Once an employer files an H-1B case petition (on Form I-129), the processing is in the hands of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Some applicants receive approval in as few as 30 days, others may wait as many as 90 days. In the meantime, for planning purposes, the key will be to learn to monitor your application while it is being processed by USCIS. Here is how to do that.
Getting Your Application Receipt Number
After your employer has applied for your H-1B visa, USCIS will, after approximately one to two weeks, send you a receipt notice on Form I-797. The receipt notice will contain your name (listed as the beneficiary), your employer’s name (listed as the petitioner) and an address. If your employer retained an attorney, the attorney’s name and address will be listed on the receipt notice as well. If your employer filed without an attorney, the receipt notice will list the employer’s address. (Be sure to review these details for correct information as well as spelling.)
In the top left-hand corner of the receipt notice is the case receipt number, which confirms the processing of your case as well as allows you to track the case on the USCIS website (http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis). For example, your receipt number might read something like this: EAC-12-096-36548. We will explain how to read the number below.
Once you have entered your receipt number into the USCIS website, your current case status will be listed. Checking the status of an H-1B visa filing will show the current status as either initial review, request for evidence sent, request for evidence review, or decision.
Checking the Average Processing Time of Cases in Your Category
Once you have checked your current case status, you can also review the current processing times on this same page. The steps to check the processing time for an H-1B visa case are below.
1) Select a form type: From the drop box, select I-129. The I-129 is the form used to file for your H-1B visa.
2) Select a form sub type: From the drop box, you’ll see three selections to choose from that apply to your case. If you were in the U.S. in another visa status and applied for H-1B visa status, you should select “H-1B, specialty occupation, change of status in the United States.” If you are in H-1B status and are extending your status, you should select “H-1B, specialty occupation, extension of status in the United States.” If you have never been to the United States in H-1B status and will be applying for your visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad, you should select “H-1B, specialty occupation, visa to be issued abroad.”
3) Select an office: From the drop box, select either the Vermont Service Center or the California Service Center, depending on where your employer’s office is located and which center serves that geographic region. How will you know which service center to select? The first three letters of the receipt number indicate the service center where your application was filed. EAC is the Vermont Service Center and WAC is the California Service Center.
The two numbers after the first three letters indicate the year the case was filed. The remainder of the numbers shows receipt of your specific case.
Once you have entered the above information into the drop boxes, you will be prompted with the current processing times. For example, as of early 2013, the California Service Center was processing H-1B applications within two months of the receipt date listed on the receipt notice. If your case is still within the estimated time, then you should continue to wait as the petition is processed.
What If My Case Is Taking Longer Than the Estimated Processing Time?
If your case is outside of the estimated processing time, the employer can call USCIS at 800-375-5283 and place a service request. For instance, if the case was receipted May 1, 2013 and the estimated processing time of your type of case is two months, this would indicate that USCIS should reach a final decision, approval or denial, on the case on or before July 1, 2013.
If it is after this date, and USCIS has made no decision on your case, it is approrpriate to call USCIS. Once the agent places the service request on the case, USCIS will provide a confirmation number as well as a new estimated time of processing, typically 30 to 45 more days.
Will I Be Affected by Annual Limits on First-Time H-1B Visas?
If you are applying for your first H-1B visa, you will be applying under the H-1B cap -- that is, an annual limit of 65,000 on the number of visas approved. Every year on April 1, USCIS allows new H-1B applicants to apply for their first visa under the H-1B cap. If your application is approved, you will be issued a notice to begin employment October 1 at the earliest. USCIS will continue to accept new H-1B cap cases until 65,000 have been receipted or accepted for processing. This happens quite quickly.
If your case is not accepted within the 65,000 new H-1B cases, USCIS will return your application and you will have to wait until your employer refiles for your H-1B the following April 1.