Federal law provides for a certain number of temporary visas to be approved each year for employment in "specialty occupations." The requirements for the position are that:
- It must be one which requires at least a Bachelor's Degree in a specific field;
- The Department of Labor must recognize the position as a specialty position; and
- The university must pay at least the "prevailing wage" in the industry.
Provided the position satisfies these qualifications, the prospective faculty or staff must:
- Have the U.S. degree, or equivalent, necessary to satisfy the requirements; and
- Either be in the U.S. currently on a valid visa with the ability to change to an H-1B or be in a position to travel to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy outside the U.S. to receive the H-1B.
Employment authorization with an H-1B is contingent upon which employer sponsored the H-1B. In other words, an H-1B visa holder may work ONLY at JMU if JMU is the sponsoring employer on the underlying H-1B petition submitted to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
The H-1B can be granted for an initial period of three years, followed by an extension of three years. In the meantime, the employee may choose to begin the process of applying for permanent residence (a green card.)
Employment while on H-1B
H-1B status gives permission for employment ONLY at the sponsoring agency. Therefore, if a JMU employee in H-1B status wishes to work part-time at another agency, that agency must do its own paperwork for concurrent H-1B approval for the employee. And employee is permitted to hold more than one H-1B at a time, provided both jobs meet the minimum requirement for the status.
When entering the U.S. from outside upon receipt of a job offer: Travel into the United States for a new job offer may only be permitted after the employee obtains an H-1B visa. It is strongly recommended that an H-1B visa is sought as soon as the initial USCIS approval is obtained. Not only can visa appointments be difficult to secure, but the U.S. government may also choose to conduct a background check on anyone filing for a visa. Thus, it may take several months for an H-1B visa to be obtained. Therefore, it is recommended to apply early in order to secure the visa. However, the prospective may not be permitted to enter the country more than fifteen days prior to the beginning of employment.
Travel while in the United States in H-1B status: An H-1B visa is vital for return to the United States. Therefore, if the employee secured his/her H-1B status through a change of status in the United States, and/or his/her previous H-1B visa has expired, s/he will be required to return to the Embassy at their home country and secure a visa before returning to the U.S. Since visa appointments can take a significant amount of time to schedule, the employee should contact the U.S. Embassy where s/he will travel prior to leaving the United States. Sufficient time must be spent in country in order for the visa appointment and for obtaining the visa. Unfortunately, the U.S. government may choose to conduct a background check on anyone filing for a visa, even if this is an extension of a previously granted visa. Therefore, if a visa is needed, it is highly recommended that travel be undertaken in the summer, with the understanding that there is a possibility of a wait of several months before the visa is granted. (Note: In the vast majority of cases, visas are granted within a matter of days, but there is simply no guarantee and no way of verifying ahead of time for any particular person.) When applying for an H-1B visa, the employee should take the following documents:
- original I-797, showing the approval of the H-1B status;
- letter from the Department, verifying current employment;
- valid passport;
- immigration documents which prove ongoing legal status in the United States.
If the H-1B visa is granted, it is typically granted for the full duration of the approved status (usually 3 years) and typically allows multiple entries into the country. If that is true, an employee can travel freely, without concern for major delays or difficulties. It is always advised to travel with a current job letter from the JMU Department, verifying that the H-1B employment is still valid.