Before you read on and learn about how to apply H1B visa from India, here is the thing about getting it: it is not going to be easy. I don’t know of a single person who has had it easy.
And every year the whole thing seems to get only more complicated and slower. Probably that’s the reason why “H1B Visa News” or “Trump H1B ban” are some of the most searched terms in Google about H1B visa.
The rules and the process for H1B are always changing. I will keep on updating this article as and when they change.
I got the H1B visa through my employer, a large Indian I.T. company. I had been working with them for a few years by the time they decided to file for this US visa. I travelled to the United States on this visa and worked for my employer for a few years along with many of my colleagues who went through the same process.
This article has been written based on my own experience as well as inputs from my many of my co-workers and friends who went through the same.
The whole process starting from the time it was filed to when I got the stamp took eight months for me. The process to get H1B visa in India is almost similar to getting it from any other country.
Here is how everything went, and all that you need to know.
Can You Apply H1B Visa from India by Yourself?
A lot of first-time applicants have this question. See H1B is not a PR. It’s a visa that makes you eligible to be employed in the United States.
So, short answer: No, you can not.
H1B visa can only be applied through your employer. From the moment you get it, its duration, extension and everything else will be tied to your employer only. If you change your employer, it would affect your visa status. And no, your family living in US cannot sponsor you H1B visa.
Here is the step by step process to get H1B visa through your employer. No matter who your employer is or which country you live in, these steps will always be the same.
Step 1: Submit the Documents for H1B Filing to Your Employer
The majority of the employers start the process of collecting documents to file your application with USCIS around January of the year. Since the H1B lottery happens in April of every year, your application must be filed by your employer by then.
In my case, my employer started collecting the documents from me and other eligible colleagues in January only, and it continued until April. Most big companies have dedicated immigration teams to communicate to you about the documents and make any changes if required.
In truth, not all of these are required until your name is picked up in the lottery. Employers need basic information about you in order to file the H1B registration which would later be used by the USCIS for the lottery.
Document Checklist for H1B Visa Application
Here are the standard documents required to file for H1B visa application from India or any other country.
You will be needed to upload these to your company portal or email them to the immigration team. This process and the format for these documents will vary from company to company.
This would contain your work experience, the technologies/skills you have, the projects you have worked in and other details. You should strictly follow the format for the resume for your employer for this.
Indian passport holders would need to scan the bio page and the address page and merge them to one PDF document. If you are from some other country, and only have the bio page, you would submit that only.
US Visa Questionnaire
Each employer sends you a U.S. visa questionnaire to fill in before filing your application. This would contain questions on the client name and address, the consulate that would process your application, and your personal details.
You will need to provide copies of graduate/PG certificates and the mark sheets for all the semesters in a single PDF document.
Even if you don’t have a bachelors, but you have a lot of experience, each year of education can be equated with 3 years of experience. Here are the official H1B Requirements at USCIS website.
Offer Letter/Pay Slips
Usually your employer would ask you to submit payslips for the last one year or the offer letter or joining letter for the H1B visa application.
I submitted my offer letter.
Manager Letter / PRD Letter
This is a document containing the details of the project you would be working in once in the U.S., your role there, your duties, and the occupation that describes your role in the project. It will also contain some questions on
Details of Previous H1B Petitions/Visas
In my case it was my first H1B filing. For some people, this might not be the case. So if your H1B petition was filed and/or if you had a H1B visa in the past, you would need to provide the following.
- Copies of all prior petition approval notice(s)
- Copies of prior denials
- Copies of the US visa sticker with entry stamp when you went to the United States and the I-94
Experience Letter from Other Employers
If you have worked with other employers in the past, you would need to provide the experience certificates/letters from all your previous employers.
In my case, the resume and questionnaire were MS Word Docs and the other documents were PDFs.
What Documents you Should NOT give to H1B sponsoring company?
If you apply H1B visa from India through your employer which is a big/mid-size legit company, you are safe. However, many people also apply through consultancies or IT Body Shop companies and they often ask for originals such as passport, certificates etc. This is their way to keep a lid on you.
Never, ever give any original documents to anyone. The only time you might need the originals is when go for H1B visa stamping, but not for applying H1B Visa with USCIS. And it’s also rare to be asked to show original certificates during visa stamping.
Step 2: Wait for the H1B Lottery Results
USCIS will run lottery on the H1B registrations filed by the employers all over the world. Usually all the applications for H1B are submitted to the USCIS right before April of every year. Most employers would probably send you an email informing you the same.
The quota for H1B lottery is set at 65000 every year for work visas, barring the 20000 meant for students.
Since the application is submitted by the employer, USCIS informs your employer on whether or not you lucked out in the lottery. You wouldn’t be getting any info from the USCIS on this directly.
In my case, I got to know in the last week of May that I was chosen in the H1B lottery. However, many of my colleagues were not informed until October about the same.
The thing is although USCIS informs of the lottery results to your employer much earlier, employers often withhold this information for various reasons. You would need to talk to the immigration team or follow the official channel on this to know whether you got in or not.
If you are selected, you will get a H1B Case Number from your employer that was sent by USCIS, It is a 13 character number. You can track your case status online on USCIS website by providing this number any time during the whole application process.
There are various case statuses like “Case Was Received”, “Case Was Approved”, etc. depending on the stage of your application.
Step 3: Wait for H1B Petition Approval
Once you are chosen through lottery, your employer has to send in various documents to the USCIS to file for the I-129 petition. These would include all the documents collected from you before as well as some more from the employer’s side such as client letter.
During this stage, the USCIS can ask for an RFE or “Request for Evidence”and your employer has to submit details. It can range anything from documents of your education, client letters, etc.
For me the petition approval took three months while I know of many people for whom it took upto one year. I also know of people who got it in one month.
Step 4: Fill out DS160 Form for H1B
Once your petition is approved and you have an idea of when you would be traveling to the United States, it’s time to fill in the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application form called DS-160. It’s quite a long form where you need to fill in a lot of information, that would include both personal and professional information.
Make sure that you consult with your employer about the employer-specific information like your salary, contact person in the U.S.
You can fill in the DS-160 for H1B visa at Consular Electronic Application Center website.
At the time of filling the form, you will be asked to choose the consulate location where you will be applying for the visa. That location will be your interview location. Once done with the whole thing, you will receive an email with DS-160 confirmation.
Step 5: Go for H1B Stamping to US consulate (Or Not)
The moment you receive the H1B petition approval, you would definitely be curious, Or if you are like me, you would be restless with questions like :
“When can I apply for H1B visa stamping ? What do I need to know for entering US on H1B ?When Can I enter US and start working ?”.
Technically speaking, you can apply for the H1B visa stamping at embassy within 90 days before the start date on your H1B approval notice. For many people, the knee-jerk approach would be to do it right away. But it’s better that you hang on and think about your options.
Your petition decides how long you will get the visa for, which could be maximum 3 years. And even if your petition says you will be working for 1 year, you might get a visa for 6 months. You never know.
The point is the moment your H1B visa is stamped, your clock starts ticking. And if you have a visa but you can’t travel to the U.S., it will expire after a certain time. That would result in all kinds of scenarios involving heartache and sleepless nights, if you know what I mean.
The best approach is to consult with your employer to know when there will be an opening for you in the United States, and then plan on H1B stamping.
Step 6: H1B Visa Biometrics at Visa Application Center (VAC)
Once you are sure that you can travel and want to to go for H1B visa stamping, you need to book an appointment for the VAC for biometrics. If you are applying for H1B in India, you can book the biometrics appointment here.
You cannot have the appointments with the VAC and the consulate on the same day. A minimum one-day gap is required between the two appointments. Before your interview, you need to have the biometrics done at the Visa Application Center.
It’s always better to take a taxi or public transportation as the embassies usually don’t have parking facility. The U.S. consulate in Delhi where I went certainly didn’t. Or you can ask someone to drop you there.
Documents Checklist for Biometrics at VAC
- Passport (bring all old passports if you have any)
- DS-160 confirmation (Color or B/W printout)
- Appointment confirmation
Once there, the security would check your appointment letter and passport to let you in. In the building, the VAC staff would verify it again. Then a token will be issued for biometrics & photos.
For me the whole biometrics process took like 15 minutes.
For your U.S. visa, you are required to give the Biometrics information that includes fingerprints and photograph at a Visa Application Center (VAC). If you are applying for H1B visa in India, you can choose any of these five: Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad.
- You can keep your mobile phones and other items in your car. Just take the required documentation.
- Wear dark colored clothes for the photograph, as the background is white.
- Make sure to reach at least 15 minutes before the time.
Step 7: Schedule US Visa Appointment
If you are applying for H1B visa from India, You will need to create a profile on US Travel Docs and schedule an appointment. For each country, this site is different. So if you are in some other country, go to the US consulate’s website to find out on how to get the appointment.
Tips while Scheduling US Visa Appointment:
- At the time of scheduling the appointment, you can either choose to pick up your passport at the consulate or pay extra to get it delivered to you.
- You can add your dependants who are applying the visa with you.
- Ensure that the passport bio data and DS-160 information matches the ustraveldocs profile for all applicants scheduled during this session
Since H1B visa is sponsored by your employer, make sure that your employer is paying for the appointment fees and not you.
Step 8: H1B Visa Stamping Experience in India
Again, the preferred option is to take a cab or auto or public transport. If someone can accompany you, it is best to handover mobile and other electronic devices to them. For the record, a friend went with me and I gave my phone.
Mobile phones, smartwatches, car keys with remote locking, and other electronic devices are not allowed inside the consulate. So either leave these at home or give it to the person who accompanied you.
I arrived 30 minutes early, and would ask you to do the same. My interview was in Delhi US consulate. My friend and I took an auto from the nearest metro station.
US consulate staff ask people to form queues based on appointment time, around 10-15 minutes before the time. This can vary. I went through a security check and fingerprint verification before standing in the actual queue for the interview.
My interviewer was a guy in his forties with a friendly demeanour. The first thing he asked me was my passport and appointment letter. Even though I carried a bunch of documents, I was never asked for them. They already had that information on the system, but you should carry them just in case.
My interview lasted for 5-7 minutes. He asked me about how long I had been working for my employer, what my salary and work location would be in the United States, technologies I have worked in, if I will be travelling alone etc. None of the questions were tricky or difficult. I had no issues in answering any of them.
At the end, he just kept the passport and gave me a slip with the details regarding passport collection. My passport with the visa, was delivered to my employer’s office after five days and I picked it there after a week.
Documents for H1B Visa Interview
- Original Passport (bring all old passports if you have any)
- Appointment confirmation
- DS-160 confirmation (colored or black printout)
- Latest resume
- Copy of degree certificates. Take the originals just in case.
- Experience letter from your existing company
- Copy of H1B Approval notice
- Copy of LCA
- Offer letter from your employer
- Client letter (if you are going to work at a client location)
- Payslips for the last 6 months payslip from your existing company
- Bank account statements for the last 6 months
General Tips for H1B Visa Stamping
- For an H1B visa, it’s better if you are in formal attire.
- Greet the consular official as soon as you reach the counter.
- Keep all the documents in order and make sure that you can pull out a document easily when requested.
- Try your best not to overhear the interviews of other people. They don’t do any good. They only make you nervous. (A lady who was in the queue before me snapped and shouted as her tourist visa was rejected. Don’t worry about the rejections of others.)
- The preferred time slot is to schedule your appointment between 9 AM and 11 AM. I have heard that the Delhi consulate gets crowded during early morning.
- If your visa is being applied through a sponsoring company or consultancy, do a lot of homework and know as much as you can about them.
- Don’t lie to the consular officer. Just say you don’t know if you don’t know.
How Much Does Filing H1B Cost Really?
The H1B fees vary depending on the size of the company. As of FY 2021 season, it can range anywhere from $1,710 USD to $7,910 USD + Attorney Fee. In the last few years the fees have changed. You can check for the updates on USCIS website.
H1B Processing time: Regular vs Premium processing for H1B
H1B visa petition can be filed either in regular or premium mode. The majority of the applications are filed in a regular mode only since your employer has to shell out more money for a premium filing.
Regular Mode for H1B
If your application is filed in regular processing, there is no SLA from USCIS. They can process it anywhere from few weeks to 6 months or more.
Premium Mode for H1B
USCIS is mandated to give a response within 15 calendar days if your H1B is filed through premium processing.
An application that has been filed in regular mode can always be upgraded to premium mode by paying the extra fees.
My application was filed in regular mode only, but when I changed my employer in the United States, they filed in premium mode. More on the H1B extension in a future article.