WHAT IS H-1B STATUS?
The H-1B is a non-immigrant status that is employment based. It is designated for individuals coming temporarily to the United States to work in a specialty occupation. A specialty occupation is defined as one that requires “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, and attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree, or its equivalent, as a minimum requirement.” The hiring department must provide documentation to prove that the job requires someone with special qualifications and that the individual meets those qualifications.
H-1Bs are relatively expensive and have a high compliance and time burden compared to, for example, J-1s. Positions must be paid a salary that meets the U.S. Department of Labor’s wage requirements to be eligible for H-1B sponsorship. All H-1B petitions are processed through the IFSS office and must be initiated by the hiring department.
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Limits on time in H-1B status
You can hold H-1B status for a total maximum of 6 years, with some exceptions. This limit includes time in H-1B status from any employer, not only your H-1B time at UW-Madison. The University can petition for H-1B status for you for up to 3 years at a time, however, your department may choose to petition for less than 3 years at a time.
- Because of the 6 year limit, you must plan accordingly. It is only possible to begin another 6 years in H-1B status after you have been outside the U.S. for one full calendar year.
- There are a few exceptions to the 6 year maximum. If you are eligible for one of those exceptions, IFSS will work with your sponsoring department to extend your H-1B beyond the 6 years.
- The H-1B is for temporary employment. It is permissible for the employer and employee to be considering the possibility of permanent employment in the future.
- The H-1B is a 2-prong test:
- The job must qualify. The minimum educational level required for H-1B status is a bachelor’s degree in the field of the proposed employment. Furthermore, that minimum educational requirement must be standard in the industry.
- The H-1B worker must have the required degree, or its equivalent, to receive H-1B approval. The worker must also possess any other requirements set forth in the position description, including licensure, certifications, etc.
- There must be an “employer-employee” relationship. The UW must have the ability to hire, pay, fire, supervise, or otherwise control the work of the employee. When an individual receives a fellowship or traineeship such as those granted by NIH, NSF, AHA, etc., the UW does not have an employer-employee relationship. Therefore, the UW cannot sponsor H-1B status for those workers who hold the UW title of “Postdoctoral Fellow” or “Postdoctoral Trainee”.
Travel in H-1B Status
You can travel abroad while in H-1B status. These recommendations will help ensure that you have a smooth trip:
- As an H-1B, you do not need a travel endorsement from the UW or IFSS.
- Check your passport, H-1B Approval Notice (Form I-797), and H-1B visa stamp to ensure that they have not expired.
- If your passport will expire within six months, we recommend renewing it before traveling.
- If you don’t have an H-1B visa stamp yet, or it will expire while you are abroad, you will need to visit a U.S. consulate or embassy for an interview and get a new H-1B visa stamp to return to the United States (see How to Apply for a U.S. Visa Stamp). Book early to avoid delays, but also plan for additional wait times. Visa stamping can take days, weeks or more because of security clearances. When you make travel arrangements, you and your department should plan for the possibility of these wait times.
- You may be required to pay additional visa issuance fees and other types of processing fees by the Department of State. These fees are not University paid fees. Read more about Fees and Reciprocity Tables.
- We recommend taking the following documents at minimum:
- Your passport
- Copies of your recent paystubs to confirm the UW is your employer, or a recent employment verification letter from your hiring department
- Your H-1B Approval Notice (Form I-797)
- TIP – take paper copies; do not rely on your phone to show documents electronically.
- Read for more travel tips!
- When you return to the United States, print your I-94 record (www.cbp.gov/i94) and check it for accuracy. If there are inaccuracies (name, date of birth, admit until date shorter than your H-1B expiration date), contact IFSS immediately for instructions on how to fix the I-94.
- Keep copies of travel records! We may be able to recapture the time you’ve spent outside the United States and add that time onto your H-1B in the future. Do not rely solely on the CBP online travel history since it is not an official record of travel.
If you plan to travel at or around the same time IFSS is filing an H-1B petition for you, read more about International Travel while your H-1B is pending.
If you are going to Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent island for 30 or fewer days, you may be able to re-enter the United States using an expired visa stamp. This procedure is called Automatic Visa Revalidation.
If you are traveling to a country other than your home country, you may need a visitor’s visa to enter that country. You may even need a visa for a transit stop or layover. To find out, visit that country’s embassy website and search for the nearest consulate. IFSS cannot assist with obtaining visas to enter other countries. If you are traveling for a conference, however, the conference host may have experts to assist with this. Or, the UW’s travel agent may have experts to assist as well for work related international travel.
Family of H-1B workers
Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age may seek H-4 dependent status. Some H-4 dependent spouses of H-1B workers can file for work permission as long as the H-1B nonimmigrant has already started the process of seeking employment-based lawful permanent resident status. Please visit the USCIS Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses page to learn more.
Leaving the UW
If you are leaving the UW, please notify your department HR and supervisor. Your department is responsible for notifying IFSS so that we can conduct a proper withdrawal of your H-1B with USCIS. However, you may send us a courtesy email to email@example.com as well.
If your employment at the UW is being terminated before your H-1B expiration date, the employing UW department is required to offer you reasonable return transportation to your last known foreign residence. Contact IFSS for more information specific to your situation.
If you are transferring your H-1B to another employer, you must consult your new employer about the H-1B transfer application and any timelines associated with that application.
Depending on your situation, you may or may not have a grace period. Contact IFSS for more information.
Frequently Asked Questions
Check out answers to frequently asked questions.
If you have additional questions, please reach out to us via email with “H-1B Inquiry” as the subject line.