Getting an H-1B skilled-worker visa is like winning the lottery — literally: With the number of new visas issued each year capped at 85,000, most of this year’s over 200,000 applicants face disappointment. But if you’re already working in the United States, then you’ve already won the H-1B lottery, and that makes you a hot commodity.
With H-1Bs in short supply, successful companies frequently poach skilled workers. Everyone knows the tech sector thrives on this free exchange of people and ideas, so if another employer needs your skills, why not start working for them?
Well, not so fast. H-1B holders can work only for the company that originally sponsored their visa application. So if you want to change employers, you’ll need to “transfer” your H-1B.
That process used to be relatively straightforward but not in the Trump era. (Boundless recently underwent this process with an employee, so we understand the pain.) The denial rate for initial H-1B applications spiked over five-fold to 32 percent just in the first quarter of fiscal 2019, up from 6 percent in 2015. Crucially, the Trump administration is targeting “continuing” H-1B applications used by existing employees to either renew their H-1B or switch it to a new employer. Even tech giants like Amazon are now seeing double-digit rejection rates.
The bottom line: The days of getting an H-1B transfer quickly rubber-stamped are long gone, and that makes it vital to do whatever you can to keep the odds in your favor. The stakes are high — if things go south, you could lose your right to live and work in the United States. Here’s what H-1B holders need to know about the right — and wrong — ways to set about switching employers:
Don’t take your transfer for granted.
First, understand that an H-1B “transfer” is actually a brand new visa application, not a simple handover of your existing H-1B visa from one employer to another — there’s no such thing.