How Can I Work in the USA?
Can a foreigner work in the USA?
If you are not a US citizen or a US permanent resident, to be able to work in the US you will need to have in place an employment visa, an Employment Authorization Document, or a Green Card.
With current US immigration policy favouring resident workers, whichever work visa you proceed with, take great care when making your application. You will need to provide sufficient evidence to the authorities that your skills and experience are critical to the role or opportunity in question and why a resident worker would not able to fulfil those duties. US visa applications across all classes are been heavily scrutinized, making a well-prepared and comprehensive application critical to your prospects of being granted the visa.
It’s important to stress that you cannot undertake paid employment if you have entered the US on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) or on a B visitor visa. ‘Chancing it’ at the border is risky, and something we would strongly advise against. If you are questioned by border officials about your planned activities while in the US, and it’s deemed that you do not hold the required permission, you will be refused entry into the US. This will be recorded and will impact your future US immigration applications.
If you are studying in the US on an F or M visa and you want to stay in the US to work after you finish your studies, you will need to consider your work visa options early to avoid your current visa expiring as any new application will require time to put together, submitted and processed.
Visas to work in the USA
There are many different routes to consider, determined largely by your skills, experience and your plans while in the US.
US immigration rules distinguish between temporary and permanent visas for workers and include employment-related green cards (permanent residency), exchange visitor work and study visas, and seasonal and temporary worker visas.
Temporary work visas
To be eligible for a US work visa, you will first need to satisfy the following:
- You have an offer of qualifying employment in the US
- USCIS has approved your employment petition (I-129 form), as filed by your US employer (sponsor)
- If your visa category requires (eg H visas), you have Labor Certification by the Department of Labor
If you qualify as above you can proceed with your application for the relevant US work visa. Some examples include:
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.
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.
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, summer workers, 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.