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Can an H1B Candidate accept a Signing Bonus prior to H1B petition validity?

Signing Bonus

A signing bonus, also popularly known as a “sign-on bonus” is a sum of money paid upfront, to a new employee by a company as an incentive to join that company. This is usually a way for employers to compensate an employee by paying a one-time bonus, especially if employer’s starting salary is lower.

Can an H-1B Candidate accept a Signing Bonus prior to H-1B petition validity?

  • Under the H-1B regulations, usually, employment authorization and the ability to earn wages does not commence for H-1B candidates until the approval of an H-1B petition. Technically they don’t assume the “employee” status until the H-1B petition is approved.
  • In many cases, especially for F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitor nonimmigrants, while their change of status to H-1B is pending because of the H-1B statutory cap, there are concerns if they can accept a signing bonus for accepting a job offer from an employer who has filed their H-1B petition, before the H-1B petition takes effect on October 1.
  • The simple answer is YES. They can accept signing bonus, since it does not represent a salary or a reimbursement for services rendered and, as a result, may be accepted, prior to H-1B petition validity.
  • Not only that, but F-1 and J-1 nonimmigrants awaiting approval of an H-1B petition may receive monetary benefits, nonmonetary benefits (such as stock options), signing bonuses, and health benefits ‘‘so long as the bonus does not constitute reimbursement for services and is not made in expectation of future services.’’
  • While these propositions specifically refer to F-1 and J-1 nonimmigrants awaiting H-1B status, the underlying logic may be applied to any foreign national awaiting approval of an H-1B petition. “As long as the signing bonus is not salary, it is permissible for H-1B applicants no matter what their prior status may be.”