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How To Obtain A Work Visa In The United States

How to Obtain a Work Visa in the U.S.

For people who want to come and work in the United States, securing a work visa generally offers the best means of documentation so that you can legally work in the country. The U.S. offers several types of work visas, both temporary and permanent, for international workers, depending on their circumstances.

Those interested in securing one of these permits will need to make sure they understand the different types of visas available and the application process involved. We will walk you through what you need to know about working with a U.S. employer to secure your work visa.

What Is a U.S. Work Visa?

While a visa is a document that indicates a person can legally enter a country, not all visas give the holder legal permission to work. A work visa — also sometimes referred to as a work permit — specifically indicates that the holder can legally hold a job in the USA and receive a salary as an employee or business owner.

The U.S. offers both temporary and permanent resident permits. If you have a permanent residence permit that specifies that you can work — also known as a green card — or a work permit, you can hold a job amongst many other benefits.

Sometimes, people enter the country with a visa that allows them to live in the country but not hold a job. For example, if a person comes as a dependent family member of another person who does have a legal work permit, they might not be able to have a job themselves. This does vary depending on the visa category, and dependents (i.e. spouse) may be required to simply file a request for work authorization separately.

Those interested in securing a visa to work in the U.S. will quickly discover that the country offers a variety of categories for them to explore and apply for. We've provided a general overview for some of the common visa categories that permit work authorization in the United States.

H-1B Person in a Specialty Occupation

The H-1B visa allows applicants in specialty occupations to apply for permission to work in the United States. The occupations admitted under this visa can range from fashion models to government research and development professionals.

Overall, the H-1B is one of the oldest and most well-known work-visas, but it also has severe limitations, including an annual-cap at 65,000 visas per year (i.e. lottery system). While many employers consider the H-1B for sponsoring foreign employees, there are also laborious requirements for the employers, and oftentimes not ideal for startup or early-stage companies.

H-1B1 Free Trade Agreement Professional

This visa is specifically for individuals from Chile and Singapore and admits those who work in “specialty occupations.”

H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker

This is another visa that is limited to individuals from specific countries, and it is available for seasonal or temporary agricultural jobs where there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified and available to do the work.

H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers

This visa is only available for people from particular designated countries. It is for people who come to the country for temporary or seasonal positions unrelated to the agricultural industry.

H-3 Trainee or Special Education Visitor

People who want to pursue additional training within a specific field or related to the education of children with various disabilities can apply for this visa. A key requirement of this visa is that the training opportunities can’t be available in the applicant’s home country.

This is often an underutilized visa category that is effective for companies who wish to transfer a new member of their team to the U.S. office.


Do You Need a Work Visa to get a Salary in the United States?

Yes, generally all foreign nationals will need a work visa to hold a job and receive a salary in the U.S. The country does recognize a number of countries from which residents do not need a visa to visit the U.S. for periods of up to 90 days, but those who want to hold a job and effectively get paid will need to go through the visa process with very few exceptions.

The only exceptions to needing a temporary worker visa are for those from Canada and Bermuda. Canadian and Bermudian citizens can enter as temporary workers without a visa, but they will need to have a temporary worker petition approved.

How Long Can You Stay in the U.S. With a Work Visa?

The U.S. has five categories of workers who can be admitted through a permanent visa and a number of temporary, nonimmigrant work visas. The temporary visas cover a wide range of employment categories, from religious workers, agricultural workers, treaty traders and investors, and exchange visitors to people with an extraordinary ability. There is even a specific group for intracompany transferees.

The types of visas also come with different periods of time before they need to be renewed. For example, an H1-B worker has three years before they need to renew their visa. The renewal process can then only be done once, for a total of six years on the H1-B visa.

On the other hand, an R-1 visa is good for 30 months before it can be renewed one more time for an additional 30 months. However, an E treaty-visa has to be renewed according to the reciprocity the U.S. has with each country. For example, a UK national is eligible to obtain an E visa for 5-years, while an Egyptian national is only granted 3-months. It is also important to understand the difference between your “legal status” v. “visa duration”. Legal status generally refers to the period of time you are permitted to stay in the United States. This “authorized stay” is stamped in your passport each time you enter through U.S. customs. While the visa duration relates directly to the period of validity indicated on your Visa that is granted and stamped in your passport when received from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Therefore, visa holders will need to check the renewal dates for their specific type of visa. To renew your visa, you will need to go through the application process again. However, in certain situations, you might be able to secure a waiver so you do not have to go through the interview process again during renewal.

Overall, it is advisable to consult with a licensed immigration professional for these matters. Overstaying in the United States, even if it was not intentional, is extremely detrimental. It can result in the accrual of an unlawful status and jeopardize future immigration planning for the U.S.

Is It Hard to Get a U.S. Work Visa?

Securing a work visa will have varying degrees of difficulty depending on the type of visa you want. The different categories are for people with different sets of skills and backgrounds.

For example, the TN visa is offered by the U.S. government for citizens of Mexico and Canada through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), while other visas accept people from nearly any country but require them to come with certain skills.

There are visas for those with exceptional ability, such as those in athletics, as well as those in specialty occupations and other specific categories. For example, foreign media members who want to enter the country need an I, Representatives of Foreign Media, nonimmigrant visa.

Work visas require that applicants demonstrate they have the skills necessary for temporary employment in that field. This might include a bachelor’s degree, another advanced degree, or practical training.

Therefore, your unique circumstances will determine the level of difficulty you encounter when trying to secure a work visa. The visa category in which you qualify, your level of skills and expertise, and the amount of competition you encounter can impact the level of difficulty when securing a work visa.

How to Obtain a Work Visa in the U.S.

Having a work visa from the Department of State is required before you can enter the country. Therefore, it’s important to understand the process for securing the proper paperwork. Keep in mind that most types of work visas require that the process begins through a U.S. employer.

While the exact process of applying for a temporary work visa will vary depending on the type of visa for which you submit an application — particularly in the documentation portion — we will walk you through what you can typically expect.

The first step requires the potential employer to file a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Formally, this petition is known as the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, or Form I-129. If your desired job falls into a category where you have to have approval from the U.S. Department of Labor, such as a specific labor certification, the prospective employer will have to file this before the Form I-129 petition.

It is important to note that some temporary worker categories have limits to the number of permits granted within a given year. You and the potential employer will need to note if these limits apply to you and prepare.

The employer may also have to demonstrate specific requirements, such as that a job offer given to a foreign worker will not take a job away from an equally qualified U.S. citizen.

Let the Experts on Relocate Help During the Work Visa Process

Securing your visa to work in the U.S. can be exciting but also a bit intimidating. Dig-deeper to learn more about relevant topics for immigrating to the United States. Browse and connect with the experts who can answer your questions and help you move confidently through the work visa process.

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