The U.S. work visa landscape can be overwhelming, but it offers a range of options for skilled workers. The key is to find the visa category that aligns with your qualifications, job prospects, and long-term goals.
Citizens of foreign countries who want to work in the United States must obtain a visa, either nonimmigrant or immigrant. Most employment-based work visas require sponsorship by an employer and approval of a U.S. Department of Labor “labor certification.”
Common employment-based visas include EB-1, available to people with extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics; EB-2, for professionals with a bachelor’s degree or higher; and EB-3, for workers in specialty occupations.
Understanding the U.S. Work Visa Landscape
Many types of work visas exist, and each one has a different set of requirements. These may include a certain degree of education, a specific skill set and job offer from an employer, or the need to prove that you are eligible to work in the United States. Each visa also has its own quota and application process.
The Biden administration has made significant efforts to expand visa programs, reduce the backlog in processing and address the nation’s persistent worker shortage. Nonetheless, the current landscape remains challenging for businesses that rely on foreign workers.
Temporary work visas are available for people from other countries who are coming to the United States to fill a specific position and do not want to apply for permanent resident status. The most popular temporary work visas are H1B, which is reserved for workers in specialty occupations with at least a bachelor’s degree, and the TN visa program, created under the USMCA to facilitate greater movement of professional workers between the US, Canada and Mexico.
Other options include the O-1 visa, which is primarily for individuals with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business and athletics, and the E-1 visa, a nonimmigrant visa for executives and managers of foreign companies that have substantial operations in the United States. For those seeking to gain legal permanent residency (a “green card”), the most popular option is the EB-1 category, which is reserved for highly skilled individuals with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities.
Popular U.S. Work Visa Categories
There are a variety of work visa options for foreign nationals who want to come to the United States and engage in short- or long-term employment. From college kids looking to spend a semester working at a ski resort to entrepreneurs looking to flip a business and ultimately obtain a green card, there is a work visa option for just about anyone.
Work visa categories include EB-1 first preference for aliens of extraordinary ability in the fields of science, education, business, arts and athletics; EB-2 second preference for foreign nationals with a master’s degree or higher in their field or with exceptional abilities; and EB-3 third preference for workers with a bachelor’s degree who fill specialized positions, such as scientists with advanced degrees. Most of these visas require a U.S. employer to file an employment-based petition on your behalf, although some allow self-sponsorship based on qualifications.
Other visas include the J-1 visa for individuals who are accepted into an exchange program for teaching, instructing, lecturing, studying, researching, consulting or receiving training; H-2A and H-2B visas for temporary agricultural workers and seasonal non-agricultural workers, respectively; and L-1A and L-1B visas for employees transferred to the United States from a company abroad at the manager level (L-1A) or with specialized knowledge (L-1B). In addition, certain work visas may be extended or renewed on a permanent basis.
The Visa Application Process
The process to acquire a work visa can be lengthy and complicated, with several steps to be completed before and during the application. Before the process even begins, a foreign worker must be offered a job in the United States and the company must be willing to sponsor their visa.
In addition, the applicant must meet certain qualifications for their desired visa category. For example, H-1B visas are available for foreign workers in a specialty occupation with at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent work experience. There is an annual cap on this type of visa, so early planning for this pathway is important.
NAFTA workers, such as lawyers, engineers and teachers from Canada or Mexico, may be eligible for TN visas under the North American Free Trade Agreement. This is a temporary work visa that allows individuals to come to the United States with a job offer from a company in the country. The individual must have a profession defined by NAFTA or have extraordinary abilities.
Other types of work visas include L-1 visas for intracompany transferees who are management level employees or have specialized expertise in a specific field, and P visas for entertainers or athletes who want to enter the U.S. to perform. Permanent residency options, such as a Green Card, are also available to foreign workers with qualifying skills and education. The Boundless team is experienced in advising clients on the best pathways to the United States and can guide you through the entire process.
Maintaining Your Status
There are about 80 different types of visas available to work in the U.S. Depending on your specific situation, you will have to determine the type of visa that is right for you. These can be non-immigrant or immigrant visas. Non-immigrant visas are designed to allow persons for a temporary period of time to enter the United States to work, study or engage in other activities. Immigrant visas, on the other hand are for persons who intend to become permanent residents of the United States.
A skilled worker is someone who has specialized training, education or experience in their field of work, which they can apply to their job. Some skilled workers have completed university or technical school courses while others have learned their skills through on-the-job training. The definition of a skilled worker has evolved over the years. As jobs have moved from manufacturing based industries to technology and service based industries.
Working with an immigration lawyer can save you a lot of time, money and stress. When applying for a visa to work in the United States. A good attorney will help you select the right visa for your situation and ensure that all documents are properly prepared. In addition, they can reduce the stress associated with this process by offering strategic advice. And helping you navigate any issues that may arise during the application.
Q1: Can I apply for multiple U.S. work visas simultaneously?
- A: Yes, you can explore multiple visa categories if you meet the eligibility criteria for each. However, you should prioritize the one that best fits your situation.
Q2: How long does it typically take to process a U.S. work visa application?
- A: Processing times vary depending on the visa category and other factors. H-1B visas, for example, have specific annual quotas and processing windows.
Q3: What if my U.S. work visa application is denied?
- A: If your application is denied, you may have the option to appeal or reapply. Consulting an immigration attorney is advisable in such cases.
Q4: Can I bring my family with me on a U.S. work visa?
- A: Many U.S. work visas allow dependents (spouse and children) to accompany you. They may be eligible for dependent visas.
Q5: Are there any caps or limits on the number of visas issued for certain categories, like the H-1B visa?
- A: Yes, some visa categories, such as H-1B, have annual caps. It’s important to apply early and be aware of these limitations.
Q6: Can I switch employers while on a U.S. work visa?
- A: It is possible to change employers while on a U.S. work visa. But you may need to go through a transfer process, and the new employer must file a new petition.
Q7: Is it necessary to hire an immigration attorney when applying for a U.S. work visa?
- A: While not mandatory, hiring an immigration attorney can be beneficial, especially for complex cases. They can guide you through the process, help with paperwork, and ensure compliance with immigration laws.