There are various types of work visa available for foreign nationals seeking employment in the US. These are primarily divided into the temporary and permanent visa categories. Included among temporary visas are seasonal and exchange worker visas as well. A permanent work visa in the USA provides successful applicants and their families with a green card and can be obtained by a variety of priority, professional, and other foreign workers.
The type of visa you seek can depend largely on your immigration goals (i.e. whether you are looking for permanent residency), the field of work you are in, your skill level in that field, your ability to find a US employer for sponsorship, and even your nationality for some visa categories.
The full list of non-immigrant employment visa categories includes the CW-1 and E-2C for CNMI workers and investors, the E-1 and E2, E3 visas for Australian professionals, various H visas including the H1B, I visa, L1 visa, O visas, P visas, Q-1, R-1, and TN for Mexican and Canadian professionals. E-1 and E2 are dealt with extensively on our investor visa page.
These categories deal with transitional workers, treaty traders or investors and their qualified employees, long-term investors, specialty occupation professionals, health care professionals, temporary or seasonal workers, agricultural workers, trainees, media representatives, intra company transferees, individuals with extraordinary ability, athletes, artists and entertainers, cultural exchange program workers, religious workers, and temporary professionals.
There is also a J1 visa category, which is an exchange visitor program rather than an employment visa, however many of the exchange programs do involve work or internships in the US.
There are several ways to obtain an employment based green card to live and work in the US. Permanent employment visa categories according to USCIS include first preference EB1, second preference EB2, third preference EB3, fourth preference EB4, and fifth preference EB5. Since EB-5 is really an investor visa, it is not dealt with in detail on this page. Please see our page specific to EB5 for more information on this visa.
These visa categories cater for individuals who possess extraordinary ability in certain fields, outstanding professors or researchers, multinational executives or managers, those who hold advanced degrees, professionals, skilled and other workers, certain religious workers, employees of US foreign service posts, and even retired employees of international organizations.
Some of these visas require applicants to have a US employer sponsor and labor certification in some cases, though a national interest waiver (NIW) may be obtained to bypass the certification.
What are the differences...
The H1B visa allows professionals trained in “specialty occupations” to temporarily live and work in the US, generally for a period of up to six years. Typically, the visa requires applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in a field related to their intended employment, but in some cases, those with extensive relevant experience but no degree may also apply. In all cases, US employer sponsorship is required for H1B.
Unlike many other temporary US work visa types, H1B visa holders may have “dual intent”, that is, they may pursue permanent residency whilst working in the US under H1B status. The visa also allows the flexibility for holders to change jobs or employers and seek new H1B sponsorship to file a new or amended petition. There is no limit to the number of companies that may sponsor a single H1B applicant, allowing the foreign worker to hold multiple H1B jobs at one time.
Companies that sponsor an H1B* applicant must pay a salary or wage that is equal to or higher than the prevailing wage and file a petition on the applicant’s behalf.
The L1 category is available to individuals who are in a scenario with fairly specific parameters. An L1 beneficiary must already be employed in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity at a foreign company, and have been employed for a minimum of one full year within the previous three years. This foreign company must have an affiliated US company who is willing to petition for the transfer of the applicant to continue working in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity. Both the foreign and US company must continue operations throughout the intra company transferee’s L-1 status.
In the case that no affiliating US company exists, it is possible for the applicant to be transferred to the US for the purpose of setting up a new office to expand operations into the US. This process can be a little more complicated, involving demonstrations of the viability of the expansion through reasonable projections that will satisfy USCIS.
With a maximum stay of 5 to 7 years that is strictly enforced, L1 visa holders who wish to stay longer will need to make a brand-new L-1 application or transfer their status to a different visa.
For individuals who possess what may be categorized as “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, education, business, athletics, arts, or entertainment, the O-1 visa is available. This visa allows these talented foreign nationals to enter the US for an initial period of up to three years in order to work in their specific field of expertise. This initial period may be extended by one year at a time and depends on the length of the employment for which the O1 visa beneficiary is rendering his or her services.
The demonstration of extraordinary ability according to USCIS involves providing evidence of sustained national or international acclaim. This should be provided in the form of a written advisory opinion from a peer group or expert in the O1 beneficiary’s field. The letter should outline how the beneficiary possesses outstanding levels of accomplishment and skill and is a prominent or leading figure within the field.
In the case of artists and athletes, the O-1 visa holder may be accompanied by assistants for specific events, in which case the assistants will be issued an O2 visa. An O3 visa is also available for spouses and dependent children of O1 and O2 holders.
Some recipients of the J1 visa are subject to the 2-year foreign residency requirement, meaning they must return to their home country for at least two years once the exchange program is complete. Physicians make up a large portion of those who are affected by this rule. The J1 waiver for physicians provides a possible way around this requirement, allowing the applicant to then pursue a change in status without returning to their home country.
Physicians may be eligible for a J1 waiver if a US federal agency requests for the waiver on the applicant’s behalf and the request is approved by the Department of State and USCIS. Other reasons for eligibility may include the probability of suffering or persecution in the applicant’s home country due to their race, religion, or political opinion; severe hardship of a spouse or child who is a US citizen or resident; or through sponsorship from a state health department. Though not available to physicians, some other J1 visa holders may also obtain a “no objection” letter from the government of their home country indicating that their government allows the waiver.
The P visa category applies to professional artists, athletes, and entertainers. There are three main subcategories in the P visa category. The P1 allows internationally recognized athletes and entertainment groups to enter the US for the purpose of competing or performing at a specific event.
The P2 is for artists who are part of a government recognized reciprocal exchange program between an organization in the US and the artist’s home country. The applicant must possess skills comparable to that of other artists taking part in the program.
Finally, artists under the P3 may enter the US individually or as a group for the purpose of developing, interpreting, representing, coaching, or teaching a unique or traditional ethnic, folk, cultural, musical, theatrical, or artistic performance or presentation. The event or program should be for the purpose of enhancing the understanding or development of the art form in which the applicant engages.
The R1 visa is available for religious workers wishing to temporarily live and work in the US. The applicant must be employed as a religious worker for at least an average of 20 weekly hours with duties that primarily relate to a traditional religious function.
R1 visas may be issued for an initial period of up to 30 months with subsequent extensions possible for up to an additional 30 months for a total maximum stay of 60 months. Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of the R1 visa holder are eligible to live and study in the US as a R2 dependent but may not work in the US.
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), skilled workers from Canada and Mexico may temporarily work in the US. Some professions included in this category are accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers. Applicants must have a prearranged job with a US employer and possess the qualifications to practice the profession.
The TN visa allows an initial stay of up to 3 years with extensions available. Spouses and dependent children are eligible to join the primary applicant and may attend school, however, may not work in the US.
Specific processes vary between Mexican and Canadian nationals.
EB1 is an employment-based, first-preference permanent residence category open to those who possess extraordinary ability (EB1A), may be an outstanding professor or researcher (EB1B), or may be a multinational executive or manager (EB1C).
EB2 is an employment-based, second preference visa reserved for professionals who hold an advanced degree or its equivalent, or for foreign nationals who exhibit an exceptional ability. The NIW allows qualified individuals who contribute greatly to the nation’s interests to bypass labor certification and job offer requirements.
EB3 is an employment based, third preference visa category that provides lawful permanent residence in the U.S. to professionals, skilled workers, and unskilled workers with a permanent offer of employment in the United States. Labor certification and an offer of a permanent full-time job is generally required with Schedule A available for nurses and physical therapists as “shortage occupations” to allow them to bypass these lengthy recruitment processes.
EB4 is an employment based, fourth preference visa for those categorized as “special immigrants”. The category includes religious workers, special immigrant juveniles, broadcasters, certain international employees, certain physicians, armed forces members, Panama Canal Zone employees, and Afghan and Iraqi translators and nationals who have supported US operations.
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There are many intricate details that will determine the best course for each individual who seeks an employment based visa in the US. When you engage our immigration attorneys, you can rest assured that you are not only receiving quality immigration counsel throughout your application process, but that you are also receiving expert guidance during the initial stages of choosing the best employment based visa for your unique circumstances. Our immigration attorneys are passionate about what they do and will walk alongside you throughout your entire US immigration journey.