How Long It Takes to Get an H-1B Visa Petition Approved

How to monitor your progress toward H-1B visa petition approval for purposes of obtaining a visa as a temporary specialty worker in the United States.

By , Attorney · Capital University Law School

Once a U.S. employer has gone through the various preliminary steps and then filed an H-1B case petition (on Form I-129), the decision-making process is in the hands of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Some applicants have been known to receive USCIS approval in as few as two weeks, others wait much longer.

Because of the annual limit on the number of H-1B petitions that can be approved, an employer often must petition six months in advance of the date the employee is to start work. That should, in theory, leave plenty of time for USCIS to approve or reject the petition, so that the employee knows whether they can get an H-1B visa or get into H-1B status in the U.S. before the job begins.

Nonetheless, USCIS sometimes takes more than six months to adjudicate H-1B petitions, even in the best of times. The bottom line is that timing can become critical, as further discussed below. We'll focus on:

  • reasons to pay extra for a speedy USCIS decision on the I-129
  • how to check how long USCIS is likely to take in deciding on an I-129 petition
  • how to follow up if USCIS is taking too long, and
  • whether you'll be affected by the annual limits on H-1B visas.

Why Many Employers Pay Extra for "Premium Processing" of the I-129

Employers willing to pay an additional amount can get "premium processing" of the I-129 petition. (That amount went up to $2,805 on February 26, 2024). Paying for premium processing service guarantees a USCIS decision within 15 calendar days of filing, or within 15 days of a response to a Request for Evidence (RFE), if USCIS issues one. (See 8 C.F.R. § 106.4.)

USCIS delays can virtually force employers to pay the extra fee for premium processing when it's available, particularly if the employee does not have any other authorization to start working on October 1.

But some H-1B petitions are not subject to the annual limit, in which case you might not need premium processing or be concerned about when USCIS will approve the petition.

How to Predict or Monitor When USCIS Will Decide on Your H-1B Petition

For planning purposes, the key will be to learn to monitor your application while it's being processed by USCIS. Next, we'll explain how to do that, including getting your receipt number and finding out USCIS's average processing times in your category.

Getting Application Receipt Number From USCIS

In an H-1B case without premium processing, after your employer has submitted Form I-129, USCIS will, normally within approximately two weeks, send 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 the address of the Service Center that has the petition.

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 the case as well as allowing you to track it through USCIS Case Status Online. For example, your receipt number might read something like this: EAC2209636548.

Checking Average Processing Time of Cases in Your Category

Once you have checked your current case status, you can get a sense of how it will progress by using the USCIS Processing Times Information website.

You will need to know the USCIS office where the form is being reviewed. Find this on the receipt notice mailed to the employer after USCIS accepted your case for processing. On the processing times web page, first select "I-129," then under "Form Category," select H-1B, and from the Field Office or Service Center dropdown menu, select the service center handling your petition.

How will you know which USCIS service center to select? The I-797 Receipt Notice name it at the bottom of the receipt. Be aware that sometimes USCIS transfers files among service centers to allocate resources. If that happens to your petition, your employer will get a notice saying which service center will handle the case.

Then click "Get processing time," and you'll be given an average. For example, it might say "2.5 months," which means USCIS will review most petitions within that time. There also is a section on "When can I ask about my case," which is explained below, for when your petition is beyond the processing time range.

What If My Case Is Taking Longer Than USCIS's Estimated Processing Time?

The information you get from the processing times website is USCIS's best guess based on its most recent data. It's not exact, and you can't rely on it to be 100% accurate.

But if your case is outside of the estimated processing time, the employer can call USCIS at 800-375-5283 or use the link on the processing times page to place a service request. USCIS will then provide a confirmation number as well as a new estimated time of processing, typically 30 to 60 more days.

Of course, if your employer paid for premium processing, there is a guarantee of a decision within 15 days, so you should be able to rely on that. If it is taking longer, your employer might have received a Request for Evidence that needs to be responded to before USCIS can make a decision. But even so, USCIS should make a decision within 15 days after receiving your employer's response to the request.

Will I Be Affected by Annual Limits on First-Time H-1B Visas?

As mentioned above, you might be applying under the H-1B cap—that is, an annual limit of 65,000 on the number of H-1B petitions approved. USCIS allows "cap" petitions to be filed six months before the start of the "fiscal year," which begins on October 1. H-1B "cap" workers can't get their H-1B status, and start their job, until October 1 at the soonest.

So many people want H-1B status in most years that there's a lottery just to be selected to apply. After several years in the planning, USCIS began implementing a new, pre-filing registration system in 2020. To get into the lottery, employers must submit an online pre-registration during a designated period USCIS announces, normally in March.

The new procedure involves a $10 per-case filing fee for the online registration. Duplicate registrations for the same employee are prohibited. If USCIS receives more than 85,000 registrations (as it almost always does), it will conduct a random lottery and notify "winners" soon after the pre-registration ends.

Employers whose petitions USCIS selected then be given a filing window in which to prepare and submit their petitions to USCIS. This typically starts in April and lasts 90 days.

Talk to an Immigration attorney.
We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you