CALL US: +44 (0)20 8004 3492

How to Immigrate to the USA from the UK

How to Immigrate to the USA from the UK

If you are considering emigrating to the US, as a non-US national you will in most cases have to be sponsored by a US citizen or a US lawful permanent resident, usually an employer or family member. This will allow you to make an application for a US Green Card.

The path to US permanent residence and relocating to the US indefinitely can quickly become complex, and application processing can take a number of years, meaning it is best to start thinking early and planning the timeline. Taking professional advice will also help you explore and understand all of the options open to you in your circumstances.

In this guide, we look at the various immigration options that could allow you to stay and settle in the US on a permanent basis.


Temporary workers

Although non-immigrant temporary worker visas are generally issued with the requirement that the holder returns to their home country at the end of their visa, some employment-based visas offer a route to US Green Card.

The main visas that offer the opportunity to change status from a temporary worker to permanent residence are:


H1B visa – Specialty Occupation

This visa is suitable for a degree level position in a specialty occupation, that is, one which requires the holder to have theoretical and practical knowledge of a specialised area, for instance, computing or engineering.

The number of H1B visas available each year is limited. In 2019, 65,000 H1B visas were made available with a further 20,000 H1B visas for applicants with a masters degree. The window for applications opens in April each year and closes as soon as the H1B cap has been reached.

The H1B visa, unlike other petition-based temporary worker visas, is dual-intent. This means that although it is a non-immigrant visa, a worker may hold a H1B visa with the intent to adjust their status and apply for permanent residency in the US once they meet the qualifying period at the end of their H1-B period.


L1 visa – Intra-Company Transfers

The L1 visa allows employees of international companies to be temporarily transferred to a branch or affiliate of that company in the US. The L1 visa is only open to employees who work in a managerial or executive role or have specialised knowledge and skills, and will fulfil an equivalent role (managerial, executive or specialised) in the US and offers a path to a Green Card provided eligibility criteria are satisfied.


O1 visa – Persons with extraordinary ability

The O1 visa is designed for persons who have extraordinary ability in business, the arts, education, the sciences, or athletics, or who have shown extraordinary achievement in the film and TV industry. The three-year validity of the O-1 visa can quickly pass, requiring a renewal application which is equally as demanding as the initial application. Securing a Green Card can alleviate O-1 holders from continued renewals, and provide certainty and stability to benefit family life and career prospects.


Immigrant employment-based visa

Generally, to obtain an employment-based immigrant visa, it will be necessary to have an offer of employment from a US employer.

This type of visa is split into five preference categories:


First preference

This category is for priority workers and includes:

  • Foreign nationals who have extraordinary ability, with national or international recognition of their accomplishments in the sciences, business, the arts, education or athletics.
  • Outstanding professors and researchers who are internationally recognised for their achievements in their academic area
  • Certain multinational executives and manager who will be employed in the US by their current employer or an affiliate of their current employer


Second preference

This category is for member of the professions, for instance, lawyers and engineers, occupations that require degree level education, and those with exceptional ability in the arts, business or science.


Third preference

This category is for professionals (a member of the professions who holds a degree or equivalent), skilled workers with a minimum 2 years training or experience, and short supply unskilled workers.


Fourth preference

This category is for special immigrants, including:

  • certain religious workers
  • special immigrant juveniles
  • broadcasters
  • G4 international organisation employees
  • NATO 6 employees
  • US government international employees
  • members of the armed forces
  • Panama Canal Zone employees
  • certain physicians
  • Iraqi and Afghan translators
  • Iraqi and Afghan nationals who have supported US operations


Fifth preference

This is the EB5 visa mentioned in the Treaty Trader or Treaty Investor section above. Eligibility for this visa requires investment in a US enterprise and the resulting creation or preservation of 10 full-time permanent jobs for US workers.


Immigrate to the USA through family

To immigrate to the USA under this category, you will need to be sponsored by a family member who is a US citizen or a US lawful permanent resident.

These immigrant visas are split into immediate relative visas and family preference visas.


Immediate Relative

This is split into the following categories:

  • IR1 – spouse of a US citizen
  • IR2 – unmarried child under 21 of a US citizen
  • IR3 – orphan adopted overseas by a US citizen
  • IR4 – orphan who will be adopted by a US citizen
  • IR5 – parent of a US citizen who is 21 or older


Family preference visas

Family preference visas are for less close family relationships, and are split into:

  • F1, first preference – unmarried daughters and sons of US citizens, and their minor children
  • F2, second preference – spouses, minor children, and unmarried daughters and sons (aged 21 or older) of lawful permanent residents
  • F3, third preference – married daughters and sons of US citizens, and their spouses and minor children
  • F4, fourth preference – siblings of US citizens, and their spouses and minor children, as long as the US citizen is aged 21 or older

It is not possible for grandparents, cousins, in-laws, aunts or uncles to act as sponsor for a family-based immigrant visa.


Immigrate to the USA as a fiancé(e)

If you are engaged to a US citizen and plan to marry in the US, you may apply for a K1 visa. This is a non-immigrant visa. The wedding must, however, take place within 90 days of your entry into the US under your K1 visa.

Once married, you may apply to adjust your status and become a US lawful permanent resident.


Immigrate to the USA as a student

If you hold a F1 visa to study in the US, it may be possible to remain in the US after your studies, for example by obtaining sponsorship through an employer, leading to either an H1B visa, as mentioned in the Non-immigrant temporary worker section above, or an employment-based immigrant visa.

Alternatively, if during your studies, you marry a US citizen, you should apply for a IR1 (spouse of a US citizen) visa.


Diversity Visa Lottery

The Diversity Visa Lottery is a system that provides a limited number of immigrant visas to foreign nationals from countries that have a historically low rate of immigration to the US.

Online registration for the Diversity Visa Lottery opens in October each year and closes again a month later in November.


Moving to the US from the UK FAQs

Can a British citizen move to the USA?

British citizens looking to relocate to the USA must attain the relevant permission, which could include a temporary visa or a Green Card for permanent residence.


Is it hard to move from UK to USA?

Visa and Green Card applications for the USA can take several months, and for some categories of application many years, to be processed. It will be important to understand the route most suitable for your circumstances and the process you will need to follow to make your application.


How much money do you need to move from UK to USA?

A family or employment-based Green Card application made from outside the US costs $1200.


Can you move to USA without a job?

Whether you need a job will depend on the route you are applying under. For example, the EB1 program for those who excel in their profession does not require the applicant to be employed, while temporary work visas such as the L1 and H1B do require you to be employed.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

Need legal advice?

Book a fixed-fee telephone consultation with one of our US immigration attorneys.

Need legal advice?

Book a fixed-fee telephone consultation with one of our US immigration attorneys.

Share on social

Arrange a fixed-fee telephone consultation with one of our US immigration experts.

For advice on any aspect of US immigration, contact our attorneys.