According to a recent USCIS guidance an employer may not hire an H-1B worker prior to USCIS approving the H-1B petition unless the employee (i) is currently in H-1B status, or (ii) is the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B extension of status petition. If the employee is in another nonimmigrant status, such as F-1 (student) or L-1 (intracompany transfer), the employer must wait until USCIS approves the H-1B petition before hiring the foreign worker.
Under section 214(n) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a worker who “was previously issued a visa or otherwise provided [H-1B] nonimmigrant status” is authorized to begin working upon the filing of an H-1B petition by his or her new employer. This provision is often referred to as H-1B portability. Congress passed the law to allow employers to hire H-1B workers without having to wait for the government to adjudicate the H-1B petitions, a process that can often take several months.
The issue was raised to the USCIS Verification Division after employers received nonconfirmations from the E-Verify system when they hired H-1B workers under H-1B portability and the workers were not, at the time of hire, in H-1B status, or were not the beneficiaries of H-1B extension petitions. In the exchange, the USCIS Verification Division stated that the agency does not consider those employees to be work authorized. Please contact our office for further information.
full text of the statement by USCIS:
The Office of Chief Counsel at USCIS has advised us that similarly situated individuals are not employment authorized. … The H-1B Portability Rule does not apply to a nonimmigrant who was in H-1B status at one time, but who is currently in another valid status and for whom a non-frivolous I-129 Petition to obtain H-1B status has been filed. … USCIS has interpreted Section 105 of AC21 (INA section 214(n)) as allowing those who are currently in H-1B status, or who are in a “period of authorized stay” as a result of a pending H-1B extension petition(s), to begin new employment upon the filing by the prospective employer of a new (H-1B) petition on the alien’s behalf. USCIS guidance dated December 27, 2005, states that “porting under INA §214 does not require that the alien currently be in H-1B status as long as he or she is in a ‘period of stay authorized by the Attorney General.'” That statement serves to clarify the earlier section specifically referring to an “H-1B alien” and should be read in the context of the particular example given: an alien who was in H-1B status and is now in an authorized period of stay based on a timely filed extension of H-1B status petition on the alien’s behalf, and who then seeks to start working for a different H-1B employer upon that employer’s filing of a petition. This interpretation is consistent with USCIS guidance to the public on its website (Nonimmigrant Services, H-1B FAQs, page 61) which states:
Changing employers – An H-1B worker can change employers, but first the new employer must file a labor condition application and then file a new H-1B petition. If the worker is already an H-1B, he or she can then begin the employment as described in the petition without waiting for USCIS to approve the petition. This is called a “portability provision,” and it only applies to someone already in valid H-1B status.