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The New H-1B Season Starts on April 1, 2010

Filipinos who have dreams of working in the United States, but do not have qualifying relatives to file petitions for them or could not wait for their family petitions should be aware of the H1-B visa program. This program allows U.S. employers to employ foreign workers to perform services in a specialty occupation. The statute defines specialty occupation as one that requires “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in fields of human endeavor…and which requires the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific specialty, or its equivalent, as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.” Typical H-1B or specialty occupations include architects, engineers, computer programmers, accountants, doctors and college professors.

The H-1B nonimmigrant visa category is popular because its basic feature, qualification in an occupation that usually requires a college degree, can be met by a large number of Filipinos. A degree from an accredited college or university in the Philippines will qualify if determined to be equivalent to a U.S. degree. The Immigration and Nationality Act permits a foreign worker to qualify for a specialty occupation based on experience that is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. A specialized training and/or work experience may wholly substitute for a bachelor’s degree.

To get the U.S. degree equivalency, you need your academic credentials and work/professional experience evaluated by an accredited evaluation services in the U.S. You would need a copy of your transcript of records, diploma, and resume detailing your job duties and responsibilities. My recent client received a U.S. Master’s degree equivalency in accounting. She graduated from my alma mater, Ateneo de Naga, and worked as bookkeeper/financial analyst/auditorwith Land Bank for several years. I’ve found a couple of U.S. employers who are willing to sponsor her. It normally cost $250 to get a credential evaluation. There has to be a specific offer of employment from a U.S. employer.

Finding one these days is a challenge considering the current recession. However, there remains a high demand for Filipino accountants in the U.S. The current annual cap on the H-1B category is 65,000. These are the number of workers that can be issued an H-1B visa this year. Not all H-1B nonimmigrants are subject to his annual cap. H-1B nonimmigrants who will be employed by institutions of higher education or a related or affiliated nonprofit entity, as well as those employed, by a nonprofit research organization or a government research organization are exempt from the cap. Also, foreign workers with a Master’s degree or higher from a U.S. academic institution are exempt from the cap. The H-1B Visa Reform Act of 2004 makes available 20,000 new H-1B visas for them. USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) uses “random selection process” or “H-1B lottery” when more than 65,000 H-1B applications are received, which happens all the time.

The timelines permit a cap-subject H-1B filing no earlier than April 1, 2010, with a requested start date for the H1-B petition no earlier than October 1, 2010. These cases have to be prepared in advance and be transmitted for delivery on March 31, 2010, to reach USCIS on April 1, 2009. The total filing fee should not be less than $1,500. Dependents such as spouse and minor children could accompany the H1-B foreign worker. A filing fee of $300 will be added for each dependent.