A lot of people get confused at the arbitrary nature of the visa process and how long it actually takes. Whether you are a foreigner who has come to the US on Visa Waiver Program with an ESTA, the B-1 Visa or currently in the US in another capacity on the F-1 Visa for students, OPT status, J-1 Visa for interns or some other US visa, so many would like to work in the US and the best route for that in most cases is the H-1B visa.
So we will talk strictly about the general timeline of events and what you can expect to help you plan your time.
1. Searching for a Job (unknown but in most cases allowing yourself 3 months would be seen as prudent)
2. Job Offer & Negotiation (you might agree to be hired but to negotiate on salary + bonus, equity if any, severance and any other terms you might see as important might take 1 week to finalize)
3. Filing ETA-9035(e) with Department of Labor (Once the document is filed electronically it takes about 7-10 days to get approval however any requests for more information can delay that and if your company is a first timer at doing it and/or slow moving legal counsel is involved this process from beginning to end can take around 3-4 weeks)
4 Filing I-129 with USCIS (This is actually the real Immigration step of filing for your approval whether you are inside or outside the US at the time. If you are doing this with normal processing periods and assuming you have no additional requests for information the approval and resulting I-797 will come in 2-3 months. If you have premium processing this will take about 2-3 weeks but that costs an extra $1,000. The preparing of this package and getting all the checks signed to file can take some time if done by lawyers and employers and that might add an additional 1-3 weeks before the package is even sent)
5. Applying for H-1B visa at a US Consulate (Depending on which consulate you apply at it can take be immediate up to 2 months to schedule an interview date so important to plan ahead and be aware of where you are applying and the appropriate wait times. After applying assuming you don’t go through Administrative Processing, you will usually receive your passport with visa stamp 2-3 days after your interview)
6. Commencing Work (If you are on a new H-1B visa the period to start work is from October 1 onwards. Unless you have a prior work status that allows you to work up until that date, you will have to wait to work)