Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers: Guide for Employers

If you have ever considered hiring foreign talent to your U.S.-based company, understanding Form I-129, the petition for nonimmigrant workers, is crucial. Issued by USCIS, this form allows U.S. employers to sponsor foreign nationals for temporary jobs in the United States. These foreign employees will work in the U.S. on different employment-based nonimmigrant visas.

Our I-129 form guide will explain the petition’s purpose, processing timelines, associated fees, documents checklist, and the filing process, including where and how employers should submit the form. We’ll also provide general instructions and helpful tips to ensure a stressless experience sponsoring your nonimmigrant foreign worker, so let’s begin!

What Is Form I-129?

The Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers gives U.S. employers the green light to hire foreign talent.

It’s an official document submitted to USCIS by a sponsoring employer on behalf of a foreign worker. The I-129 application kicks off the process for the foreign worker to obtain a temporary nonimmigrant work visa in the U.S.

The I-129 form is a 30-page report outlining the job duties, employer background, and foreign worker qualifications. This information helps the government assess if the specific visa category is the right fit for both the job and the individual.

If USCIS approves the I-129 petition, the foreign worker can apply for the specific visa type at a U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country. In simpler terms, it’s the first step employers take to officially request authorization for a foreign worker to fill a temporary position within their company.

What Are the Main Nonimmigrant Work Visas that Require the I-129 Form?

As a U.S. employer, expanding your talent pool to include foreign workers can bring your company a wealth of skills and experience. Form I-129: Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker is your key to sponsoring talented individuals for temporary positions in the U.S. This form is a bridge between you and USCIS, determining eligibility for various temporary work visas.

But with so many visa categories, things are tricky for you and your future foreign employee. 

To simplify things a little, let’s see a table outlining those common work visa categories to help you find the best fit for your foreign worker’s expertise and your company’s needs!

Work Visa Categories for Which You Must File Form I-129

Nonimmigrant Work Visa Category Explanation
Ideal for foreign workers in specialty occupations, such as technology, engineering, or finance, where a bachelor's degree or its equivalent and specialized knowledge are essential.
Perfect for multinational companies transferring employees with specialized knowledge or managerial skills from an overseas branch to a U.S. office.

O Visa (O-1, O-2)

Beneficiaries with extraordinary ability or achievement in arts, sciences, athletics, education, or business. This could include researchers, artists, athletes, or executives.
P Visa (P-1, P-1S, P-2, P-2S, P-3, P-3S)
Meets the needs of athletes, entertainers, and artists, along with their support staff, for temporary events or performances in the U.S. This could include athletes competing in a tournament, musicians on tour, or actors filming a movie.
Q Visa
Dedicated to participants in international cultural exchange programs providing cultural immersion and sharing traditions, history, and skills between the United States and other countries.
Allows religious workers to find employment with U.S. religious organizations in a religious vocation or occupation.
For treaty traders from countries with which the U.S. has a commerce and navigation treaty. These individuals come to the U.S. to conduct substantial trade between their home country and the U.S. on behalf of their company.
For treaty investors from countries with which the U.S. has a commerce and navigation treaty. These individuals come to the U.S. to develop and manage a business they have invested substantial capital in.
E-3 Visa
Specifically for Australian citizens coming to the U.S. to work in a specialty occupation with a BA degree or higher (or its equivalent).
For Canadian and Mexican professionals under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, previously known as NAFTA) in specific pre-arranged professional occupations.

H-2A Visa

For temporary agricultural workers who perform agricultural labor or services on a seasonal basis.
For temporary non-agricultural workers in industries with a seasonal need for workers, such as landscaping, hospitality, or certain types of manufacturing.

IMPORTANT! The I-129 process allows you to sponsor a foreign worker outside the U.S. Once Form I-129 is approved, they can apply for the appropriate nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. consulate/embassy in their home country.

What Is Form I-129 Used For: The Various Purposes of the Nonimmigrant Worker Petition

While the Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker might seem straightforward, just another USCIS form, you must understand its various functions to ensure you use the correct form/supplement for your specific needs. This versatile multi-purpose document can be used for several goals, not just sponsoring foreign workers from abroad. Here’s what else you can do with an I-129:

Change the Status of Existing Foreign Workers

Let’s say a qualified foreign national is already in the U.S. with a different nonimmigrant visa. File Form I-129 to petition for a status change to a more suitable visa category that better aligns with their current job responsibilities.

Extend the Stay of Existing Foreign Workers

Is a valuable foreign worker’s current nonimmigrant visa status approaching its expiration date? Use Form I-129 to request an extension of their stay, ensuring their continued employment and expertise within your company.

Amend Approved Employment

Even after an initial petition is approved, unforeseen circumstances can arise. If there’s a significant change to the foreign worker’s job duties, title, or salary, submit Form I-129 to amend their previously approved employment authorization.

Who Can File Petition I-129?

While U.S. employers filing on behalf of foreign workers is the most common scenario, Form I-129 has a broader reach. Let’s see the different parties authorized to file this form.

I-129 Eligibility Criteria and Requirements for U.S. Employers

This is the standard situation. If your company seeks to sponsor a foreign worker currently outside the U.S. or wants to change the status or extend the stay of an existing foreign employee, Form I-129 is your go-to document. As I-129 eligibility criteria go, USCIS will assess your company’s financial health to ensure you can pay the foreign worker’s offered salary. This involves documenting your business’s financial stability, such as tax returns or recent bank statements.

But this is not all.

Compliance with the Visa Category Regulations I-129 Requirement

Each visa category comes with specific regulations for employers. For instance, H-1B visas require proof that the position is specialized and that you’ve made a good-faith effort to hire U.S. workers first. L-1 visas are for intracompany transfers within multinational corporations, while O visas necessitate documentation of the foreign worker’s extraordinary abilities and achievements.

The Labor Certification Requirement for Some Nonimmigrant Work Visas

Another thing you need to know is that specific visa categories, like H-1B, require you to obtain a Labor Condition Application from the DOL before filing Form I-129. The LCA process ensures that the offered wage meets the prevailing wage for the specific occupation in the intended geographical area and that hiring a foreign worker won’t adversely affect U.S. worker opportunities.

The Visa Status Maintenance Requirement for the Foreign Worker(s)

Also, if you’re petitioning for a change of status or extension of stay for an existing foreign worker, ensure they have maintained their current nonimmigrant visa status throughout their time in the U.S. Any visa status violations could jeopardize their eligibility for a change or extension.

In other words, before you even begin to consider filing the I-129 with USCIS, start gathering paperwork and evidence.

I-129 Requirements Foreign Employers and U.S. Agents

In specific situations, foreign employers can get involved. They can authorize a U.S. agent to file Form I-129 on their behalf. This is typically done for self-employed workers or those who use agents to find short-term gigs with multiple employers. However, the agent must provide a detailed itinerary of the worker’s services, including dates, employer information, and work locations.

I-129 Requirements for U.S. Agents Acting Independently

U.S. individuals or companies acting as agents can also file Form I-129 for certain worker categories. This applies to traditionally self-employed workers or using agents to secure short-term work. Important to note, though, is that U.S. agents filing independently must guarantee the worker’s wages and employment terms through a formal contract. Additionally, they must provide a precise itinerary outlining the specific work and any planned additional services for the requested petition period.

What I-129 Form Edition Must You File?

Starting April 1, 2024, USCIS only accepts petitions submitted using the 04/01/24 edition of Form I-129. There will be no grace period for filing the older version (05/31/23) because it includes an outdated calculation (more on the I-129 fees later).

IMPORTANT! All petitions submitted using the 05/31/23 edition will only be accepted if postmarked before April 1, 2024. Any petitions using the older edition postmarked on or after April 1, 2024, will be rejected!

In other words, before mailing your completed form, ensure the edition date (04/01/24) is visible at the bottom of all pages. Additionally, verify that all pages belong to the same edition (04/01/24) and that none are missing because USCIS will most likely reject incomplete, old, or mixed-edition forms.

Where Do You File Form I-129?

Now that you know what I-129 petition edition to file, the next big tricky item on our list is where to send the complete I-129 form. We say “tricky” because I-129 can have a different destination, depending on its purpose and your future foreign employee’s nonimmigrant work visa category. Does it sound complicated? Let’s clear up some things, then!

IMPORTANT! For most visa categories except H-1B and H-1B1 (HSC), you’ll file your petition at the Texas Service Center (TSC). For the H-1B and H-1B1 (HSC) visas, you must file I-129 at a dedicated lockbox facility.

IMPORTANT! If you’re filing for an H-1B petition without the extra need for status change, and the beneficiary is not part of the quota (cap-exempt), you can now file Form I-129 electronically. This online option launched on March 25, 2024.

IMPORTANT! For H-1B cap petitions (those subject to a quota), starting April 1, 2024, if the registration was selected in the H-1B lottery, you can also submit your Form I-129 petition electronically with the associated Form I-907 (if you request premium processing).

For everything else, there’s the USCIS I-129 addresses/filing locations page. 

This online dropdown tab tool on the USCIS website guides you to the I-129 filing addresses based on the specific nonimmigrant visa category you’re petitioning for and the action you’re requesting (e.g., initial petition, extension, etc.). Filing at the incorrect location could lead to rejecting your I-129 petition, so double-check using this page before submitting! Check all the tabs if necessary, but file it in the appropriate location.

How to File I-129 Petition: A Step-by-Step Guide

Before heading into the Form I-129 petition application process, download the latest edition of the Nonimmigrant Worker Petition and its accompanying instructions.

USCIS’s general directives and recommendations for I-129 petitioners is a 30-page document you need to read top to bottom because understanding the specific requirements for your chosen visa category is vital. Reading the instructions will help you gather all the necessary information and documentation to avoid delays or potential rejections.

Since every visa category and possible I-129 function has its own set of instructions, required evidence, and procedures, we will discuss matters more broadly, providing you with the governmental sources you need to use.

1. Follow the General Instructions for Completing Form I-129

After you download the latest version of Form I-129, you can start filling it out. Remember to use black ink and either type or write legibly when completing the form.

USCIS insists you must provide complete and accurate answers to all questions. If a question doesn’t apply, write “N/A” unless instructed otherwise.

For numeric responses of zero or none, write “None” unless otherwise directed. On the other hand, if you need more space to answer a question, use the designated area in Part 9 of the I-129 form or attach a separate sheet. 

Ensure all required signatures on the form are completed correctly. USCIS will not accept stamped or typed names instead of a handwritten signature. Keep copies of all forms and documents you submitted for your company’s records.

Lastly, mail your completed Form I-129 and supporting documents to the appropriate USCIS filing address.

Since step one of the I-129 application process overlaps the general instructions – meaning downloading the form and its instructions – let’s move to the next step: documents and required evidence for a successful I-129 petition.

2. Gather the Required Documents for the I-129 Form

USCIS provides a separate page for the I-129 documents checklist, split into dropdown tabs dedicated to all nonimmigrant work visas that require the I-129.

So you must go to that page, look at all the visas, and select the one you are petitioning for. The tab will drop down, showing you a list of documents you must not forget to gather for your petition.  

However, most visas and petitions require a bunch of standard paperwork. So, let’s continue our I-129 guide by outlining the most common supporting documents you’ll likely encounter, along with some additional points to keep in mind.

Essential I-129 Supporting Documents (For Most Visa Categories)

Document Description
Employment Offer Details
A letter from your company outlining the job offer details, including job title, duties, salary, location, and intended employment period. This letter should also showcase the foreign worker's qualifications for the position.
Employee's Resume
A detailed resume or CV highlighting the foreign worker's educational and professional qualifications.

Additional I-129 Documents Depending on Visa Category

Remember, this is not an exhaustive list; it is just a few examples. Always refer to the USCIS checklist of required initial evidence for Form I-129 by selecting the specific visa category you’re applying for!

Visa Category Additional Required Documents Examples of Additional Evidence
H-1B & E-3 Visas (Specialty Occupations)
  • Certified LCA from U.S. DOL
  • Educational credentials (diplomas, degrees, transcripts)
  • Evaluations from credentialing agencies to verify foreign degrees (if applicable)
  • Letters of recommendation from past employers or experts in the field
L-1 Visas (Intracompany Transfers)
  • Letters from previous employers verifying qualifying employment abroad
  • Proof of relationship between U.S. and foreign entities
  • Shared ownership structure documents
  • Copies of contracts or joint ventures between the entities
  • Evidence of financial ties between the entities (e.g., consolidated financial statements)
O & P Visas (Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievements)
  • Evidence of extraordinary abilities or achievements
  • Documentation of awards (e.g., Nobel Prizes, Olympic medals) 
  • Peer reviews and evaluations from recognized organizations in the field 
  • Evidence of high salary or remuneration for services
  • Evidence of critical roles in commercially successful productions or events
  • Evidence of investment or investment process 
  • Business plan for the U.S. enterprise
  • Evidence the E-2 investor will develop and direct operations or the employee has qualifying duties/skills 
  • Evidence the applicant maintained their status (if applicable) 
  • Information on U.S. enterprise nationality and ownership 
  • Proof of E-2 investor or employee's nationality 
  • Form I-907 (for premium processing, if applicable)
  • Financial documents demonstrating substantial investment (e.g., bank statements, investment records) 
  • Lease agreements or property ownership documents for the U.S. enterprise 
  • Contracts with suppliers or customers 
  • Employment contracts or organizational charts demonstrating the E-2 employee's role
Q-1 Program for International Cultural Exchanges
  • Evidence of established cultural exchange program 
  • Evidence of designated program administrator/USCIS liaison
  • Evidence of actively doing business in the U.S. 
  • Evidence of comparable wages and working conditions for participants 
  • Evidence of financial ability to pay participants
  • Program description materials (catalogs, brochures, curriculum) 
  • Participant information (date of birth, nationality, education level, job title, description)
  • Documentation of past cultural exchange programs 
  • Qualifications and experience of the designated program administrator 
  • Business licenses, tax filings, or other evidence of active U.S. business operation * Wage data for similar U.S. jobs
  • Financial statements or bank records demonstrating financial resources 
  • Program materials showcasing cultural exchange activities 
  • List of participants with biographical details

As an employer sponsoring foreign workers, you must file Form I-129 when their visa status needs an extension or a change. Here’s a crucial detail: you must also submit evidence proving the beneficiary (the foreign worker) has maintained their current visa status throughout their stay. This applies to all nonimmigrant classifications and is mandatory, so pay attention!

3. Pay the USCIS Fee for Form I-129

Wondering how much the I-129 form costs will throw you into a world of confusion. Do you guess why? Yes, that’s right. The I-129 form filing fees depend on the visa categories and the purpose of your petition

So. To learn how much you must pay to file the I-129 form, go to USCIS’s page Fee Schedule and select a form for the fee information from the dropdown tab tool. Next, choose one of the I-129 petitions corresponding to the visa category you petition for. Once you click on the needed form, you will get a table with I-129 filing fees broken down into sections and subsections. 

If you want to learn how much you must pay for the I-129 application, we compiled some filing fees in this table to lend you a hand. However, always check with USCIS to calculate how much you spend with a Nonimmigrant Worker Petition.

General Form I-129 Filing Fees for Nonimmigrant Workers

Visa Category Standard Filing Fee Small Employer or Nonprofit Fee
E-1, E-2, E-2C, E-3 visas, or TN visa
$1,015 + additional fees
$510 + additional fees (if applicable)
H-3 visa (up to 25 beneficiaries)
$1,015 + additional fees
$510 + additional fees (if applicable)
O visa (1 beneficiary for O-1, 25 for O-2)
$1,055 + additional fees
$530 + additional fees (if applicable)
P visa (up to 25 beneficiaries)
$1,015 + additional fees
$510 + additional fees (if applicable)
Q visa (up to 25 beneficiaries)
$1,015 + additional fees
$510 + additional fees (if applicable)
R visa
$1,015 + additional fees
$510 + additional fees (if applicable)

Since you’re sponsoring a foreign worker by filing Form I-129, the responsibility for the associated fees falls on you, the employer. Also, there’s an additional $2,805 fee if you choose to expedite the I-129 processing through USCIS’ premium processing service.

IMPORTANT! The current I-129 filing and premium processing fees apply to filings postmarked on April 1, 2024, or after. You can pay electronically or with a check payable to U.S. Homeland Security, a money order, or a cashier’s check. The filing fees are non-refundable, so ensure separate payments for each form when submitting multiple applications to avoid rejection due to USCIS’ electronic processing system.

Form I-129 Processing Time and Timeline

Say you filed your I-129 petition and now wonder what comes next. How long must you wait for USCIS to notify you regarding your application’s approval or denial?

Well, the wait time for a decision on your Form I-129 can vary depending on two key factors:

  1. The USCIS service center handling your petition because different USCIS locations have different processing timelines.
  2. The specific visa category you’re applying for, because each work visa classification (like H-1B or E-2) has its processing timeframe.

However, you can stay on top of the I-129 processing times by checking the official USCIS page. For example, the average timeline for an I-129 is 4 weeks to 4 months for about 80% of all cases received by a processing center.

IMPORTANT! For an expedited decision, pay the premium processing fee of $2,805. It will get your Form I-129 reviewed by USCIS within 15 to 45 calendar days, significantly faster than the standard processing times. However, remember that premium processing only affects how quickly USCIS decides, not the overall I-129 timeline that includes USCIS processing and potential additional steps (for you and the foreign employee in their home country), depending on the requested visa category.

Another way to stay on top of your application is to check your I-129 status online. 

Once USCIS receives your Form I-129 petition, they’ll send you a confirmation: the Notice of Action (Form I-797C). This notice includes a unique receipt number you’ll need later. Here’s how to track your petition’s progress:

  1. Visit the USCIS Case Status Online page.
  2. Enter your receipt number from the notice (without dashes or spaces) in the designated field.
  3. Click “Check Status” to see your petition’s current stage.

Generally, a USCIS petition (I-129 included) has one of the four statuses:

  • Received: USCIS has your petition and is reviewing it.
  • Request for Evidence (RFE): USCIS needs more information or documents from you to decide. They’ll send you a detailed request outlining what’s missing.
  • Approved: USCIS has approved your petition, and you’ll receive a separate approval notice.
  • Denied: USCIS has denied your petition. The denial notice will explain the reason(s) for the decision.

What Happens After USCIS Approves Your I-129 Petition

First, USCIS will officially notify you, the employer (petitioner), that your application has been approved. You’ll receive a formal notification outlining the details.

The following steps hinge on the type of visa your foreign worker is applying for. Here’s what to expect:

  • Consular processing if your sponsored worker is currently outside the U.S. They’ll need to attend an interview with a consular officer in their home country. Following a successful interview, they’ll receive a visa stamp in their passport, allowing them to enter the U.S. and begin working for your company. This can take weeks or months. Sometimes, it takes years, depending on the requested type of visa.
  • Status change if your foreign worker is already in the U.S. with a different visa status. They may be eligible to change their status through USCIS without traveling abroad. This process typically involves filing additional paperwork.

Once your worker navigates consular processing or a change of status (if applicable), they can finally receive their visa and enter the U.S. The approval notice from USCIS will specify the authorized timeframe for their stay.

Upon arrival in the U.S. and within the authorized timeframe, your sponsored worker can officially begin employment with your company. Before your sponsored worker officially begins their duties, you must complete Form I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification.

This form confirms their identity and authorization to work in the U.S. Both you and your new employee must sign the form, and you’ll be responsible for verifying their documentation.

Following successful I-9 verification, your sponsored worker can officially begin employment with your company. Remember, the approved Form I-129 petition outlines the specific conditions for their employment, so ensure everyone agrees to job duties, salary, and other details.

The Most Common Reasons for Form I-129 Denials and What to Do about Them

The other side of the coin is the denial of your I-129 petition. Obtaining a work visa for your foreign worker is a collaborative effort. While their qualifications are essential, understanding potential reasons for denial can significantly improve your chances of a successful petition. Here’s what you, as the employer, need to be aware of:

  • USCIS meticulously evaluates the worker’s qualifications against the specific requirements of the petitioned visa category. If their skills or experience don’t meet these criteria, the petition is at risk of denial. Meticulously review the qualification requirements for the desired visa and ensure your chosen candidate aligns before filing Form I-129.
  • USCIS also scrutinizes the employer-employee relationship to ensure genuine employment. If your petition raises doubts about your control over the worker’s duties or the legitimacy of the offered position, it can lead to denial. Demonstrating a bona fide job opportunity with defined responsibilities is crucial in all visa petition cases.

What to Do If Your I-129 Application Is Denied

Unfortunately, denials do happen. In such cases, it’s vital that you, your immigration attorney, and your sponsored worker carefully analyze the reasons outlined in the USCIS denial notice. It will provide valuable insights into the specific issues that you might address during the I-129 reapplication. 

The possibility of refiling hinges on the specific reasons for denial outlined by USCIS. If the issues seem readily addressable, refiling a new Form I-129 petition might be a viable strategy. For example, if USCIS questioned your worker’s qualifications for the visa category, gather additional documentation proving they meet all the requirements.

Given the complexity of I-129 form denials – as you need to work closely with your foreign employee, coordinate, and provide USCIS (and probably the U.S. embassy in the worker’s country) with tons of paperwork, it’s best to use professional help. In other words, hire an immigration consultant or law firm to help you escape the bureaucratic jungle in one piece.

Get In Touch with Immigration Experts to File an Error-Free I-129 Form!

If you feel frustrated by the I-129 form’s 30-page instructions manual and the 36-page form itself, trust us, we get it. Given the timelines and costs, why would you risk expensive delays or denials due to errors, missing documents, or wrong visa categories? Our experienced immigration firm can help!

ImmigrationDirect has a team of experts guiding employers through the entire Form I-129 process. We’ll assist you with gathering the necessary documentation, ensuring your sponsored worker meets all eligibility requirements, and even provide personalized visa consultations to choose the most suitable category. Let’s schedule a consultation and secure an easy and hassle-free Form I-129 application for your talented foreign worker today!

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