H-1B vs H-3 Visa Petitions: What Are the Core Differences?

Last Updated on November 27, 2023

In general, the H visa category allows employers to sponsor specialty workers for temporary assignments in the United States. If you’re considering the H-3 as an alternative to the H-1B visa, there are more differences to consider. Let’s take a look at H-1B vs H-3 visas and what makes them different from each other and possibly the best choice for your employee.

How do H-1B and H-3 Visas Differ?

The main difference between the H-1B and H-3 visas is that one is valid for trainees as opposed to productive workers. The H-3 visa is meant for employees who are coming to the United States for training. The H-1B visa, on the other hand, is one of the most popular choices for sponsored employees in a specialty occupation.

The H-3 visa also covers sponsored employees who are special education trainees or practitioners.

Eligibility for H-1B vs H-3 Visas

Eligibility for H-1B vs H-3 visas

To be eligible for an H-3 visa for training, the training must not be available in the foreign national’s native country. The training must benefit the career of the sponsored person, who will then use that training for their career outside the U.S. The position the H-3 visa employee is expected to fill must also not be easily filled by a U.S. citizen or part of the normal operations of your business. In other words, the activities the H-3 visa-sponsored employee does during the stay period cannot be productive work for the company, unless the training explicitly requires it.

Eligibility for the special education exchange program of the H-3 visa has slightly more strict requirements. A special education exchange visitor must have a degree in special education, intention to pursue further education in the field and previous relevant work experience.

To be eligible for the H-1B visa, however, an employee does not have to be in special education or participating in a training. Instead, the H-1B-sponsored employee should be a productive worker, so long as that person is in a specialty occupation as specified by USCIS. The employee also must have a degree or equivalent educational experience in their field of employment.

To be eligible for both the H-1B and H-3 visas, an individual must be sponsored by an employer.

Annual caps for H-1B vs H-3 Visas

There is an annual cap of 50 visas for special education H-3 training, but there is no yearly cap for visas issued for other categories of H-3 visas. Cap-subject H-1B visas are limited to 85,000 per year – 20,000 for candidates holding a U.S. Master’s degree or more plus 65,000 for all other candidates – but there are other types of H-1B visa petitions, like renewals, that are not subject to the annual cap.

Stay Period for H-1B vs H-3 Visas

Annual caps for H-1B vs H-3 visas

H-3 visas are valid for up to two years for trainees and 18 months for special education exchange visitors. There are no extensions available for the H-3 visa. Meanwhile, the stay period for the H-1B visa is initially three years but can be extended up to six years. Download our H-1B Visa Cap Survival Guide for more information on cap-subject H-1B visas.

H-1B vs H-3: Are Both Dual Intent?

No. Only the H-1B visa is dual intent, which means it’s possible to apply for a green card while under H-1B visa status.

The H-3 visa (and the H-1B1 visa, which is available only to citizens of Chile and Singapore) are not dual intent, meaning the visa holder may face travel restrictions if sponsored for a green card. However, the H-3 visa holder may transfer to another dual intent visa, if they want to pursue permanent residency.

Key Benefits of H-1B vs H-3 Visas

The H-3 visa is ideal for contributing to knowledge at an international branch or subsidiary. It helps the visa holder gain valuable training and on-the-job experience that they can bring back to their career abroad. The H-1B visa is ideal for U.S. companies recruiting high-skilled expats for specialty positions, especially in hard-to-fill STEM roles in science, technology and engineering.

Interested in learning more about which visa might be right for your employee? Read our H-1B Alternatives Guide to get started.

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