H-1B Visa

A temporary worker visa designated for individuals coming temporarily to the United States to work in a specialty occupation.

Eligibility

The H-1B temporary worker visa 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 international scholar meets those qualifications. Furthermore, the department is required to pay a salary to the international scholar. The individual's pay check must come from the hiring entity (Harvard University or an affiliated hospital). H-1B visa status is employment based.  Individuals receiving fellowship income are not subject to income and FICA tax withholding as they are being provided funding to aid in the pursuit of study or research.  Since this is not considered remuneration for services being provided to the University, they are not eligible for H-1B visa status.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) makes the final decision on whether the individual qualifies for the H-1B visa classification. The H-1B visa is employer specific, which means that a USCIS approved petition that was submitted by the HIO authorizes the scholar to work only in the position specified in the petition. A scholar who has an H-1B visa approval from another employer is not automatically eligible to work at Harvard. An H-1B worker may work for more than one employer at the same time, but each employer must file a separate H-1B visa petition.

Length of Stay

H-1B visa holders are eligible for a total maximum stay of six years. The six-year limit includes time spent on the H-1B visa with another employer. The initial H-1B petition may cover a period up to three years. Extension petitions may be made for a period of three years or less, up to the six year total.

Since this six-year limit is strictly enforced, it is important to plan accordingly. It may be possible to begin another six-year period as an H-1B visa holder after the individual has spent at least one year outside the United States.

Exceptions to the six-year rule: If an individual is at a certain stage in the application of permanent residence, s/he may be eligible for an extension beyond the 6-year maximum. The HIO may work with the individual to determine if s/he is eligible for the extension beyond the 6-year maximum.

Maintaining Status

All non-immigrant visa holders are required to notify USCIS within 10 days of a change of residential address. H-1B visa holders may report a change of address by completing Form AR-11 or Form AR-11SR. Please follow the instructions on the Change of Address section of this website. Please also notify the HIO of the new address by sending a photocopy of the form submitted to USCIS

Individual's H-1B status is dependent upon continued employment. H-1B petitions are employer and position specific, which means that the individual is authorized by USCIS to work only at Harvard or one of its affiliated hospitals in a specific position. HIO should be consulted prior to any changes in H-1B employment such as job title, job duties, salary, percentage of time, or location. An amended H-1B petition may be required under certain circumstances.

As H-1B status is employer specific, scholars may not accept compensation, including honoraria, from any other entity. Individuals in H-1B status invited to give a lecture, collaborate, conduct research or present at other institutions can receive reimbursement for reasonable living and transportation costs only.  All H-1B employees sponsored by Harvard or any other employer are required to obtain a written approval from their employer/visa sponsor to receive reimbursement.  An individual may work for more than one employer, but each employer must file a separate H-1B visa petition.

Dependents

Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of H-1B visa holders are considered dependents and are eligible for H-4 status. H-4 visa holders are only eligible to stay in the United States while their H-1B spouses or parents are in the United States maintaining the terms and conditions of their H-1B visa status.

H-4 visa holders are not permitted to work in the United States and are not eligible to obtain Social Security Numbers. H-4 visa holders may apply to change their visa status to H-1B if they qualify for the specialty occupation requirement and find an employer who is willing to file a petition on their behalf.

H-4 visa holders may study in the United States, full-time or part-time, for the duration of the H-1B's period of stay.

H-4 visa holders cannot be issued H-4 visas if the H-1B visa holder does not have an H-1B visa in his or her passport. If the H-1B visa holder obtained a change of status in the United States and has not traveled abroad to obtain the H-1 visa, dependents will not be eligible for H-4 visas at a U.S. consulate.

H-4 Travel Abroad and Reentry

For information on H-4 travel see the Travel section below.

Employment

The H-1B visa is employer specific, which means that an USCIS approved petition that was submitted by the HIO authorizes the H-1B visa holder to work only in the position specified in the petition at Harvard or one of the affiliated hospitals. An individual who has an H-1B approval from another employer is not automatically eligible to work at Harvard. An H-1B worker may work for more than one employer, but each employer must file a separate H-1B visa petition.

Social Security Numbers

How to apply

In order to apply for a Social Security Number, you must take your passport, Form I-797 (H-1B approval notice) and Form I-94 to the Social Security Administration office at 10 Fawcett Street, 1st Floor, Cambridge.

At the Social Security Administration office, you must complete the SSN application form. You will receive notification of your SSN in the mail. The process usually takes four to eight weeks. If you have not heard within this time period, please contact the HIO. You may call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 or visit the Social Security Administration website with any questions.

Once you have obtained a U.S. Social Security Number, it is not necessary to apply for a new one if the employment changes. If you lose your SSN Card and need to apply for a replacement card, you must prove that you are employed in the United States at the time of your application.

When to apply

You must have been in the Unites States for at least ten days. This waiting period assures that your record will have been updated in the government's database. In addition, you cannot apply for an SSN before the start date of your visa document (Form I-797).

Taxes

The following is general information regarding taxation of international scholars. To review detailed tax information (including tax return filing during tax season) please visit the tax section of this website.

International scholars should be aware that taxes may be deducted from salaries if funds are from U.S. sources. The available income after taxes may be less than anticipated as scholars may be subject to federal, state, and/or Social Security taxes which can range from 14-30% of one's total income. The amount of taxes scholars may pay depends on the type of income they receive and their tax status in the United States. In addition, there are many tax treaties between the United States and other countries which may exempt certain earnings from taxes. Those who receive funding from Harvard will receive information from the University Financial Services office.

All international scholars and their dependents with U.S source income are required to report their annual income by completing tax forms between January 1 and April 15 of the following year. Accompanying dependents on H-4 visas must complete at least one tax form as well.

To help guide individuals through the tax filing process, the HIO has purchased Windstar, a web based tax return preparation software designed exclusively for international students, scholars, and their dependents who are nonresidents for tax purposes.  It is available to anyone with a valid Harvard ID and PIN. Users will need their HUID and PIN to access the software.

Windstar is available to anyone with a valid Harvard ID and PIN. Users will need their HUID and PIN to access the Windstar site.

Due to legal restrictions, the HIO staff is not able to answer questions regarding individual tax situations. For more information, visit the tax section of this website.

Travel

For travel outside the U.S. the following documents are required for re-entry to the U.S.

H-1B Visa Holders

  • Original Form I-797, H-1B Approval Notice from the USCIS which is valid for a period beyond the anticipated travel
  • Copy of Form I-129, the H-1B visa petition provided by HIO with the approval notice
  • Valid H visa stamp in the passport (except for Canadian citizens)
  • Valid passport
  • Current letter from faculty sponsor verifying your employment. The letter should include your title and salary.
  • If you were previously in J-1 status with a two-year home residency requirement, you must present your original I-612 waiver approval notice with your visa application.

H-4 Dependent Visa Holders

  • Original Form I-797, H-4 Approval Notice from the USCIS or copy of spouse's I-797, H-1B Approval Notice which is valid for a period beyond the anticipated travel
  • Valid H visa stamp in the passport (except for Canadian citizens)
  • Valid passport

Extensions

The H-1B extension process is identical in paperwork requirements as it is for an initial H-1B application. An H-1B extension petition will require a new prevailing wage and a new labor condition application (LCA) along with new supporting documents.  A petition must be filed before the current H-1B status ends in order to allow an individual to maintain status and continue to remain on payroll.

The earliest an extension can be filed with USCIS is 6 months prior to the end date of the current H-1B status. If a petition is filed in a timely manner, an individual in H-1B status is authorized to continue to work and be paid for up to 240 days after the expiration of his/her current H-1B status. The HIO will fax a letter to the appointing department once the extension petition has been filed with USCIS to verify an individual's eligibility for continuing work authorization.

Once the extension petition is approved by USCIS, individuals traveling abroad may need to visit a U.S. embassy or consulate to get a new H-1B visa stamp before returning to the United States. Canadian citizens do not need to obtain H-1B visas in their passports.

Change of H-1B Employers

Whether a scholar is leaving Harvard to go to another employer or coming to Harvard from another employer, an H-1B change of employer process is identical in paperwork requirements as it is for an initial H-1B visa. An H-1B change of employer petition will require a new prevailing wage and a new labor condition application (LCA) along with new supporting documents.  If individuals in H-1B status leave Harvard or its affiliate hospital before the end dates on their H-1B approval notices, the HIO is required to notify the U.S. Department of Labor and USCIS. Scholars should inform their HIO advisors if they complete their appointments prior to the expiration of their current H-1B status.

Portability Provision

H-1B regulations allow individuals already holding H-1B status to begin employment with a new employer once the new petition is filed with USCIS. This means that individuals may begin new employment before the petition is approved by USCIS, but no earlier than the start date of the petition. Further guidance should be obtained from the hiring entity for those who leave Harvard.

Transfers and Leaving Harvard

If an individual in H-1B status leaves Harvard or its affiliate hospital before the end date on his/her H-1B approval notice, the HIO is required to notify the U.S. Department of Labor and USCIS. Scholars should inform their HIO advisors if they complete their appointments prior to the expiration of their current H-1B status. Individuals in H-1B status should make sure that their departments are informed of their intending departure and their future contact information.

Remaining in the United States

Individuals intending to remain in the United States after leaving Harvard should take the initiative to prepare and submit proper paperwork to maintain lawful immigration status.  This may involve applying for H-1B status with another employer or changing to an entirely different visa category. 

Portability Provision

H-1B regulations allow individuals already holding H-1B status to begin employment with a new employer once the new petition is filed with USCIS. This means that individuals may begin new employment before the petition is approved by USCIS, but no earlier than the start date of the petition. Further guidance should be obtained from the hiring entity for those who leave Harvard.

Moving from the United States

Individuals in H-1B status are required to leave the United States on or before the end date on their Form I-797.

When an individual is admitted to the United States in H-1B status, a grace period of 10 days may be given at the discretion of an immigration officer at the port of entry. The 10 day grace period is indicated on the individual’s Form I-94.

Coming to Harvard from Another Employer

The H-1B visa is employer specific which means that an individual who has an H-1B approval from another employer is not automatically eligible to work at Harvard University. A new petition would need to be filed by Harvard on behalf of the individual.

An H-1B change of employer process is identical in paperwork requirements as it is for an initial H-1B.

Portability Provision

Since H-1B regulations allow individuals holding H-1B status with another employer to begin employment with Harvard University once the new petition is filed with USCIS, an individual may begin employment before getting the new H-1B approval notice. The HIO will notify the appointing department when the petition is filed.