What is an H-2B visa?
An H-2B visa is a temporary nonimmigrant visa category that allows foreign nationals to come to the U.S. to perform non-agricultural, seasonal work.
This type of visa is typically used by employers who need additional seasonal workers for jobs such as landscaping, hospitality, construction, and other industries with temporary labor needs.
To qualify for an H-2B visa, both the employer and the job offered must meet specific requirements set by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and USCIS.
The employer must demonstrate that there are not enough U.S. workers available to perform the temporary work and that hiring foreign workers will not negatively impact the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.
H-2B visas are usually granted for a specific period, and the foreign workers are expected to return to their home countries after the completion of the seasonal work.
It’s important to note that the number of H-2B visas issued each fiscal year is limited and employers need to apply for these visas in advance.
H-2B numerical limit
The H-2B visa program has a numerical limit, or cap, on the number of visas that can be issued each fiscal year.
The statutory cap for H-2B visas is set at 66,000 per fiscal year, with:
- 33,000 allocated for employment beginning in the first half of the fiscal year (October 1 to March 31), and
- 33,000 for employment beginning in the second half of the fiscal year (April 1 to September 30)
Certain workers who have been counted against the H-2B cap in the past may be exempt from the cap calculations when applying for an extension or change of status.
H-2B cap exempt employers
The following U.S. employers are not subject to the H-2B cap:
- Fish roe processors, fish roe technicians, or supervisors of fish roe processing;
- Workers performing labor or services in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands or Guam until Dec. 31, 2029.
H-2B visa requirements
To obtain an H-2B visa, the U.S. employer must meet the following requirements:
- Establishing that there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to perform the temporary work
- Employment of foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers
- Need for additional workers is temporary and that the job is of a seasonal, peak-load, intermittent, or one-time nature
- Obtaining a single valid temporary labor certification from the US Department of Labor (DOL)
H-2B visa eligible countries
Nationals of the following countries are eligible to apply for an H-2B visa:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
- North Macedonia
- Papua New Guinea
- Republic of Cyprus
- Saint Lucia
- San Marino
- Solomon Islands
- South Africa
- South Korea
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- United Kingdom
The list of H-2B visa eligible countries is subject to change, check the latest information on the USCIS official website.
What is the difference between H-1B and H-2B visas?
The H-1B and H-2B visas are both temporary nonimmigrant visas, but they serve different purposes and are designed for different types of employment.
Here are the key differences between H-1B and H-2B visas:
- Purpose: The H-1B visa is designed for foreign workers in specialty occupations that require specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher. These occupations often include fields such as information technology, engineering, finance, and science.
- Employment Type: H-1B visas are typically used for professional positions that require a specific skill set or education level.
- Duration: H-1B visas are generally granted for an initial period of up to three years, with the possibility of extension for up to six years. Extensions beyond six years are possible under certain circumstances.
- Cap: There is an annual numerical cap of 65,000 on the number of new H-1B visas that can be issued, and it is subject to an annual lottery system due to high demand.
- Purpose: The H-2B visa is designed for temporary non-agricultural workers to fill seasonal or peak-load positions. These positions are typically in industries such as landscaping, hospitality, construction, and other sectors with temporary labor needs.
- Employment Type: H-2B visas are used for non-professional, temporary, and seasonal jobs that do not require specialized education or skills.
- Duration: H-2B visas are granted for a specific period related to the employer’s temporary need, and they are usually valid for up to one year. Extensions are possible, but the total period is generally limited.
- Cap: Similar to H-1B visas, there is an annual numerical cap of 66,000 on the number of new H-2B visas that can be issued. The cap is divided into two halves for employment periods starting in the first and second halves of the fiscal year.
H-2B visa cost
The cost associated with obtaining an H-2B visa involves payment of the following government filing fees:
H-2B checklist of documents
The following documents must be submitted with H-2B visa application (submit photocopies only):
|Temporary Labor Certification
|Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
|Job offer description
|Form DS-160 confirmation page
|Visa Application Fee
How to apply for an H-2B visa
Applying for an H-2B visa involves the following steps:
Step 1. Determine Eligibility:
- Ensure that the employer and the job position meet the eligibility criteria for the H-2B visa program. The job must be temporary, non-agricultural, and meet the labor certification requirements
Step 2. Obtain Temporary Labor Certification:
- Submit and obtain the temporary labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
Step 3. Submit Form I-129:
- File Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, with USCIS
- Include supporting documents such as the original labor certification, job offer description, and other required information (see the checklist above)
Step 3. Wait for USCIS Approval:
- USCIS will review the petition and, if approved, will issue a Form I-797, Notice of Action.
Step 4. Apply for H-2B Visa:
- Foreign employee completes DS-160 Form online
- Save the DS-160 confirmation page
- Pay Visa Application Fee
- Schedule an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in the foreign employee’s home country
- Attend the visa interview with all required documents, including the Form I-129 approval notice, valid passport, DS-160 confirmation receipt, job offer letter, and other supporting documents.
- Wait for Visa Issuance: After a successful visa interview, wait for the visa to be issued. The visa will be stamped in the passport
Step 5. Travel to the U.S.:
- Enter the U.S. before the H-2B visa expiration date
Family members of H-2B visa holders
Family members of H-2B visa holders (spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21) may be eligible to accompany or join the H-2B visa holder in the U.S.
Key points regarding family members of H-2B visa holders:
- Derivative Visas:
- Spouse and unmarried children under 21 are considered derivative beneficiaries of the H-2B visa holder
- They are eligible to apply for H-4 visas to accompany the principal H-2B visa holder
- Application Process for Family Members:
- Once Form I-129 petition is approved, eligible family members can apply for H-4 visas
- Family members need to complete the DS-160 form, pay the visa application fee, and schedule an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country
- Travel and Entry to the U.S.:
- Family members may travel to the U.S. along with the H-2B visa holder or join them later
- Family members must present their valid H-4 visas at the U.S. port of entry
- No Work Authorization:
- H-4 visa holders are not authorized to work in the U.S.
- Duration of Stay:
- The family members’ stay in the U.S. is tied to the duration of the principal H-2B visa holder’s authorized stay
- Educational Opportunities:
- H-4 dependent children are allowed to attend schools and educational institutions in the U.S.
- Maintaining Status:
- Family members, like the principal visa holder, must comply with U.S. immigration regulations to maintain their legal status
- Any changes in the H-2B visa holder’s status, such as extensions or changes of employer, may impact the status of their family members
H-2B visa processing time
It can take about 2-3 months to obtain an H-2B visa:
- Labor Condition Application (LCA) certification by the U.S. Department of Labor – 7 business days
- Form I-129 processing time – 1 week to 5 weeks
- Scheduling interview at the U.S. Embassy – 1 calendar day to 15 calendar days
- Visa issuance – 7 days
To check the most current processing times for H-2B visa applications:
- Visit USCIS Processing Times, choose Form I-129 and select your service center (Form I-129 service center is printed in the lower left corner of the receipt notice)
- Visit Visa Appointment Wait Times page (enter the US Embassy/Consulate location, check the “Interview Required Petition-Based Temporary Workers (H, L, O, P, Q)” timeline)
Keep in mind that processing times are general estimates, and individual cases may take less or more time to complete.