With the fiscal year cap on H-1B visas set at 85,000, many employers are looking for alternatives to bring qualified workers into their companies. Pursuing alternate visa types or schemes within the framework for other visas can be useful to persons who have not made the cap on H-1B visas or do not qualify as having a specialty occupation.
For citizens of Canada and Mexico, the TN is a viable alternative to the H-1B visa. The TN visa is established per the North American Free Trade Agreement to admit qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens to temporarily enter the US to engage in professional business activities. Employees may qualify for a TN visa if they are Mexican or Canadian Nationals who will be working NAFTA approved professionals.
Canadian citizens are not required to apply at a US consulate but must simply submit proof of Canadian citizenship, a job offer indicating length of stay, and credentials where required to a US Customs and Border Protection Officer at a US port of entry. Mexican citizens can acquire a TN Visa prior to entry by applying directly at a US embassy or consulate. The initial stay for a TN visa is 1 year and is renewable in 1 year increments without limitation.
The primary advantage to obtaining a TN visa over an H-1B visa for qualified foreign nationals is that there is no limitation on renewals. The visa is renewable indefinitely as long as qualifications are met. The treaty agreement between nations also helps the petitioner avoid the long delay of filing a full petition in the US. There is also no cap on TN visa. Lastly, the broad list of professions which can qualify for a TN visa may prove advantageous to persons whose occupation could never qualify as a specialty occupation under an H-1B visa.
US organizations with a related entity abroad such as a parent, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate can transfer workers with specialized knowledge or managers and executives with an L-1 visa. In order to qualify the employee must have worked for the foreign entity for at least one continuous year during their last three years of employment.
The transferring employee may be granted an initial stay of up to one year if they are coming to the US to assist establishing a new office. All other qualified employees can be granted a maximum initial stay of up to three years. Stays can be extended in two year increments up until the maximum stay of seven years has been reached.
J-1 or H-3 Visas
For trainees and persons wishing to gain experience or knowledge of the prospective employer’s products. The J-1 visa or H-3 visa can be options. The J-1 visa is designated for those who intend to participate in an approved exchange program. The H-3 visa is designated for foreign nationals aspiring to come to the US for training in any field other than graduate medical education which is not available in their country. Persons coming to the US to further their careers at home with on-the-job training which is not available in their country may qualify for an H-3 visa.
An option for recent US STEM degree graduates in the post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) period can work for 17 months in the US on a student visa. This is useful for persons who did not make the cap on their first H-1B filing and would like to work a year in the US until the next filing period. If other visa types do not apply, a final solution is utilizing H-1B visas that is utilizing H-1B visas that do not count against the cap.
Persons who have counted against the cap in the last 6 years, persons living abroad who have been granted H-1B status in the last 6 years, and persons working in university academia or affiliated nonprofits organizations can obtain H-1B visas without counting against the cap. See the article on “H-1B Cap Exempt Candidates”.
Being limited from hiring qualified employees by the H-1B cap is a serious concern for many employers. Utilizing one or more of the available alternatives to the H-1B visa could be a potential solution.