The H-1B visa allows foreign nationals with specialized professional expertise, either gained through a degree or work experience, to live and work in the United States.
The USA is the most popular country for business school candidates globally, home to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and many of the world’s top-ranked business schools.
For international MBA and business master’s students looking to stay and work in the US long-term after graduation, an H-1B visa is a must.
So what exactly is an H-1B visa? What’s the H-1B visa process? And what are the H-1B visa requirements?
How long is an H1B visa valid for?
The H-1B visa is valid for three years and can be extended for another three, so that’s a total of six years that you can stay in the US with an H-1B visa.
At the expiration of the maximum period of stay, you must either leave the US or obtain a different status, such as an F-1 student, an O-1 'extraordinary ability' worker, or a Green Card (see below).
To extend an H-1B visa after six years, you’ll need a petitioner to file a Form I-126 on your behalf. Your petitioner would be your current employer or a new employer.
Who is eligible for an H1B visa?
H-1B visas are allocated through a lottery system to highly skilled foreign nationals. To match the H-1B visa requirements, you need at least a bachelor’s degree and you need to be working in specialty professions, which include business and management roles.
Fortunately, H-1B visa rules favor MBA and business master’s graduates. If you have an MBA or master’s, you can enter the lottery twice, first with your bachelor’s degree and then with your MBA or master’s degree.
It doesn’t matter if you did your bachelor’s abroad, as long as it’s equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree in your specialty occupation.
How much does an H1B visa cost?
You'll get H-1B visa sponsorship via your employer and your employer will typically cover the cost of your visa.
An H-1B visa application can cost between $1,720 and $6,470 depending on your personal situation. Fees include a $10 registration fee, a $460 filing fee, and a $500 fraud prevention and detection fee.
There’s also a $4,000 fee for companies with upwards of 50 employees with over half on H-1B or L1 status. Companies that have between 1 and 25 full-time employees pay $750, while companies with 26 or more full-time employees pay $1,500.
Finally, there’s attorney fees, which vary depending on the firm. They include $550 for the initial registration process, $1,900 for form preparation if the applicant is selected in the lottery, and between $500 and $1,500 if additional evidence is requested on the case.
The H-1B Premium Processing Fee costs $2,500, and is usually paid by the employee. By paying this optional fee, you’ll expedite the H-1B visa process, guaranteeing a 15-day processing time frame.
What is the H1B visa application process?
To obtain an H-1B visa, you need to be sponsored by an employer, who will petition the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on your behalf.
Many employers—including top MBA recruiters like Amazon, Apple, and McKinsey—offer H-1B sponsorship to talented grads from overseas.
Although your employer will incur the great majority of the costs, that doesn’t mean they’ll take care of everything. You’ll need to apply for the visa at the US embassy of your home country and attend an interview where you’ll be asked extensively about your workplace and job role. If it’s your first time applying, they’ll even take your fingerprints.
The H-1B visa application timeline is as follows:
- You’ll need to create a USCIS online account in February and submit your registration before the portal closes in late March.
- The lottery happens in the last few days of March, and winners are contacted as soon as the lottery is over.
- From the moment H-1B visa recipients are notified in early April, employers have 90 days to submit a petition.
The H-1B visa renewal process, which can be started up to six months before your visa expires, requires similar filing fees, forms, and supporting documents.
What are your chances in the H1B visa lottery?
Ultimately, your fate will be determined by a visa lottery. It’s estimated that around 30% of applicants get their visas: there were 275,000 H-1B applications in 2020 and the annual cap stands at 85,000.
As we’ve mentioned, as an MBA or master’s graduate you’re at an advantage, as you can apply twice. Moreover, graduates from US business schools have access to appealing post-graduation opportunities, with top companies that will sponsor your H-1B visa headquartered in the US.
The average MBA salary in the USA is around $115,000, although grads from top program can expect to earn more. The sheer size of the US economy also creates a wealth of opportunities for the rising stars of the business world, in hubs like Silicon Valley for tech and Boston and New York for consulting and finance.
There’s hope that President Biden’s commitment to a more liberal immigration policy will lead to more H-1B visas being issued, as well as potential exemption from caps for graduates with in-demand expertise—managerial and technical skills like analytics, computing, and financial forecasting.
For graduates of a STEM-certified course, the odds are even better. STEM-designated MBA programs and STEM-designated masters incorporate a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics component in their curricula.
Crucially, STEM program graduates are granted a 24-month extension of their optional practice training (OPT) period, which gives them an additional two years to apply for an H-1B visa.
What is OPT?
International MBA or master’s students on an F-1 student visa are automatically eligible for optional practice training, or OPT, after graduation—a one-year period during which you can work in the US in a field related to your studies without an H-1B visa.
You can apply for OPT by requesting a recommendation from your university, up to 90 days before the end of your degree and no later than 60 days after you’ve completed it.
Although you can obtain an H-1B visa immediately after completing your degree, grads tend to go through optional practical training first. As the end of your OPT year nears, it’ll be time to apply for a H-1B visa if you still wish to continue working in the US.
STEM MBA or master’s graduates can stay in the US for up to three years of OPT, before requiring an H-1B visa.
Can you go from H-1B visa to Green Card?
The H-1B visa is a typical path towards permanent residency in the US as it is a dual intent visa.
While some work visas require applicants to prove they have ‘nonimmigrant intent’ (intention to leave the US once the visa expires), a dual intent visa allows foreign nationals to have both nonimmigrant and immigrant intent (intention to obtain permanent residency).
H-1B visa holders can therefore apply for a Green Card once the six years are up.