Generally, the H-1B may be obtained for a maximum of six years. The initial petition is approved for a maximum of three years. An extension for the additional three years is then possible.
Under limited circumstances, it may be possible to recapture time spent outside the U.S. or request additional time under the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (“AC-21”). The USCIS allows foreign workers to document the amount of time they have spent outside the US while in H-1B status for the purpose of recapturing that unused time to fully maximize the H-1B six-year limit. Under AC-21, an individual can obtain an extension past the normal six-year limit in two circumstances:
1) if the individual has been in the green card process for at least a year, they may be able to obtain H-1B extensions in one year increments until a decision is made on the green card case;
2) if the individual has an approved I-140 Immigrant Petition (part of the employment-based green card process) but cannot move forward with the green card case because the priority date is not current, they may be able to obtain H-1B extensions in three year increments until a green card number becomes available.