The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that lasts three years, though individuals can apply for an extension of an additional three years, for a total of six years. The visa allows U.S. employers to temporarily hire foreign knowledge workers in specialty occupations. Holders cannot remain in the U.S. permanently and can only get additional extensions if their employer applies for their permanent residence (a green card).
Currently, only 7% of the total number of green cards can go to applications from a single country. That means H-1B holders from countries with high demand like China, India and Mexico have to wait longer than other applicants before permanent residence becomes an option. H-1Bs are not cheap -- they take a lot of financial commitment from the employer, it costs employers about $5,000 per employee. Plus, immigration lawyer fees cost $2,000 to $3,000, on average.
The key to permanent residence ultimately lies in the hands of the employer, who might not always be eager to apply for employees’ green cards. “Once these highly skilled employees have green cards, they become free agents, so employers aren’t jumping to apply on their behalf,” says Michael Wildes, managing partner at immigration law firm Wildes & Weinberg.
Though discussions around H-1Bs tend to go hand in hand with the tech sector, the kinds of industries that it impacts are far-reaching and include medicine, architecture and finance.
“We are in dire need to protect our homeland and reinvigorate our economy; immigration, if handled properly, could do both,” says Wildes. “Unfortunately, people are tired of waiting and oftentimes moving on. We have to remember that today’s H-1Bs could become tomorrow’s employers.”