If you are a foreign national looking to work in the United States, you will need a work visa that authorizes you to live and be employed there. The US offers several visa categories tailored to various purposes, durations of stay, and eligibility criteria.
This guide provides an overview of the most common types of US work visas available to foreign nationals, along with key requirements, application processes, and benefits.
Temporary Non-Immigrant Work Visas
Non-immigrant work visas allow foreign nationals to work in the US temporarily for a limited period. They do not provide a path to permanent residence or citizenship. Some of the popular temporary work visas include:
The H-1B visa is the most common employment-based non-immigrant visa. It enables US employers to hire foreign professionals in specialty occupations that require a bachelor’s degree or higher. These include IT, engineering, accounting, architecture, and medicine.
To qualify for the H-1B visa, the foreign worker must:
- Have the requisite degree and/or work experience in the specialty occupation
- Be sponsored by a US employer who will file a petition with USCIS
- Not displace American workers
The initial duration of stay is up to 3 years, with extensions available up to a total of 6 years. H-1B visa holders can apply for permanent residency while in the US. Up to 85,000 new H-1B visas are issued annually under regular quotas.
The L-1 visa facilitates the transfer of executives, managers, or employees with specialized knowledge from a foreign company to its US-based affiliate, subsidiary, or parent company.
To be eligible, the foreign worker must have worked for the overseas company for at least one continuous year out of the preceding three years. There is no annual cap on the L-1 visa, making it a good alternative to the H-1B.
The L-1A visa is specifically for managers and executives and is valid for up to 7 years. The L-1B visa is for workers with specialized knowledge and has a maximum duration of 5 years.
The O-1 non-immigrant visa is for individuals with extraordinary abilities in science, arts, education, business, or athletics. Applicants must demonstrate national or international acclaim and recognition for their achievements. There is no annual limit on issuing O-1 visas.
To qualify, you must have:
- Received a major national/international award like a Nobel Prize
- Evidence of extraordinary achievements like publishing groundbreaking research
- Membership in prestigious associations in your field of endeavor
O-1 visa holders can work in the US for up to 3 years, with extensions available in one-year increments.
TN NAFTA Visa
The TN visa allows citizens of Canada and Mexico to work in the US in various professional occupations under the North American Free Trade Agreement. It is a special non-immigrant classification that does not have any caps.
To be eligible, you must:
- Be a citizen of Canada/Mexico
- Have a job offer from a US employer
- Possess the academic credentials and licenses required for the profession
Some professions that qualify for a TN visa include accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers. TN visa holders can stay in the US for up to 3 years at a time.
Permanent Immigrant Work Visas
For foreign nationals seeking to live and work permanently in America, the main option is employment-based immigrant visas (EB-1 through EB-5). These categories have annual numerical limits and extensive eligibility criteria.
A US employer generally has to sponsor the foreign worker by filing a labor certification with the Department of Labor and an immigrant petition with USCIS. Here is an overview of the main types:
The EB-1 visa offers permanent residency to foreign nationals with extraordinary abilities, recognized achievements, and extraordinary contributions. Applicants must demonstrate great distinction in fields like science/arts, business, education, or athletics.
There are three categories under EB-1:
- EB-1A is for individuals with extraordinary abilities. This has the highest bar, and no labor certification is required.
- EB-1B is for outstanding researchers/professors requiring an I-140 immigrant petition.
- EB-1C is for multinational executives/managers relocating to the US. A labor certification is needed.
There is no annual limit on EB-1 visas. Green card processing takes 1-2 years typically.
The EB-2 visa is for professionals holding an advanced degree or demonstrating exceptional abilities in sciences/arts. A job offer and labor certification are required. Professions include engineers, researchers, doctors, scientists, etc.
Applicants must generally have:
- A US master’s degree or higher
- A foreign bachelor’s degree + 5 years of progressive work experience
- Exceptional abilities in fields of national interest
Up to 40,000 EB-2 visas are available each year globally. Green cards can take 2-3+ years.
EB-3 is for skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers. A job offer, labor certification, and I-140 petition are mandatory.
Professionals require a US bachelor’s degree or foreign degree equivalent. Skilled workers need at least 2 years of training or work experience. Unskilled workers must demonstrate minimal education/experience.
Around 40,000 EB-3 visas are issued annually, with green card wait times of 5+ years typically.
The EB-4 category is for certain special immigrants – religious workers, employees of US foreign service posts, departed US government workers, etc. There are no restrictions on country or number.
The EB-5 program offers green cards to investors committing at least $900,000 to new commercial enterprises that create 10+ jobs for Americans. The investment requirement is lower at $500,000 for projects in rural or high-unemployment areas.
Other Work-Related US Visas
Some other common non-immigrant visas that allow different forms of work activities or training in the US include:
F-1 Student Visa
International students studying full-time at US colleges, universities, or other academic institutions can obtain F-1 status. F-1 visa holders can work part-time on campus and full-time during annual holidays or vacations.
After graduation, they are eligible for 1 year of Optional Practical Training (OPT) to work in their field of study. Those in STEM fields can apply for a 2-year OPT extension.
J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa
The J-1 visa offers work and study-based exchange opportunities for students, scholars, trainees, teachers, and other professionals. It is managed through designated program sponsors.
Some key categories include trainee, intern, summer work travel, au pair, teacher, professor, physician, etc.
B-1 Business Visa
While the B-1 visa does not formally authorize employment, it allows foreigners to engage in various business activities in the US, including attending conferences, negotiating contracts, consulting with business associates, etc.
The visa can be valid for up to 10 years, and durations of stay are granted for up to 6 months at a time.
Work with a Trusted Immigration Attorney
The US immigration system can be complex, with requirements that depend on your specific situation. To explore your options and increase your chances of success, it helps to have an experienced family immigration attorney on your side.
The Law Office of Lina Baroudi has helped countless immigrants obtain work authorization in the US through non-immigrant and immigrant visas. Their California immigration lawyers stay up-to-date with the latest immigration laws and policies to guide you through the process best.
They can carefully assess your career goals, situation, and eligibility and determine the optimal visa pathway to work and live permanently in the United States legally.