheap rates instead of keeping American employees in the comfort they've become accustomed to. Occasional scandals come to light, and it seems that some companies do indeed hire H1Bs and pay them very little. Some employers abuse the system, and it gives the scheme a bad name. With the new President, there is a rising tide of isolationism here, with the anti-foreigner feeling that accompanies isolation.
The H1B rules changed slightly in the last two years under the Clinton administration. The quota increased to 195,000 a year. If you change jobs, you can start work at the new company as soon as they submit their application for the H1B change. And there's a few other small things. There will be changes under a Bush government, but I have no idea which way they will go.
14th August 1999
Getting into America to work is a long process. Visiting the USA for a holiday is pretty easy if you come from a country like Australia. All you have to do is fill in the Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival Form, a green I94 form that the hosties hand out during the flight to the USA. That lets you into the country for about 3 months. As a tourist. It doesn't let you work in the USA.
There are a number of visas that allow you to work in the USA. I came in on a H1B visa. This is a visa for skilled workers in technical fields, like programmers and engineers. I didn't apply for this visa - I can't. I was offered a job by a company in the USA, and they applied for the visa. I am now tied to this company. If I lose my job, I have to leave the USA immediately. I can't change jobs unless the new company applies for and obtains a H1B visa for me. Only then can I start work for them, and who knows how long that would take. The visa allows me to stay for 3 years, but it can be renewed for another 3 years. Then I have to leave the USA.
It took about 6 months to get H1B status. There is a companion to the H1B, called the H4. This is for the spouse of a H1B applicant. Note - it has to be a spouse, legally married. Girlfriends, boyfriends, de factos, need not apply. The H4 allows the spouse into the country, but does not allow them to work. It's pretty strict. No paid work, no volunteer work if that displaces a paid US employee. It's safest to live a life of leisure. When I told Anne that she wasn't allowed to work for 6 years, she was so upset about it that she couldn't stop singing for weeks.
Here's the list of steps that the company had to go through to get H1B and H4 status for us, plus the steps that we had to take to get our visas. A lot of this stuff is very complicated to do, and it needs a specialist. The company that hires you usually hires an attorney who specialises in immigration law to fill in the documents and make all the presentations and applications.
One of the reasons it took so long to get H1B status is that there's a quota. Until 1998, there was a quota of 65,000 per year. This quota extends from 1st October to 30th September each year. In 1998 for some reason, the quota was filled early, and there was a backlog of about 40,000 applications. So when the new quota of 65,000 became available on 1st October 1998, there were already 40,000 applications in the queue. I don't know why there was such demand in 1998. There appears to be a world-wide shortage of programmers, and there was a lot of demand for programmers to fix the Year 2000 Problems. Anyway, late 1998 the US Government increased the quota temporarily. It's now 115,000 for 1999 and 2000, drops to about 95,000 in 2001 and then goes back to the normal level of 65,000 in 2002.
The H1B scheme gets regular criticism in the USA. Many programmers and engineers are against the scheme completely and want it cancelled. Many employers love the scheme. So there are politicians who listen to both sides and there is a constant tug of war about the H1B. The scheme gets abused. And yet the scheme generally benefits the USA. Older programmers and engineers feel that they are being ignored and replaced by cheaper foreign workers. Others feel that the introduction of foreign workers who will work for much less money is damaging to the industry. Employers claim that they have a lot of trouble finding staff outside of the few glory spots like California and Silicon Valley. There seems to be a consensus that there is a global shortage of programmers and engineers. If the USA wants to retain its pre-eminence in the computer fields, it needs to keep importing staff.
One of the biggest problems is that in countries like Canada, UK, Australia and the USA, there are less and less students going into computer and engineering studies, and less and less graduates coming into a rapidly expanding industry where the demand for skilled workers is high. Like it or not, the computer industry is getting bigger, and will continue to grow rapidly. So much of what we do and use depends on computers today. This all requires engineers and programmers. And there's not enough to go round.
Several schemes have been promoted in the USA to try and solve this problem. When the quotas were increased in late 1998, the application fees for H1B visas were increased to $500. This raises about $75,000,000 US a year and this money is earmarked to improve education and try and persuade students to go into the fields that they are short in. They need the workers now, so they make the foreign workers pay for the future when they won't be needed. This is quite sensible. I have recently read of a new scheme where some senators are proposing that there be no limit on H1Bs, but with two application restrictions. First, it costs $1,000 to apply. Second, the foreign worker must be paid at least $60,000 a year. This would do two things. It would raise about $150 million dollars a year which would be put into promoting technical education. Secondly, it would eliminate the accusations of foreign workers being paid much lower rates than their US counterparts. Companies would have to pay their foreign workers at least the same as their US workers, and so the foreign workers would have to compete on their merits and not on their status of being cheap to employ.
On the other hand, there are calls to abolish the H1 scheme entirely and allow no foreign workers. I don't think this will ever win support while the US wants to stay ahead of the pack in the computer industry.