Are you a British citizen wanting to live and work in the USA?
The USA remains a land of opportunity with great appeal for British workers. Whether you want to relocate for an existing job, carry out a fixed-term assignment in the US or to set up or expand a business in the US market – prospects abound.
But before you purchase your ticket and jump on the plane, you will first need to make sure you hold the relevant permission to enter and work in the US.
If you’re a British citizen wanting to live and work in USA, you will need to consider which US visa options are available to you based on your reason for travel and how long you would like to stay.
Do you need a US visa as a British citizen?
The US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) permits eligible citizens of 38 countries to travel to the US for business or tourism for up to 90 days without a US visa. The UK is one of the countries that participates in the VWP, meaning British citizens may be able to travel to the US visa-free, provided they obtain ESTA authorization.
ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. ESTA is an online screening system operated by US authorities. Applicants complete the online form, and the answers are used to determine eligibility for travel under the VWP.
You cannot travel to the US under ESTA if your reason for travel is for gainful employment or to take up permanent residence. You can only undertake certain permissible activities while in the US under ESTA, such as attending a business meeting; anything beyond these allowable activities will require the relevant visa to be granted.
In addition, ESTA authorization only allows stays in the US for up to 90 days per visit. You cannot intend to remain their permanently if you the country enter visa-free. Again, if you wish to stay longer, you would need to apply for an appropriate visa.
As such, for a British citizen wanting to live and work in USA on either a temporary or more long-term basis, ESTA would generally not be suitable, although it is advisable to take professional guidance on your specific circumstances.
The type of visa you will need will depend on whether you are planning to travel to the United States on a temporary basis, in which case you would look at the nonimmigrant visa classifications, or whether you are looking to settle permanently, which are the immigrant visas.
How long can a UK citizen stay in the US?
British citizens can stay in the US with ESTA authorization for up to 90 days per visit. To be able to remain in the US for longer than 90 days, the traveller would need to apply for the relevant US visa.
US nonimmigrant visas for temporary stay
As a British citizen wanting to live and work in USA on a temporary basis, you will need a nonimmigrant visa. Some of the main options here include:
- E-1 & E-2 visas for the treaty trader or investor
- L-1A & L-1B visas for intra-company transfers
- H-1B visas for speciality occupation workers
- O-1A & O-1B visas for those possessing extraordinary ability or achievement
- F or M visas for study
- I visa for journalists, bloggers, production teams and other media professionals on assignment
Treaty trader or investor visas
These are nonimmigrant work visas for citizens of countries with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation, including the UK, and will allow treaty traders and investors to enter the US for the purpose of carrying out “substantial trade” or investing a “substantial amount” of capital.
For those of you who already have established trade links with the United States, to qualify for a treaty trader visa over 50% of your international trade must be with America.
If you are instead looking to invest in a US business, typically the minimum figure for a treaty investor visa is US$100,000, although in exceptional cases amounts as low as US$50,000 may be considered.
Visas for intra-company transfers
If you are currently employed in the UK but have been asked to transfer to an affiliated office in the United States, you will need to consider an L-1 visa.
The L-1 visa is a nonimmigrant work visa for an employee of an international company who is being temporarily transferred to a parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary of the same company in the USA.
The L-1A visa is for those of you in a managerial or executive role, while the L-1B visa is for employees with specialised knowledge about the organisation in which you work, for example, about the products and/or procedures.
To qualify for this type of visa you must have worked for your employer in your current role for at least a year out of the previous three, as well as have an offer to work in a similar capacity for a branch of the same company, organisation or employer in the United States.
Visas for workers in speciality occupations
The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa for graduate level workers wanting to undertake a job role in a speciality occupation that requires theoretical or technical expertise.
Any professional level job that requires you to have a bachelors degree or higher can potentially qualify as a specialty occupation. That said, you may be able to show degree equivalence through work experience and/or other qualifications.
To qualify you will need to have been offered a speciality occupation job to work in the United States, where your US sponsor will first petition the US Citizen and Immigration Services on your behalf.
Extraordinary ability & achievement visas
This visa category is for those of you who are recognised for your extraordinary ability, or have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement, in one of several fields.
The O-1A visa is for individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business or athletics, where you have risen to the top of your field.
The O-1B visa is either for those with an extraordinary ability in the arts, or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry and you possess a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered.
To qualify for either type of visa, you must have national or international acclaim in your field, and be coming to the US to continue work in this area.
There are several ways to qualify for permanent residence in the United States, not least through family, employment or by investment, although you would need at least US $500,000 to put into a US venture to get a green card as an investor.
In many cases, where you have close family ties in the US, the easiest path to permanent residence can be to have a relative sponsor you. This could be a spouse, for example, although they must be a US citizen or lawful permanent resident.
Alternatively, if you are a British citizen wanting to live and work in USA on a long-term basis but you have no family-ties, you can apply for a green card under various different employment-based routes.
This includes individuals with extraordinary abilities in specific fields such as the sciences or arts, distinguished academics or researchers, as well as multinational managers and executives.
It also encompasses skilled workers, professionals and other workers, although typically a petition for a green card under any one of these categories must be supported by an offer of a job, as well as an approved labor certification to show that there are no qualified Americans available to fill that position.
Although a green card will grant you what’s known as permanent lawful residence, it will not allow you stay in the United States indefinitely. You will need to renew your green card every ten years.
However, you may be able to apply for US citizenship after a set number of years as a lawful permanent resident.
What are ‘dual intent’ visas?
In some cases nonimmigrant work visas can provide a pathway to permanent residence. These are known as dual intent visas. Both the L and O visas, for example, are dual intent visas.
A dual intent visa will allow you to lawfully enter the United States on a time-limited basis, albeit with immigrant intent. This means that you can apply for a green card while in the US under a temporary work visa.
Alternatively, if you are only looking to extend your stay in the United States for a further temporary period, you again may be able to do this without returning to the UK.
Are you admissible?
The visa-specific criteria for both nonimmigrant and immigrant visas must be satisfied for you to be eligible to travel to the United States, whether this be on a temporary or permanent basis.
Additionally, to gain entry clearance to the US you must also not fall foul of the general grounds of inadmissibility. These include, but are not limited to, where you have been convicted of certain crimes or where you have a serious communicable illness. If you are concerned about a past conviction or other potential reason for inadmissibility, speak to our experts about applying for a waiver of inadmissibility to accompany your visa application.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.