Which US Working Visa?
Visa options to work in the USA
The US continues to offer incredible prospects to foreign nationals looking for new work or business opportunities. Whether you’re planning to make a temporary or longer term move, you will need to explore US working visa options to secure the relevant permission to live and work legally in the USA.
The type of work visa you will need will be dependent on a number of factors. These include:
- Intended length of stay – there are both temporary and permanent visa routes.
- Family members – not all visas allow spouses, partners or children to join the visa holder in the US.
- Sponsorship – some work routes will require the visa holder to be sponsored by an employer as well as having a job lined up.
- Salary level – a minimum salary level may apply.
- Maximum period of stay – temporary visas will require you to leave the US before expiry, unless the routes permits extensions.
- Path to Green Card – some routes will allow holders to become eligible for US permanent residence, others do not and will require the visa holder to leave the US at the end of their period of leave.
- Change of status – some routes will permit the holder to transfer from one visa category to another.
- Application processing – processing times and costs vary between routes.
- Visa caps – some routes are subject to limitations on the number of visas which can be issued within an year, which can impact chances of success if the route is oversubscribed.
Taking advice can help ensure you are considering all of the options. It may be, for example, that you are just visiting the US for a specific business-related purpose, say, attending a convention for example. In this case it’s likely you won’t need to apply for a visa, provided you qualify for visa-free travel with ESTA authorization.
How to apply for a US working visa
If you establish that you do require a US working visa, you will need to follow the relevant application process for that visa classification.
As a general guide, you should expect this to include completion of an initial application form and collating documents to evidence your eligibility under the visa requirements. The exact documents you will need to provide vary depending on the visa and the country where you are making your application, but will typically include:
- Your passport, with at least 6 months validity
- Photograph(s), adhering to US visa photo specifications
- Certified translations of documents that are not in English
- Proof of maintenance funds
Your application should be submitted to the US consular office in your country of residence. You will be invited to attend a visa interview at the consulate. You may also have to complete a medical examination.
Which US working visa?
We look at some of the US working visa options you may consider, but others could apply. Take advice on your circumstances.
Temporary Non-Agricultural H-2B visas are for foreign workers in non-agricultural fields where there is a shortage of domestic workers, for example, in leisure and hospitality businesses.
An annual cap applies of 66,000 a year.
The H1-B visa permits skilled, qualified individuals to be employed by a qualifying US employer in specialized occupations.
An annual cap of 65,000 H1-B visas applies each year with strict rules on the application process and timings.
H2 Seasonal Agricultural Worker visas are for foreign agricultural workers to work in the United States on a seasonal or temporary basis, where there is a shortage of domestic workers.
If you are employed by a non-US company and are being transferred to a US branch or subsidiary, this would be under the L-1 visa category.
Adjudicators are assessing L-1 applications more closely than ever, specifically looking to understand if and why a US-resident worker could not perform the role instead.
The O-1 visa is for those with qualifying employment offer or a job in the US who can demonstrate world-class status and ability in their professional field. This could include the arts, sports, science and technology.
Exchange visitor program
The J visa is aimed at visitors who want to work and or take part in study-based exchange visitor programs in the US temporarily before returning to their country of residence.
Applicants under this route typically include au pairs, camp counselors, college students, interns, physicians, professors, scholars, teachers, and trainees.
Starting your own business
Entrepreneurs and investors who want to work for themselves in the US can make the move either on a temporary or permanent basis, and eligibility will depend on your circumstances, skills, experience, business idea and level of investment.
The E visa category for example offers temporary permission to set up or invest in a US enterprise and allows the holder to able to bring their spouse and children under the age of 21 into the USA.
If you have a qualifying job or offer of employment, you may be eligible to move to the US on a permanent basis through an employment-based Green Card. For example, first preference (EB-1) is priority workers, including “foreign nationals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers; or certain multinational managers and executives.”
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (or Green Card Lottery) offers 50,000 Green Cards each year, but these are only available to nationals of certain countries, and applicants must also pass stringent background checks.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.