How to apply for a US Work Visa
If you are a non-US national looking to temporarily work and live in the United States, you will first need to apply for the relevant US work visa.
The first step will be to identify the most appropriate route before compiling a submission that evidences that you meet the visa requirements
Apply for US work visa
There are two main types of US work visa: immigrant and nonimmigrant. An immigrant visa will grant the holder lawful permanent residence, otherwise known as a green card, while a nonimmigrant visa will only grant the holder temporary status.
There are various nonimmigrant work visas to choose from, all depending on your circumstances and whether you meet the eligibility criteria for the visa category in question. Some of the most popular US work visas include:
- E-1 visa: for foreign traders, or employees of the principal trader, looking to come to the United States for the purpose of carrying out international trade.
- E-2 visa: for foreign investors, or employees of the principal investor, looking to buy or invest in a US business enterprise.
- L-1A visa: for foreign employees of multinational companies looking to transfer within the same company to an affiliated US office, or to establish a new office, whereby the employee works in an executive or managerial role.
- L-1B visa: for foreign employees of multinational companies looking to transfer to an affiliated US office, or to set up a new office, whereby the employee has specialised knowledge of the employer’s products, services, processes and procedures.
- H-1B visa: for foreign graduates, or experienced professionals, looking to work in a speciality occupation that requires theoretical or technical expertise, and for whom they have a US sponsor.
- I visa: for foreign media professionals coming the US to work on a specific media-related project.
- O-1A visa: for foreign individuals who have extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business or athletics looking to come to the US to work in their field, and for whom they have a US sponsor.
- O-1B visa: for foreign individuals who have extraordinary ability in the arts, or have demonstrated extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry, looking to come to the US to work in their field, and for whom they have a US sponsor.
Applying for a temporary US work visa
For petition-based visas, prior to submitting your online visa application, your sponsor will first need to file on your behalf Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Once the petition is approved, USCIS will send your sponsor Form I-797, Notice of Action. Only once approval has been granted by USCIS can you apply to your local Embassy or Consulate for your visa.
For some US work visa categories, as with L-1 visas, rather than filing an individual petition for each overseas worker, your employer may be eligible to file what’s known as a blanket petition using Form I-129S.
Where a blanket petition has already been filed, this will eliminate the need to file an individual petition on your behalf. Instead, so long as you have proof of the blanket approval by way of Forms I-129S and I-797, you can apply directly for a visa through consular processing.
Please note, the approval of a petition does not guarantee that you will be issued a visa.
Making a Labor Certification application
In some US work visa categories, as with the H-1B visa, your prospective employer will also be required to obtain a labor certification, or other approval from the Department of Labor (DOL), on your behalf before filing the petition.
The Labor Certificate Application requires the employer to attest, amongst other things, that it will comply with the following labor requirements:
- The employer will pay the beneficiary a wage which is no less than the wage paid to similarly qualified workers or, if greater, the prevailing wage for your position in the geographic area in which you will be working.
- The employer will provide working conditions that will not adversely affect the working conditions of similarly employed US workers.
Your prospective employer should review the instructions for Form I-129 on the USCIS website to determine whether labor certification is required for you. Only once approval has been granted by the DOL can your employer petition to USCIS.
Completing the online visa application form
After USCIS approves your petition, you may apply for your visa using Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.
This will need to be submitted electronically to the US Department of State, whereby consular officers use the information entered on the DS-160 to process your application and, combined with a personal interview, determine your eligibility for a nonimmigrant visa.
There are several steps in the visa application process, whereby the order of these steps and how you complete them may vary depending on the US Embassy or Consulate to which you apply. You should consult the instructions available on the Embassy or Consulate website in question.
As part of the application process, you will be required to upload your photo in the format explained in the photograph requirements. You should also print off the application form confirmation page to bring with you to your interview.
Making a US visa interview appointment
Having submitted your online visa application you will be required, in most cases, to schedule a consular interview. Typically this will need to take place at the US Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live.
You will need to provide the receipt number printed on your approved petition, Form I-129, or Notice of Action, Form I-797, to schedule an interview.
While interviews are generally only required for applicants aged between 14-79 years old, consular officers have the discretion to require an interview of any applicant, regardless of age.
Wait times for interview appointments can vary significantly by location, season and visa category, so you should apply in good time. You can check the wait times on your Embassy or Consulate website.
Having scheduled your interview, and where you are required to pay the application fee prior to your interview for your particular Embassy or Consulate, you will need to pay a non-refundable visa application fee.
Once your visa is approved, you may also need to pay a visa issuance fee, if applicable to your nationality. Again, review the instructions available on the website of the Embassy or Consulate where you intend to apply.
You will be required to attend your consular interview with a number of documents. These include the following, although this list is not exhaustive:
- Your current passport – this should be valid for travel to the United States for at least six months beyond your period of stay, unless exempt by country-specific agreements.
- Your nonimmigrant visa application, Form DS-160 confirmation page.
- Your application fee payment receipt, where you are required to pay before your interview.
- A photo – although you will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160, you should bring a printed photo in the format explained in the photograph requirements in case the upload fails.
- A receipt number for your approved petition as it appears on Form I-129, or Form I-797.
- For blanket petition applicants, you must also bring Form I-129S.
In addition, all visa applicants, with the exception of those applying under L-1 and H-1B, will need to show their intent to depart the US once their status expires. This will require proof of binding ties to your home country, for example, a residence abroad.
Please note, while not statutorily recognised as a dual intent visa like the L-1 and H-1B visas, O-1 visa applicants are not required to maintain a residence in their home country.
Please also note that additional documents may be required depending on the Embassy or Consulate where you apply.
What to expect at your visa interview
During your visa interview you will need to establish that you meet the requirements under US law to receive the category of visa for which you are applying.
The interviewing consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive a US work visa based on the information provided on your DS-160 and answers during interview.
As part of the application process, typically at the same time as your interview, digital fingerprint scans will also be taken.
After your visa interview, you will be informed by the consular officer if additional administrative processing is deemed necessary.
If your visa is approved, you may need to pay a visa issuance fee if applicable to your nationality, and you will be informed how your passport with visa will be returned to you.
NNU Immigration specialize in US work visas, helping employers and employees secure the necessary permissions from the US Embassy to travel to the US to undertake work. If you have a question about visa eligibility or the application process, contact us.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.