So the time is here when IMGs go crazy runing around trying to figure out how to work their way through the complicated visa paperwork. Here is a simplified step by step application process for H1b visa.
1. Get the contract and contact the lawyer:
Once you have signed the contract, the next step is to get in touch with the lawyer. Usually most programs will recommend their own lawyer. But it doesn't really matter which lawyer you hire, as long as you know the one you are hiring is not a scam, to avoid which, go by recommendation. Its always a better idea to use a lawyer that has worked with the same program before, that will speed up things and he or she would know who to get in touch with. Typically the lawyer fee is around a thousand bucks. If the one your program recommends is too expensive, you can always use a cheaper one.
2. Send documents to your lawyer:
Initially the lawyer will ask for a copy of the contract only. Then he will send you a long list of documents. This list typically includes copies of your passport, your previous visa, I 94 if any, ECFMG certificate and copy of your medical degree.
3. The LCA:
Once the lawyer has all the documents in place, the first step in the application is filing the LCA. This step ensures that the employee is not violating any labor laws. The application is free and typically takes upto two weeks to complete. Once the LCA is approved, the lawyer then send the LCA and other documents to your program to get them signed by the PD.
4. State License:
Some states require you to have a state license before you can get an H1 visa. So be sure to sort that out with your program coordinator.
5. The H1B petition:
Once the lawyer receives the signed LCA from the program, its time to file for the H1B petition. The regular petition costs around 800 dollars and can take upto 3 months! But if you apply for the premium processing, they promise to give you an outcome in 15 days. If for any reason your case is not processed in 15 days, your fee will be refunded and your case will still be treated as a premium case! Usually its processed in less than a week! So if you are short of time, its always a good idea to go for the premium processing.
Legally, the employee cannot pay for the visa and the employer has to pay. In case your program is not covering the visa cost, you have to find a third party to pay it! This is called donation in legal terms. It can be anyone, your parents, your siblings or a friend, just not you yourself.
6. Approval and form I 797:
Once the petition is approved, the USCIS will send the approval notice/form I797 to your lawyer who will then send that along with a copy of your petition application to you. The lawyer might ask extra money for sending it via DHL or FedEx. Be ready to pay around a 100 bucks as the petition application is a huge bungle of papers! Upon receiving the documents, next step is to apply for the visa at the local embassy. You have to fill out the online form DS 160, the same as you did for your B1/B2 visa. Its pretty straight forward and take 15-20 minutes.
7. Interview at the US embassy:
The interview is pretty straight forward. The usual questions are:
Why did you apply for the H1b visa?
Which hospital is it?
What will be your job?
Did you take all the USMLEs? (Duh!)
What did you do in your previous trips to the US?
How long is your contract?
There might be a few weird questions like which medical school did you go to or what was your CK or step 1 score. I guess they do so to make sure its the same person or to cross check with the information on file. Usually they won't look at any documents but its good to be prepared. The usual set of documents would be:
Copy of Petition application sent by the lawyer.
USMLE Score reports
Documents related to your previous trips to the US like LORs
Financial documents- though not really important but still, to prove you have enough cash to buy yourself tickets.
The good thing about H1B is that you don't have to prove strong ties to your home country, which is the most common reason for refusal of B1/B2 and F1 visa. So H1B for medical residents is almost always approved.
8. The 10 days rule:
Legally, you are not allowed to enter the US more than 10 days before the start date of your contract. This creates an issue when the orientation starts earlier than the start date of the residency. For example, if your contract starts from the 1st of July, the earliest you can enter the US is the 21st of June. But if your orientation starts from the 23rd of June, you literally won't have time for anything! So make sure you discuss this with your program coordinator and request them to put the orientation start date as the start date of the residency.
Good luck everyone! I hope I didn't miss out much. :)