H-1B Visa Defined
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).
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.
Six-Year Maximum 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.