What is the H-3 Visa in the USA?

Employment-Based Immigration

The H-3 classification is a nonimmigrant visa designed to accommodate temporary occupational field training. The H-3 visa is designed for people who cannot find equivalent training in their home countries and who intend to return home after training in their field.

Common fields of training include agriculture, commerce, communications, finance, government, and transportation, although training for other fields may also qualify under US immigration law. In most cases, students enrolled in graduate medical education or training are ineligible for an H-3 visa.


A trainee may be approved for up to two years’ stay as an H-3 visa holder, except that “special education exchange visitors” (people participating in training programs to teach children with physical mental, or emotional disabilities) can stay only 18 months. Most H-3 visa holders, however, are approved for only one year, subject to a possible extension of the period of stay for a second year. The maximum period of time you can stay in the US in H-3 status is two years.

Can I work on an H-3 visa?

Yes, you can work as a part of your training. The number of hours you work and the amount of compensation you receive must be strictly limited, however. US immigration officials must be convinced that your productive employment provides practical training incident to your training and that whatever productive services you offer are insufficient to motivate your petitioner to enter into a productive employment arrangement and call it a “training program.”

Accompanying Family Members

Under an H-4 visa, your spouse and unmarried children under 21 may accompany the H-3 visa holder to the US, or to follow to join you later. H-4 spouses and children may not work in the United States. Unmarried children who are H-4 visa holders may attend school, of course, and even spouses can attend school part-time.

Application Process

The application process consists of two major steps:

  • Apply for approval from the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The petitioning US company or organization does this by filing Form I-129, Petition for Non-immigrant Worker together with certain supporting documents. You cannot file this petition yourself – the US company or organization that is providing the training must do it for you.
  • After the I-129 petition is approved by the USCIS, the applicant must submit an application for an H-3 visa to a US embassy or consulate using Form DS-160 and supporting documents. An in-person interview is normally required before a visa will be issued.

The Petitioner’s Statement

The supporting documentation for Form I-129 must include a petitioner’s statement, drafted by the organization that will provide you with training, that describes:

  1. The type of job training offered and the basic structure of the program.
  2. The proportion of the total job training time that will be devoted to employment in your field.
  3. The number of hours to be spent inside and outside the classroom.
  4. The field or career outside the US that the training is designed to prepare you for.
  5. Why training in this field is unavailable in your home country.
  6. Why you need to be trained in the US (and why it needs to be two years long if indeed it is a two-year program).
  7. Where your compensation is coming from if you are being compensated for any services you provide.
  8. Any benefits that the organization will receive by training you.

This statement must be drafted carefully because it is of critical importance.

Requirements for an H-3 Visa: What You Need to Prove

To obtain an H-3 visa, you and your organization must demonstrate, through documentary evidence, the following:

  • This type of training cannot be obtained in your field in your native country;
  • You need to receive training in order to continue pursuing a career abroad in your field;
  • You will not be working except for the limited amount of work in your field that is incidental to your training;
  • Your program does not employ U.S. citizens or permanent resident workers;
  • You are qualified for the training program in terms of both experience and academic credentials;
  • You have never received similar training in the same field before; and
  • You intend to return to your home country after your program has been completed.

Do not ignore any of the foregoing factors.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I travel on an H-3 visa?

Yes – in fact, H-3 visa holders can leave and re-enter the United States an unlimited number of times on an H-3 visa. Your accompanying family members may also travel freely in and out of the United States on their H-4 visas, even if they are all foreign nationals. Any time spent outside the United States, however, will count against the H visa’s time limit.

Can I change my immigration status under an H-3 visa?

It depends. If your training lasts for more than six months, for example, you cannot change your status to L visa status or to another H visa status until you leave the US and remain abroad for at least six months. In other cases, you may change your status (most commonly to an employment visa in the same field), but you must request a change of status before your H-3 status expires.

What should I do if the USCIS does not recognize my training program?

Unfortunately, the USCIS is very strict about qualifying H-3 visas. Most successful training programs are run by either multinational companies or by US companies that seek business relationships with companies located abroad.

If your application is denied, or if you decide not to apply due to long odds against your application being accepted, you might try entering the US on a visitor’s (B-1 visa), if the program doesn’t last longer than six months.

How is the H-3 visa different from the H1B visa?

There are several ways in which H-1B visa holders differ from H-3 visa holders:

  • The minimum education and training qualification is higher for the H-1B, which requires a college degree or its equivalent;
  • You can legally apply for a green card while in H-1B status;
  • You can stay for up to seven years in H-1B status; and
  • The H-1B visa is subject to an annual cap of 80,000 visas per year, which is usually filled long before the end of the year.

In short, H-1B holders enjoy more flexibility than H-3 visa holders, but it is typically more difficult to obtain.

How much does an H-3 visa cost?

Filing the Form I-129 petition will cost the organization $460 while filing form DS-156 will cost the foreign national another $190. Premium processing, which is optional, will cost an additional $1,225. Certain additional fees may be assessed depending on which country’s citizenship you hold.

How long does the H-3 application process take?

From initial application to coming to the US, the application process usually takes a few months. You can reduce this time to a couple of weeks (excluding preliminary preparation for filing the petition) by opting for Premium Processing.

What is the H5 visa?

There is no H-5 visa category.

How the USCIS Evaluates H-3 Petitions

The USCIS will carefully scrutinize your Form I-129 application package based on preset criteria that are applied to a description of the training that your sponsor will provide. Following is a summary of some of the factors that the USCIS will consider.

Whether the training will advance your career abroad, especially if it prepares you for a field that is both new and unavailable in your home country.

Whether your training can be offered effectively online. If it can be, then there is no need for you to be physically present in the United States to train.

  • Whether the training is relevant to your field. Will the training help you obtain particular skills that you will need back home? It is best for your application to address this question directly, in a very specific manner. Your application should specify how many hours you will train in your field, and how many of these hours will be under supervision. Your sponsor (the petitioner) must specify your hours of training, both supervised and unsupervised.
  • How much compensation you receive, and for what type of services. It is important that your program avoid looking like a disguised employment arrangement. Who is providing you with your compensation? What benefits will the training organization receive if your visa is approved?
  • Given the details of the arrangement, how likely is it that your petitioner will seek to have you remain in the United States to work after the program is complete?
  • If you will be productively employed, is your employment related to your field, and is it “incidental and necessary” to the training you will receive? Or is your employment the real reason why your employer is sponsoring you, with training only an afterthought used to provide you with bogus grounds for obtaining a visa?
  • Are you qualified in your field? If you are underqualified, the USCIS might doubt your ability to complete the training. If, on the other hand, you are overqualified, the USCIS might become convinced that the “training program” is really just a disguised employment arrangement.
  • Are the organization’s staff members qualified to train you? Are they too busy with other duties to properly train you?

Ultimately the determination is a judgment call in which the USCIS weighs all of the foregoing factors.

Get Started by Contacting Herman Legal Group, LLC Today

If you seek an H-3 visa for yourself, or if you plan to petition the USCIS to train foreign nationals, a seasoned H-3 immigration attorney can greatly increase your likelihood of success. Contact the Herman Legal Group today by calling 1-216-696-6170, or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation with one of our immigration attorneys.

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