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Applying for an H-1B Visa to Enter the U.S.

There are two ways that you can obtain H-1B status:

  • Apply for an H-1B visa at a US consulate abroad (for foreign employees who are not currently in the US)
  • Be granted a change of status to H-1B while already in the US in another nonimmigrant status

If you are outside of the US, and your H-1B petition has been approved by USCIS, you will need to apply for an H-1B visa at a US embassy or consulate. A visa is a document that is placed into your passport and allows you to request permission from an immigration officer at a port of entry (usually at an airport) to enter the United States. The visa itself does not guarantee admission into the US; all other immigration documents must be in order as well. Furthermore, approval of H-1B status does not guarantee the issuance of a visa. Although you have been granted H-1B status, you could be denied a visa and therefore denied entry into the United States.

Visit the website for the US embassy or consulate where you plan to apply for more information on the visa application process and scheduling a visa interview. Find links to the websites of US embassies and consulates. Visa processing times vary by consulate location, time of year, and volume of applicants. You can view an estimate of visa interview and processing wait times at the US Department of State website. You should not make any definitive travel plans before receiving your visa.

It is recommended that you apply for a visa in your country of citizenship. Applying for a visa at a consulate in another country is somewhat riskier and can take a bit longer. Visa refusal is more likely when applying for a visa in a country which is not your home country (called a “third” country). This is because the consular officer must take extra measures to verify your relationship to your home country. If you do choose to apply for a visa in a country other than your country of residence, you should contact the consulate where you plan to apply and ask if they will accept an application from a “third country national.” Some consulates may put limits on the number of third country national visa applications that they will process.

Your H-1B petition must be approved before you can apply for a visa. You will need a copy of the I-797 H-1B approval notice and a copy of the H-1B petition to take to your visa interview. You should not need the original approval notice to apply for a visa, since all consular posts must verify petition approval through PIMS (Petition Information Management Service), but you should check the requirements for your specific consulate to determine if the original H-1B approval notice is required. If so, MUSC will need to mail the original approval notice to you abroad.

Once you have received your H-1B visa in your foreign passport, you can proceed with making travel arrangements to come to the United States. A beneficiary of an approved H-1B petition can be admitted to the United States for the validity period of the petition. There is no grace period with H-1B status. However, you may be permitted to enter to the US up to 10 days before the validity period begins.

When traveling to the US, be sure that you have your passport, H-1B approval notice, copy of your H-1B petition, and any other documents related to your H-1B status on your person and not in your checked baggage. At the port of entry, an immigration officer will look at your documents and ask you several questions about your stay in the US.

Please note that Canadian citizens do not currently need to apply for a visa in order to enter the U.S. However, Canadian citizens must have a valid I-797 H-1B approval notice when requesting to enter the U.S. in H-1B status.

I-94 Number

Once your inspection at the port-of-entry is complete, the inspecting officer will stamp your passport and return your documents to you. The passport admission stamp indicates how long you are allowed to stay in the US and proves you arrived in the country legally as a nonimmigrant. This information is also recorded in your I-94 arrival/departure record. Unless you are arriving at a land port-of-entry, you will not receive a paper I-94 card due to the recent automation of I-94 records. You will be able to access your I-94 arrival/departure record online at I-94 Arrival/Departure record.

The I-94 record is important because it serves as evidence of the nonimmigrant status you were granted when you last entered the US, and how long you may legally remain in the country. Your I-94 record should list H-1B as your class of admission, and the “admit until” date should align with the validity end date on your H-1B approval notice. It is extremely important that the information in your I-94 record is correct. Your I-94 record contains an eleven-digit admission number. You may need to use your I-94 number for employment purposes or for obtaining a driver’s license. You will be issued a new I-94 number each time you re-enter the US.