Types of U.S. Work Visas

Summaries of some of the most frequently obtained U.S. work visas.

Many foreign nationals want to work in the United States. Although U.S. jobs usually start off as temporary, U.S. employment can often lead to a green card (U.S. permanent residency).  This article provides brief summaries of some of the most frequently obtained work visas in order to help point readers in the right direction as to which visa they may qualify for. We'll discuss both immigrant visas (permanent employment work visas) and nonimmigrant visas (temporary employment work visas).

Please note that the following list is not exhaustive, and there are multiple work visas, and other types of visas (such as student or tourist) that will allow you to enter the United States.

Nonimmigrant Visas

If you come to the U.S. with a nonimmigrant visa, you will need to depart the U.S. by the date of your visa expiration (unless you apply to extend your visa). The following are temporary work visas that will allow you to work in the U.S. for a specific employer.

H-1B

The H-1B visa is extremely popular. To obtain an H-1B, you must have an offer of employment from a U.S. employer. Your proposed job position must be in a specialty occupation, which usually means that a bachelor’s degree or higher is required to do the job. The U.S. employer must sponsor you for the H-1B visa by filing an I-129 Petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Because this type of visa is in high demand, you may want an attorney to help you through the process.

L-1

The L-1 visa is for employees who work for a foreign company that is an affiliate of a U.S. company.  L-1 employees are transferred from the foreign company branch to the U.S. company branch. Or, the L-1 employee can be transferred by the foreign company to the U.S. in order to establish a U.S. office. In either scenario, the L-1 employee must have worked for the foreign affiliate for one continuous year within the past three years immediately preceding entry into the United States. For example, if you want to enter the U.S. in L-1 status in 2012, you must have worked for the foreign affiliate for at least one year during the time period of 2009 through 2012. Additionally, the L-1 visa is further subdivided into L-1A (managerial/executive capacity) and L-1B (specialized knowledge). The L-1 visa application is also made on the I-129 Petition (filed by the U.S. employer). 

O-1

The O-1 visa is for aliens of extraordinary ability who are coming to the U.S. to work in their field of expertise. To obtain an O-1 visa, you must have an offer of employment from a U.S. employer and prove that you are extraordinary in your field. To prove you are extraordinary, you must meet three (3) of six (6) prongs. The prongs include making a high salary (remuneration), making original contributions to your field, receiving achievements/awards, and performance in a lead/starring/critical role in your field. The U.S. employer files an I-129 Petition on your behalf, which also must include a letter from your industry’s labor union stating that the union has no objection to your proposed U.S. employment.

E-1

The E-1 visa allows nationals of certain countries to come to the U.S. in order to carry on trade activities. You can obtain the E-1 visa as a Treaty Trader or a Treaty Investor. You must be a national of a country that maintains a trade treaty with the U.S., and you must establish that you are coming to the U.S. pursuant to that treaty to carry on substantial trade. Also, if you want to come as a Treaty Investor, you have to invest a substantial amount of money in a U.S. business, and prove you are coming to the U.S. to develop that investment. Typically, you apply for an E-1 visa at the U.S. consulate in your home country, and you do not file any documents with USCIS.

TN

The TN visa was created by NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). The TN visa allows only Canadian and Mexican citizens to come to the U.S. to work for a U.S. employer. To qualify for a TN visa, you must prove that you are a citizen of Canada or Mexico, that you have a job offer with a U.S. employer, and that your job offer is for a position that qualifies for the TN visa under NAFTA, which include accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers.

Immigrant Visas

If you come to the U.S. with an immigrant visa, you will receive your green card soon after U.S. entry. The following are immigrant work visas that will allow you to work in the U.S. permanently (you can also apply for these classifications while you are already in the U.S., and you can change your status to permanent resident instead of having to leave the U.S.):

Extraordinary Ability

The extraordinary ability visa is included in the employment-based 1st preference immigrant category (EB-1). Very few foreign nationals qualify for extraordinary ability because you have to demonstrate that you are in the top of your profession and that you have sustained international or national acclaim in your field. To do so, you must demonstrate that you meet three (3) of ten (10) prongs showing extraordinary ability. These prongs include publication of scholarly articles, publications about you or your work, awards, critical role for a leading organization, membership in professional associations, original contributions, high remuneration, showcases or exhibitions of your work, judging of the work of others, and commercial success in the performing arts.

Multinational Executive

The multinational executive visa is also included in the employment-based 1st preference immigrant category (EB-1), and is a bit like an immigrant version of the L-1 nonimmigrant visa. To qualify as a multinational executive, you must meet the same criteria as for the L-1A visa (i.e. former employment in the past three years for the foreign affiliate and that you will work in a managerial/executive capacity).  For more information on multinational executives, please see "Employment-Based Green Cards."

Advanced Degree

The advanced degree category is in the employment-based 2nd preference immigrant category (EB-2). To qualify, you will need a U.S. employer to sponsor you. Your employer will need to complete the PERM certification process. You will need to possess at least a U.S. Master’s degree (or foreign equivalent), and you will need to demonstrate that your offered job position requires at least a U.S. master’s degree. You also need to show that your position requires this degree. For example, if you have a master’s degree in Education, and your job position is that of an elementary school teacher, you will not qualify for the Advanced Degree category because your job position does not require a master’s degree (elementary school teaching positions require only a bachelor’s degree). However, if your prospective job is for a university teacher position, you may qualify for the Advanced Degree category because university teacher positions require at least a Master’s degree. Alternatively, if you do not have a master’s, you may qualify for EB-2 if you have a bachelor’s degree and five years of progressive experience.

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