Coming to the U.S. for the first time requires the following steps:

  • UW files an H-1B petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • USCIS approves the petition and issues an approval notice
  • You apply for your H-1B visa stamp (not necessary for Canadian citizens)
  • You apply for admission at a U.S. port of entry

Filing and Approval of H-1B Petition

Before you can enter the U.S. in H-1B status, or change status to H-1B, the University of Washington must file and receive approval of an H-1B petition (Form I-129) with USCIS.

  • UW files the I-129 petition with USCIS, and responds to any requests for evidence.
  • Upon approval of the I-129 petition, USCIS issues an Approval Notice (Form I-797) and sends it to the International Scholars Operations (ISO) team.
  • ISO forwards the Approval Notice to your host department.
  • Then your department forwards the original Approval Notice to you along with a photocopy of the I-129 petition and other supporting documents.

If you are coming to UW from outside the U.S., you’ll need these documents to apply for an H-1B visa stamp and to enter the U.S.

If you are inside the U.S., and changing status to H-1B, a visa stamp is not needed to remain in the U.S. or to start working for UW.

For more information about how UW sponsors H-1B visas, see How to Sponsor an H-1B Temporary Worker.

Applying for the H-1B Visa Stamp

To apply for an H-1B visa stamp, complete and submit Form DS-160 and pay the associated visa fees to schedule an interview at the nearest U.S. consulate, preferably in your home country. When you attend your interview, bring the following:

  • Your valid passport
  • Your I-797 Approval Notice
  • Your complete I-129 petition

Additional requirements may be listed on the U.S. consulate website. Anticipate delays due to security reviews. Note that it is not possible to apply for the visa from within the U.S.; however, if you are changing status inside the U.S., you will not need a new visa stamp to start working.

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).

Canadian Citizens

Canadian citizens are “visa exempt” and do not need H-1B and H-4 visa stamps, but they must present the documents listed above to the Customs and Border Protection officer upon entry into the U.S.

Documentation Required for Initial Entry to the U.S.

When entering the U.S. 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 6 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 U.S. consulate in the city where the application will be submitted.

What to Expect at the Port of Entry

  • Enter the U.S. no sooner than 10 days prior to the start date indicated on the Form I-797 Approval notice.
    • You will not be admitted to the U.S. if you arrive more than 10 days before the start date.
  • Bring your documents with you in your carry-on luggage (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 take your fingerprints and photograph and ask about your reason for coming to the U.S.
  • 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 called “secondary inspection.” We encourage patient cooperation with the immigration officer(s).
    • If the officer has questions about your affiliation with the University of Washington, suggest they contact ISO.
  • 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 10 days unless you specifically request that he or she do so.
  • The officer will stamp your passport, indicating your H-1B status (or H-4 for your dependents) 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.
  • Be sure to check your I-94 record online as soon as you are able after arrival; the period of admission listed on it should be the same as 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.)