Work Visa in the United States
Updated on 03/17/2023
Visas allow foreigners to come to the United States. However, visas cannot be automatically obtained. Instead, the foreigner generally must meet certain qualification requirements before the foreigner will be issued a visa.
After visas based on family relationships, the most common source of visa qualification is work. Many foreigners want to come to the United States to work.
Some work visa, known as “non-immigrant work visa”, allow a foreigner to come to the United States to work for a temporary period of time. Other work-related visas, known as “immigrant visa or green card through work”, allow a foreigner to obtain a green card and come to the United States to work (and live) permanently.
This article discusses the subject of work visa.
There are many different types of work visa under which a foreigner can temporarily work in the United States. All of these work visas are non-immigrant visa. Each of these work visas has its own specific requirements.
The most common type of H visa is the H-1B Specialty Occupations visa. The general requirements to obtain an H-1B Specialty Occupations visa include:
- The occupation requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge, and attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States;
- The position meets one of the following criteria to qualify as a specialty occupation – (i) bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum entry requirement for the particular position, (ii) the degree requirement is common to the industry in parallel positions among similar organizations or, in the alternative, the job is so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree, (iii) the employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position, or (iv) the nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree; and
- The foreigner meets one of the following criteria to perform services in a specialty occupation – (i) hold a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree required by the specialty occupation from an accredited college or university, (ii) hold a foreign degree that is the equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree required by the specialty occupation from an accredited college or university, (ii) hold an unrestricted state license, registration, or certification that authorizes the foreigner to fully practice the specialty occupation and be immediately engaged in that specialty in the state of intended employment, or (iv) have education, specialized training, and/or progressively responsible experience that is equivalent to the completion of a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in the specialty occupation, and have recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions directly related to the specialty.
There is generally an annual numerical capof 65,000 H-1B visas. An additional 20,000 H-1B visas are available to foreigners with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution of higher education. These numerical limitations do not apply to H-1B visas for foreigners who are petitioned for or employed at an institution of higher education or its affiliated or related nonprofit entities, a nonprofit research organization, or a government research organization.
An H-1B visa generally allows a foreigner to work in the United States for a period of up to three years. This time period may be extended, but generally not beyond a total of six years. Learn more about H-1B visa at First time H1B Work Visa FAQ.
Besides the general H-1B Specialty Occupations visa, there are certain sub-classifications of H-1B visa, including:
- H-1B2 visa, for specialty occupations related to U.S. Department of Defense cooperative research and development projects or co-production projects; and
- H-1B3 visa, for fashion models of distinguished merit and ability.
Other H visas, in addition to an H-1B visa, include an H-1C visa (for certain registered nurses), an H-2A visa (for temporary or seasonal agricultural workers), an H-2B visa (for temporary non-agricultural workers), and an H-3 visa (for certain trainees).
There are two types of L visa, both based on employer-employee relationships.
An L-1A visa is also known as an L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager visa. To qualify for an L-1A visa:
- An U.S. employer must (i) have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company (parent company, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate, collectively referred to as “qualifying organizations”), and(ii) currently be, or will be, doing business as an employer in the United States and in at least one other country directly or through a qualifying organizationfor the duration of the employee’s stay in the United States; and
- An foreign employee must (i) have been working for a qualifying organization abroad in an “executive capacity” (generally referring to the employee’s ability to make decisions of wide latitude without much oversight) or “managerial capacity” (generally referring to the ability of the employee to supervise and control the work of professional employees and to manage the organization, or a department, subdivision, function, or component of the organization, or to manage an essential function of the organization at a high level, without direct supervision of others) for one continuous year within the three years immediately preceding such employee’s admission to the United States, and (ii) be seeking to enter the United States to provide service in an “executive capacity” or “managerial capacity” for the U.S. employer.
An L-1A visagenerally allows a foreigner to work in the United States for a maximum initial period of one year if establishing a new office or three years if otherwise. These time periods may be extended in increments of up to an additional two years, until the employee has reached a maximum limit of seven years.
An L-1B visa is also known as an L-1B Intracompany Transferee Specialized Knowledge visa. The requirements to qualify for an L-1B visa are similar to qualifying for an L-1A visa, except that instead of the employee seeking to enter the United States to provide service in an executive capacity or managerial capacity for a branch of the same employer or one of its qualifying organizations, the employee is seeking to enter the United States to provide services in a “specialized knowledge” capacity to a branch of the same employer or one of its qualifying organizations. “Specialized knowledge” means either special knowledge possessed by an individual of the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.
The applicable time periods to work in the United States under an L-1B visa are similar to the applicable time periods under an L-1A visa, except that the maximum limit for an L-1B visa is five years.
The critical document in applying for an L-1A visa or an L-1B visa is Form I-129.
There are two common types of E visa – the E-1 visa and the E-2 visa.
An E-1 visa is also known as an E-1 Treaty Trader visa. To qualify for an E-1 visa, the foreign “treaty trader” must:
- Be a national of a country (“E-1 treaty country”) with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation or with which the United States maintains a qualifying international agreement, or which has been deemed a qualifying country by legislation;
- Carry on “substantial trade”. “Substantial trade” generally refers to an amount of trade sufficient to ensure a continuous flow of international trade items between the United States and the E-1 treaty country; and
- Carry on “principal trade” between the United States and the E-1 treaty country. “Principal trade” between the United States ands the E-1 treaty country exists when over 50% of the volume of international trade of the foreign “treaty trader” is between the United States and the E-1 treaty country.
An E-2 visa is also known as an E-2 Treaty Investor visa. To qualify for an E-2 visa, the foreign “treaty investor” must:
- Be a national of a country (“E-2 treaty country”) with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation;
- Have invested, or be actively in the process of investing, a “substantial amount of capital” in a bona fide enterprise in the United States. A “substantial amount of capital” is substantial in relationship to the total cost of either purchasing an established enterprise or establishing a new one, sufficient to ensure the foreign “treaty investor’s” financial commitment to the successful operation of the enterprise, and of a magnitude to support the likelihood that the foreign “treaty investor” will successfully develop and direct the enterprise; and
- Be seeking to enter the United States solely to develop and direct the investment enterprise (established by showing at least 50% ownership of the enterprise or possession of operational control through a managerial position or other corporate device).
The E-1 visaand the E-2 visa both generally allow the foreign “treaty trader” or “treaty investor” to work in the United States for a maximum initial period of two years, with unlimited extensions of time in increments of up to two years each.
If the foreign “treaty trader” or “treaty investor” is already in the United States, the critical document in applying for an E-1 visa or E-2 visa is Form I-129. Alternatively, if the foreign “treaty trader” or “treaty investor” is outside of the United States, reference should be made to the U.S. Department of State website in applying for an E-1 visa or E-2 visa.
TN visas are derived from the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”), which created special economic and trade relationships for the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The requirements for a TN visa are:
- The foreigner is a citizen of Canada or Mexico;
- The profession qualifies under applicable regulations. This can include such professionals as accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers;
- The position in the United States requires a NAFTA professional;
- The foreigner has a prearranged full-time or part-time job with a United States employer; and
- The foreigner has the qualifications to practice in the profession.
A TN visa generally allows an initial period of stay in the United States for up to three years (which may be able to be extended).
Canadian citizens can apply for a TN visa with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) officer at certain CBP-designated U.S. ports of entry or at a designated pre-clearance/pre-flight inspection station, or by the filing of Form I-129 if being in the United States. Mexican citizens can apply for a TN visa at a United States embassy or consulate in Mexico; a critical document for them in applying for a TN visa is Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.
There are other possible non-immigrant work visas, including:
- I visa, for representatives of foreign press, radio, film or other foreign information media;
- O-1 visa, for persons with extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics and motion picture or TV production;
- P-1A visa, for internationally recognized athletes;
- P-1B visa, for internationally recognized entertainers or members of internationally recognized entertainment groups; and
- R-1 visa, for religious workers.
Immigrant Visa or Green Card through Work
There also are several types of immigrant visa or green card through work under which a foreigner can work (and live) permanently in the United States. These immigrant visas or green card category through work all can be grouped in the “EB”, mean employment-based category (although each has its own specific requirements, as described below).
It is important to remember that immigrant visa or green card through work also must meet general “green card” requirements, as well as “work visa” requirements. If the foreigner is located outside of the United States, these general “green card” requirements are known as the requirements of consular processing. Alternatively, if the foreigner is located in the United States, these general “green card” requirements are known as the requirements of adjustment of status.
The EB-1 visa is an immigrant/green card work visa that is available for persons of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, outstanding professors or researchers, or certain multinational executives and managers.
The foreigner applies for an EB-1 visa using Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker (“Form I-140”).
The EB-2 visa is an immigrant/green card work visa that is available for persons who are members of the professions holding advanced degrees or for persons with exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business.
To obtain an EB-2 visa, two critical documents are ETA Form 9089, Application for Permanent Employment Certification, certified by the U.S. Department of Labor (which is not necessary if a “national interest waiver” applies), and Form I-140.
The EB-3 visa is an immigrant/green card work visa that is available for professionals, skilled workers, and certain other workers.
To obtain an EB-3 visa, two critical documents are ETA Form 9089, Application for Permanent Employment Certification, certified by the U.S. Department of Labor,and Form I-140.
The EB-4 visa is an immigrant/green card work visa that is available for certain “special immigrants”, including certain religious workers, employees of U.S. foreign service posts, and retired employees of international organizations(it can also apply to certain “special immigrants” in non-work situations, including “Special Immigrant Juveniles”).
The foreigner applies for an EB-4 visa using Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.
The EB-5 visa is an immigrant/green card work visa that is available for business investors who invest $1,050,000 ($800,000 if the investment is made in a targeted employment area) in a new commercial enterprise that employs at least 10 full-time U.S. workers.
The foreigner applies for an EB-5 visa usingForm I-526, Immigrant Petition by Standalone Investor, and Form I-829, Petition by Investor to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Work Visa?
Each foreigner’s work visa application is subject to its own specific factual circumstances. Thus, there is no precise time periodfor how long it takes to obtain every work visa. However, a few general statements can be made.
First, it generally takes longer to obtain an immigrant/green card work visa than a non-immigrant work visa.
Second, the estimated time to obtain a non-immigrant work visa is approximately five to seven months.
Third, because there is quota restriction that visa number can be issued every year, some of countries like Mexico, China, and India have long visa waiting time which ranges from 1 to 10 years.
Work can provide a person with many benefits. It can provide salary to enable a person to afford the necessities of life. It can provide a bonus to enable a person to purchase various luxuries. It can provide health insurance coverageto enable a person to receive critical support during a personal or family medical crisis.
For foreigners, work in the United States offers these benefits of salary, bonus, and health insurance coveragein the context that these benefits may not even be available, or are only available in much lower amounts, in the foreigner’s home country.
In addition, work in the United States offers foreigners anotherbenefit – the right to obtain a visa to come to the United States.Moving from the foreigner’s home country to come to and live in the United States can have dramatic and even life-changing implications. If a foreigner does not have the necessary family relationship to obtain a visa to come to and live in the United States, work visa can offer an otherwise unavailable path for a foreigner to come to and live in the United States and literally change the foreigner’s life.