I am currently working in Seattle, having relocated from Chile on an L-1B visa.
Can I change my L-1B visa to an H-1B with a different company? My understanding is that L visas are restricted to working only with the issuing company.
— Charming Chilean
Congrats on taking the first step in seeking out new opportunities—and thanks for including me on your journey!
Yes, you are correct: L visas for intracompany transferees enable you to work only for the company that sponsored you for the visa. Your L-1B visa only allows you to work only for the company that sponsored you for the visa (and a Blanket L petition can be issued for a whole family of companies with shared ownership and control). Take a listen to my recent chat with my colleague Nadia Zaidi, an expert in immigration law for startups and creators, about L visas to learn more.
All nonimmigrant work visas including the L-1B visa for intracompany specialized knowledge transferees require you to have a job offer and an employer sponsor, and your visa is tied to your job with that employer. The short answer to your question is yes, you can take a new job with a different company that is willing to sponsor you for an H-1B specialty occupation visa or other work visas.
It’s great that you’re looking to make this change now before filing fees for the H-1B and other work visas substantially increase! The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has proposed increasing fees for the L-1, H-1B, and most other nonimmigrant visas and green cards, as well as increasing the premium processing time from 15 calendar days to 15 business days. Under the proposal, the registration fee for the H-1B lottery would increase to $215 from just $10, and the H-1B filing fee would increase to $780 from $460. DHS, which asserts that these increases are necessary to reduce processing times and eliminate backlogs, will accept public comments on this proposed rule through March 6, 2023, and I urge you to let DHS know how these changes might affect your ability to change jobs.
Now, let me drill deeper into the H-1B and other work visas for you to consider as you begin your job search and talk with prospective employers.
The H-1B Process
The H-1B specialty occupation visa requires a beneficiary to have at least a bachelor’s degree and specialized knowledge in a specific field. If you do not have a bachelor’s degree, you can count every three years of work experience as one year of academic study in a related field. Because the number of H-1B visas available each year is capped at 85,000 (65,000 for individuals with a bachelor’s or higher degree and 20,000 for individuals with a master’s degree or higher degree) and demand far exceeds the supply of H-1Bs, U.S. Citizenship, and Immigration Services (USCIS) holds an annual random lottery to select the individuals whose employers can apply for an H-1B.
The annual H-1B lottery is fast approaching in March. To participate in the lottery, you will need to have a job offer for a specialty occupation position from a company that is willing to sponsor you for an H-1B. The H-1B lottery process begins when a company registers you online for the lottery when the registration period opens in March. The electronic registration period generally stays open for a few weeks, and by the end of March, USCIS will notify the employers whose H-1B candidates have been selected in the random lottery.
Those employers who are notified that their candidate was selected will then have until June 30, 2023, to file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) for certification by the U.S. Department of Labor and then a full H-1B application to USCIS on behalf of the candidate.
The earliest date you can begin working for that employer on the H-1B, if approved, will be October 1, 2023—the first day of the new federal fiscal year. The maximum stay on an H-1B visa is six years: an initial stay of three years and one extension of three years. If you’re currently on L-1B and in the U.S. and seeking a change of status to H-1B through the lottery, then you will need to ensure that you are maintaining valid status until the H-1B takes effect on October 1st.
The H-1B is a dual intent visa, which means that it is a non-immigrant visa that you can hold with “immigrant intent.” In other words, you can apply for a green card to remain permanently in the U.S. Your employer can sponsor you for a green card, usually through PERM, or you can apply for either an EB-1A extraordinary ability green card or an EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card on your own.
If you aren’t selected in the H-1B lottery, talk to your prospective employer about sponsoring you for an H-1B1 visa.
Like the H-1B, the H-1B1 is a nonimmigrant specialty occupation visa earmarked for citizens of Chile and Singapore, thanks to trade agreements between the United States and those two countries. Each year, the number of H-1B1 visas is capped at 1,400 for Chileans and 5,400 for Singaporeans, which are set aside from the 65,000 H-1Bs reserved for bachelor’s degree holders and are rarely—if ever—reached. Unlike the H-1B visa, the H-1B1 allows only a one-year initial stay. It is a nonimmigrant intent visa. The H-1B1 can be extended indefinitely in one-year increments as long as you can demonstrate to immigration officials that you do not intend to stay permanently in the United States, such as showing you retain a residence abroad. Your employer can continue to enter you in the annual H-1B lottery until you’re selected. 🙂
You’ve got this!
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