H-1B Reference Guide

Please review this Reference Guide carefully and contact us whenever you have questions. We look forward to contributing to your success.

The H-1B visa

  • Visa sponsorship
  • Documentation required
  • Dependent documentation
  • Prepare for travel restrictions
  • Your workplace rights in the US

Coming to the US

  • Applying for the H-1B visa
  • Documentation required for initial entry to the US in H-1B status
  • What to expect at the port of entry
  • Returning to the US after a temporary absence

Welcome to Seattle

  • Transportation to campus from the airport
  • Housing
  • Orientations
  • Banking
  • Social Security number
  • UW identification card (Husky Card)
  • Washington State driver’s license/identification card
  • Health care

H-4 Dependents

  • H-4 employment
  • Study in H-4 status
  • Childcare for young children
  • Children and schools
  • Family activities

Maintaining H-1B Status

Frequently Asked Questions

 Return to top

The H-1B Visa
The H-1B visa permits temporary employment in “specialty occupations” which require “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge to fully perform the occupation.” The H-1B is employer-specific, position-specific, and location-specific. Any change in employer, position title or worksite location must be reported to International Scholars Operations (ISO) in advance of the change.

Visa sponsorship

The UW sponsors H-1B visas for full-time academic appointments including postdoctoral researchers and professors. Please direct any questions about visa sponsorship to ISO. Without exception, all H-1B visas based on UW employment are processed by ISO. Only the Vice Provost for Academic Personnel has authority to sign a Labor Condition Application or H-1B petition on behalf of the UW. Attorneys are not permitted to represent the UW’s interests in immigration matters.

Documentation required

You must be fully-qualified for the position at the time ISO sends the H-1B petition (Form I-129) to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The petition to USCIS requires considerable documentation. Be prepared to provide the following items to your host department:

  • Diploma/degree certificate. Also include a transcript, if available. Foreign language documents must include full English translations. If your academic records do not clearly state the degree and field of study, obtain an evaluation of the record by a recognized credentials evaluation service.
  • Curriculum vitae.
  • US professional license, if applicable.
  • Graduates of foreign medical schools who will engage in clinical practice or training or otherwise perform patient care must included evidence of successful completion of the US Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), step 3 or equivalent as determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
  • Current and any prior H-1B I-797 Approval Notices, if applicable.
  • Passport pages showing biographical data.
  • Copies of current or prior US immigration documents (for example, if you are or were an F-1 student, include copies of your I-20 forms; if you are or were a J-1 exchange visitor, include copies of your DS-2019 forms; also include copies of EAD cards, US visa stamps, I-94 records, etc.).
  • If you currently have H-1B status with another employer, include a copy of your most-recent pay check or similar salary record.
  • If you are or were an exchange visitor subject to the two-year home country physical presence requirement, provide evidence that you have fulfilled or waived this requirement.
  • All documentation should be legible photocopies of original documents, and on 8 ½” by 11” paper. Avoid use of staples.

Dependent documentation

Your spouse and/or children who are in the US and will be changing to or extending H-4 status complete Form I-539. The I-539 should be in the name of the principal dependent, not the H-1B. Children under 14 years should have a parent sign Part 5 of the I-539 using the following language: “[Parent Name] signing on behalf of minor [Child Name].” Include proof of their relationship to you (marriage certificate for your spouse and birth certificates for the children), the $290 check payable to US Department of Homeland Security, copies of each dependent’s I-94 card, passport pages showing biographical data, passport expiration date, and US visa stamp. Include copies of their current immigration paperwork (I-20s, DS-2019s, I-797 approval notices, employment authorization documents, etc.).

Prepare for travel restrictions

If you are in the US and the UW’s petition to USCIS includes a request to change your status to H-1B, or if your dependents are applying for a change of status to H-4, DO NOT TRAVEL outside the US while the petition is pending. Discuss your travel plans with ISO before you travel and before the petition is filed.

Your workplace rights in the US

Please review your workplace rights in the US.

Return to top

Coming to the US

A “visa” is a stamp on a page of your passport that permits you to travel to a US port of entry where you will ask a US Customs and Border Protection officer for permission to enter the United States. Before you can visit the US consulate to apply for the H-1B visa, the University of Washington must file an H-1B petition (Form I-129) with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Upon approval of the I-129 petition, USCIS issues an “Approval Notice” (Form I-797) and sends it to ISO. ISO forwards the Approval Notice to your host department and your department forwards the original Approval Notice to you along with a photocopy of the I-129 petition and other supporting documents. You’ll need these documents to apply for the H-1B visa.

Applying for the H-1B visa

To apply for the H-1B visa, schedule an interview appointment at the nearest US consulate, preferably in your home country. Note that consulates charge a fee for the visa application. Bring with you to the interview the I-797 approval notice and other supporting documents that were forwarded to you by your host department, a valid passport, and a completed visa application Form DS-156. Additional requirements may be listed on the website of the US consulate where you will apply for the visa. Anticipate delays due to security reviews. Note that it is not possible to apply for the visa from within the US.

Members of your family (spouse, and unmarried children under 21 years old) applying for H-4 “dependent” visas present to the consulate their passports, a copy of your I-797 Approval Notice, and evidence of their relationship to you (marriage certificate for spouse, birth certificates for children).

The visa does not need to remain valid after you have entered the US; however, your H-1B approval notice and passport must remain valid at all times.

Canadian citizens are “visa exempt” and do not require H-1B and H-4 visas but they must present the documents listed above (except the DS-156) to the Customs and Border Protection officer upon entry into the US.

Documentation required for initial entry to the US in H-1B status

When entering the US in H-1B status for the first time, be prepared to present to the Customs and Border Protection officer:

  • Original and unexpired Form I-797 Approval Notice.
  • Passport valid for at least six months beyond the end-date of your expected stay.
  • Copy of your UW employment offer letter.
  • Photocopies of the I-129 petition and supporting documentation including Form ETA 9035 Labor Condition Application. These were forwarded to you by your host department. If you cannot locate them, contact ISO.
  • Valid H-1B visa stamp. (Canadian citizens are visa -exempt.) For information about the visa process and to schedule an interview appointment, contact the US consulate in the city where the application will be submitted.

What to expect at the port of entry

  • Arrange to enter the US no sooner than 10 days prior to the start date indicated on the Form I-797 Approval notice.
  • Hand-carry your documents (you will not have access to your baggage until later) and be prepared to present them to the Customs and Border Protection officer at the airport. These documents will be returned to you.
  • The officer will stamp your passport, indicating your status (H-1B or H-4) and period of stay.
  • You will be issued an I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. If you receive a paper I-94 card, you will be asked to write your Seattle-area residence address on the I-94.
  • The officer will take your fingerprints and photograph.
  • If the officer cannot verify your information, or if you do not have all the required documentation with you, you may be directed to an interview area referred to as “secondary inspection.” Be patient and cooperative. If the officer has questions about your affiliation with the University of Washington, suggest he or she contact ISO.
  • Admission to the US will be for the validity period of the I-797 Approval Notice. (If the period of admission is shorter than the validity period of the I-797 Approval Notice, let ISO know right away.) We recommend you ask the officer to grant the additional 10-day “grace period” permitted by federal regulations at 8 CFR 214.2(h)(13)(i)(A). The officer may not grant the additional ten days unless you specifically request that he or she do so.

Returning to the US in H-1B status after a temporary absence

When returning to the US in H-1B status after a temporary absence, be prepared to present to the Customs and Border Protection officer:

  • Original and unexpired Form I-797 Approval Notice.
  • Passport valid for at least six months beyond the end-date of your expected stay.
  • Letter from your UW host department confirming you are returning to continue full-time employment in the position described in the I-129 petition.
  • Photocopies of the I-129 petition and supporting documentation including Form ETA 9035 Labor Condition Application. These were forwarded to you by your host department. If you cannot locate them, contact ISO.
  • Valid H-1B visa stamp. (Canadian citizens are visa-exempt.) If the visa has expired, it may be extended by presenting the documents listed above to a US consulate. Anticipate delays due to security reviews. For information about the visa process and to schedule an interview appointment, contact the US consulate in the city where the application will be submitted.
  • A valid H-1B visa stamp (or H-4 visa stamp) is NOT required for re-entry to the US following a visit of less than 30 days in Canada or Mexico. This is called “automatic visa revalidation.” With automatic visa revalidation, your visa will be considered extended (and converted to the proper visa category if you had changed status to H-1B or H-4 while in the US) to the date of re-entry, eliminating the need to obtain a new visa at a US consulate before that particular re-entry. However, if you apply for a new visa while in Canada or Mexico, you will not be able to return to the US unless the visa is granted. Automatic visa revalidation is not available to nationals of countries identified by the US government as supporting terrorism.

Return to top

Welcome to Seattle

Seattle officially calls itself The Emerald City. But locals usually refer to it as “the rainy city.” We’ll let you decide which description is more accurate!

Transportation to campus from the airport

Shuttle Express is a van service from the airport to your destination. After collecting your luggage, follow signs to “Ground Transportation.” Proceed to the Shuttle Express booth. Expect to pay at least $35 plus a 15% gratuity per person. Taxi service is available 24 hours per day. To the University, expect to pay at least $40 plus a 15% gratuity. If you don’t have much luggage, light rail from the airport to downtown with public bus service connections to the UW is available during business hours at low cost.

Housing

Before you arrive in Seattle, ask your UW department for assistance in locating off-campus housing. Apartments in the U-District (the neighborhood surrounding the University) are within walking or biking distance to campus. Other neighborhoods have good bus service to the UW. Useful resources include:

Orientations

You are encouraged to participate in the online orientation offered by Academic Human Resources and a Benefits Orientation.

Banking

To transfer money to the US, your financial institution will need to make arrangements with a bank that has an office in Seattle. There may be a limit to the amount of funds which may be transferred. Banks within walking distance of the University include:

Social Security number

You must apply for a Social Security number (SSN), if you don’t already have one. Payment of salary may be withheld until the SSN is issued. Once you’ve been issued a SSN, you’ll never need to apply for one again.

UW identification card (Husky Card)

After arriving at the UW, you may obtain a UW ID card (Husky Card), permitting access to most UW services and facilities including:

Washington State driver’s license / identification card

For a small fee, the Washington State Department of Licensing issues driver’s licenses and photo identification cards for non-drivers. Identification cards can be issued at any age and are valid for five years.

Health care

After you arrive in the US, choose a medical clinic and physician according to your health insurance provisions. The University of Washington Hall Health Center, conveniently located on the UW campus, is a “preferred provider” for many health insurance plans. Hall Health provides service to UW students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Twenty-four hour care is available at several nearby hospitals, including the University of Washington Medical Center. For life-threatening emergencies, dial 911 on any telephone (9911 from a UW campus telephone).

Return to top
H-4 Dependents
Your dependents (spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age) are eligible for H-4 status. Although the spouse and children of H-1B employees usually enter the US as H-4s, they may enter in other visa classifications for which they qualify, such as F-1, J-1, B-2 or H-1B. Domestic partners are ineligible for H-4 status but may apply for B-2 visas.

H-4 employment

H-4 status prohibits any form of employment in the US.

Study in H-4 status

There is no restriction on study for persons in H-4 status.

Childcare for young children

Many childcare services are available on-campus and in the community.

Children and schools

To enroll your children in school, contact one of the Seattle Public Schools Enrollment Service Centers. Be prepared to produce your child’s immunization records, verification of date of birth, and prior academic records.

Family activities

The Foundation for International Understanding Through Students (FIUTS), a community organization located on the UW campus, provides activities designed to enhance interactions between UW internationals and Americans. FIUTS offers programs of special interest to spouses of scholars from abroad, including conversation groups, cooking classes, and trips and tours.

Return to top
Maintaining H-1B Status
It is your responsibility to understand and comply with the terms of your H-1B status during your stay in the United States. A violation of the immigration regulations could have serious consequences. Review this information carefully and contact ISO if you have questions.

Report address changes

Persons in H-1B and H-4 status must notify US Citizenship and Immigration Services of all residential address changes using form AR-11.

Do not let your I-797 Approval Notice expire

The I-797 Approval Notice allows you to apply for a visa and enter or re-enter the US It also establishes your legal eligibility to remain in the United States. Note that the Approval Notice has an expiration date. To request an extension, contact your host UW department six months prior to that date. Do not assume your department’s administrator will automatically know when it is time to renew your H-1B status. Be proactive and don’t let your documents expire. Keep every I-797 Approval Notice for your permanent record.

Do not let your passport expire

Your passport must be valid at all times. Keep it and other important documents in a safe place (for example, in a safe deposit box at your bank). Report a lost or stolen passport to the police, as your government may require a police report before issuing a new passport. To renew or replace your passport, contact your country’s consulate in the US While in the United States, always carry with you a photocopy of your passport’s identity page and a photocopy of your I-797 Approval Notice. When traveling, including within the US, carry the original documents but guard them carefully against theft.

Work only in the position for which your H-1B was approved

Your H-1B status is employer-specific and job-specific. Your UW-sponsored H-1B does not allow you to work for any other employer. If you change employers, the new employer must file a new H-1B petition before you begin working in your new position. If your UW job duties or responsibilities change, including a change in job title or employing department, the University must file an H-1B petition with USCIS before the change becomes effective.

Work only in the location for which your H-1B was approved

Your H-1B status is also location-specific. You may work only at the worksites listed in part G of the Labor Condition Application. Any change in worksite must be authorized in advance. Contact ISO for more information.

Consulting work and lectures at other institutions or conferences

You may have opportunities to give lectures at other institutions or conferences. You cannot receive an honorarium or other monetary or material gain for such activities, although reimbursement for travel and reasonable expenses is allowed.

Maintain a full-time appointment

Your employment at the UW must remain full-time while you are under UW visa sponsorship. The UW does not provide H-1B visa sponsorship for part-time positions.

On leave status

An H-1B generally maintains lawful visa status in the US only when maintaining paid employment. Before requesting an unpaid leave, contact ISO. In general, the University of Washington will grant H-1B employees unpaid leave only for situations required by law, such as Family Medical Leave Act and state Family Care Act (“covered leaves”). Any leave granted in these situations must be thoroughly documented in advance. The University of Washington will not allow employees to remain in UW-sponsored H-1B status while on a personal, unpaid non-covered leave.

Depart the US in a timely manner

Because the H-1B is an “employment visa,” your lawful status in the US ends when your paid employment ends. If your paid employment ends before your I-797 Approval Notice expires, you must depart the US immediately upon termination of employment. There is no grace period following a termination. If your paid employment and the I-797 Approval Notice end at the same time, check the expiration date on your I-94 record as it may indicate an additional ten-day “grace period” for departure.

Extending your stay

A petition to extend H-1B status can be filed with USCIS up to six months before the current stay expires. Contact your host department to begin the extension process. If the petition is filed with USCIS in a timely manner, you may continue on payroll even though USCIS may not adjudicate the petition until after your current period of stay expires. You must be in the United States on the day USCIS receives the extension petition. Upon approval of the petition, you will receive a new I-797 Approval Notice.

Note that a new H-1B visa (the stamp in the passport) can be obtained only by applying at a US consulate or embassy outside the US You may remain in the US even though the visa in the passport has expired—a valid visa is required only when re-entering the US from overseas.

Immigration law establishes a six-year cap on the number of consecutive years a foreign national may hold H-1B status. Initial admission as an H-1B can be up to three years; extensions of stay are granted in up to three-year increments. Note that UW may impose term limits that are less than six years for certain job titles. Periods of time in H-1B status with other employers count toward the six-year limitation. Extensions beyond six years are possible in limited circumstances involving delays in the processing of applications for permanent residence.

Pay your taxes

You are required to file a yearly tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Contact IRS for more information.

H-1B portability

A “portability” provision in the H-1B regulations allows an applicant who is already in H1B status to begin working for a new employer as soon as that employer receives from USCIS the I-797 Receipt Notice for the new petition. If you are moving to UW and wish to take advantage of H-1B portability, do not leave your current paid position until we notify you that the UW’s petition has been received by USCIS. For more information about portability, contact ISO.

Registration Documentation

You may be surprised to learn that US law requires foreign nationals eighteen years of age and older to carry “registration” documentation with them “at all times.” For individuals in H-1B and H-4 status, evidence of registration is your most recent Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record or, if you were issued an electronic I-94 record, the entry stamp in your passport. The law is found at INA § 264(e) and the list of documents that qualify as evidence of registration is found at 8 CFR § 264.1(b).

Travel within the US

If you travel by air, train, bus or ship within the United States you may be required to show your passport and I-94 record when boarding. Keep photocopies of your passport and I-94 in a separate location from the original documents. Photocopies do not substitute for the originals but can make replacing them a bit easier in the event they are lost or stolen. Guard your documents carefully!

Leaving UW: Important visa and tax information

As you prepare to leave the University of Washington, please review this Important visa and tax information.
Return to top
Frequently Asked Questions
The answers to these questions are brief and may not cover all situations. Consult ISO or a qualified immigration attorney whenever you have concerns or need information about your immigration status.

What is the difference between “visa” and “status?”

The “visa” is a stamp the US consulate places on a page in your passport that gives you permission to travel to a port of entry where a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will decide whether to allow you to enter and how long you may stay. The officer will indicate your “status” and length of stay on Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record and on the entry stamp in your passport. Your “status” is the nonimmigrant classification in which you enter the US (for example, H-1B). Note that since the visa is just an entry document, the expiration dates on the visa and I-94 record may not match. Your visa may expire while you are in the United States. Make sure, however, that your status (indicated on the I-94 and in your passport) does not expire. If you travel overseas but your visa has expired, or if you travel overseas and the visa stamp in your passport does not reflect your current status (for example, if you had entered the US on an F-1 student visa then after graduation changed status to H-1B without traveling abroad), you’ll need to request a new visa matching your current status before you return. A valid visa may not be required if you’re returning to the US from a brief visit in Canada or Mexico and are eligible for automatic visa revalidation.

How long does it take to get H-1B status?

The H-1B application process can be lengthy. Anticipate six months or longer.

How soon should I apply to extend my H-1B status?

If you are now in the US and hold H-1B status, the application for extension of stay should be filed with USCIS as early as possible, up to six months prior to your I-797 Approval Notice expiration date. Note that it may take two to three months to assemble the application documents. If USCIS receives the extension application prior to the I-797 expiration date, you may continue working for 240 days while the petition is pending.

Is the UW subject to the H-1B cap?

There is an annual limit of 65,000 new H-1Bs that may be issued. This number is referred to as the H-1B “cap.” However, institutions of higher education including the University of Washington are exempt from the cap.

Can my attorney help me get an H-1B visa to work at the UW?

No, the UW does not allow outside attorneys to represent its interests in immigration matters. Only the Vice Provost for Academic Personnel may sign a visa petition for which the UW is the sponsoring employer.

How long can I hold H-1B status?

You may hold H-1B status for a total of six years, in increments of up to three years. Only time spent in the US counts toward the six-year limit. In unusual situations involving delays in the processing of a green card application, H-1B status can extend beyond six years.

Must international students use up their OPT before getting an H-1B?

The University of Washington requires graduates of US schools to exhaust their eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT) before switching over to H-1B. Just be sure that the H-1B application process begins early enough so that the H-1B is approved before the OPT expires!

Does my J-1 visa affect eligibility for H-1B status?

If you are a current or former J Exchange Visitor and are subject to the two-year home country physical presence requirement, you are limited in your eligibility to obtain H-1B status. If you are outside the United States, you are ineligible for an H visa unless the requirement has been fulfilled or waived. If you are in the United States, you are ineligible for a change of status from J to H (though a petition to change status to H-1B may be filed if a waiver has been recommended in writing by the Department of State but not yet formally approved by USCIS).

Does my H-1B visa qualify me for a green card?

No. The H-1B is a nonimmigrant status but you may apply for a green card if you meet certain eligibility requirements. The USCIS website has helpful information.

Do changes in my job affect my H-1B status?
Yes. It is very important that any potential change in your employment status, (including change in salary, title, worksite location, host department, percentage of time worked, leave status, etc.) be discussed with ISO well in advance of the change.

Can I receive a consulting fee or honorarium payment?

You can work only for the employer that sponsored your H-1B status. Although you may have opportunities to give lectures or speeches at other institutions or conferences, you cannot receive compensation for these activities other than reimbursement for travel and reasonable expenses.

What does “H-1B portability” mean?

A person in H-1B status may begin employment with a new employer as soon as USCIS receives from the new employer a non-frivolous I-129 petition. This is referred to as “H-1B portability.” The new employer and the H-1B beneficiary do not have to wait for the new petition to be approved for the new employment to begin. If the new petition is denied, however, work authorization is automatically terminated. Note that if an H-1B beneficiary stops working prior to USCIS confirming receipt of the new I-129 petition, USCIS might view that person as being in violation of H-1B status. Other conditions and restrictions apply—contact ISO for information.

Can I take classes?

Yes, provided that taking classes does not become your primary purpose for being in the United States. At all times you must fulfill the terms and conditions of your H-1B status, including full-time employment. There are no study restrictions for H-4 dependents.

Do I need to inform anyone if I change my address?

Persons in H status must report their change of address to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within ten days of the change. Use Immigration Form AR-11 to report the address change.

Do I need a valid US visa to return to the United States from Canada?

A provision of the law known as “automatic visa revalidation” allows you to re-enter the United States in H-1B or H-4 status after a brief visit in Canada or Mexico even though your US visa has expired or your visa does not match your current status in the US (for example, if you entered the US on an F-1 student visa then later changed status to H-1B). However, if you are in Canada or Mexico longer than 30 days, or if you visit countries other than Canada or Mexico, you are not eligible to take advantage of automatic visa revalidation and must visit a US consulate and obtain an H-1B or H-4 visa prior to your return.

Can my spouse remain in the US if I travel abroad temporarily?

If you travel outside the US, unless your trip is very brief your H-4 dependents should leave the US, as well.

Can I remain in the US while a change of status application is pending?

If your status expires prior to the approval of your change of status, there is a small but significant possibility of removal. For more information, please see: http://www.uscis.gov/USCIS/Resources/C2en.pdf.

Can I travel outside the US while my change of status application is pending?

If you leave the US while an application for change of status is pending, the change of status application is considered to have been abandoned. Discuss your travel plans with ISO before leaving the US.

Can I travel outside the US while an extension of stay application is pending?

Yes, provided that when you return you have a valid I-797 Approval Notice and a valid H-1B visa (unless visa-exempt or eligible for automatic visa revalidation). Discuss your travel plans with ISO before leaving the US.

Can I travel outside the US while a “change of employer” application is pending?

If you are maintaining status with your current employer you may travel while an H-1B “change of employer” petition is pending, provided that when you return you have a valid I-797 Approval Notice and a valid H-1B visa (unless visa-exempt or eligible for automatic visa revalidation). Discuss your travel plans with ISO before leaving the US.

Can I renew my H-1B visa from inside the United States?

No. You may apply for a visa only at a US consulate. Note, however, that the visa stamp in your passport does not need to remain valid while you are in the US.

How long can I stay in the US after my job ends?
Because the H-1B is an “employment” visa, your lawful status in the US ends when your paid employment ends. If your paid employment ends before your I-797 Approval Notice expires, you must depart the US immediately upon termination of employment. If paid employment and the I-797 Approval Notice end at the same time, check the expiration date on your I-94 card as it may indicate an additional ten-day “grace period” for departure.

Can my H-4 spouse work in the US?

Unfortunately, H-4 dependents cannot be employed in the US.

I’ve applied for permanent residence and have an Employement Authorization Document (EAD). Do I still need to maintain H-1B status?

An H-1B employee with a pending permanent  residence applicaiton may be eligible for an Employement Authorization Document (EAD). The holder of a valid EAD can work legally without H-1B status. However, there may be advantages for both the employing UW department and the foreign national if H-1B status is maintained until the green card is issued. Please call ISO to discuss.

Return to top