Working in the U.S.: Options for Foreign-Born Persons

Learn about temporary work visas, employment-based green cards, and work permits.

Foreign-born persons wishing to work in the U.S. often raise such questions as, "If I just want to work, without necessarily getting a green card, can I do that?" or "Will my type of job skills get me a U.S. green card?" If you want to live and work in the U.S., this article will address these and related questions.

Temporary Work Visas

A number of  types of visas allow people to work in the U.S. on a temporary basis. However, none of these provides general entry to the U.S. for working purposes. In every case, you must first have an offer from a U.S. employer, for a position doing a type of work that matches one of the visa categories. Your employer will need to start the visa application process for you.

For example, the popular H-1B visa is restricted to use by specialty workers who have at least a bachelor's degree (or its equivalent). The H-2A visa is restricted to use by farm workers doing seasonal work.

For details on the various types of temporary work visas and the application processes to get one, see Types of U.S. Work Visas.

Green Cards Based on Work

In some instances, a person's job skills may land him or her a position that qualifies him or her for a U.S. green card. The advantage to this is that you can live in the U.S. permanently, even after leaving the original job, and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. However, getting a green card based on work is not an easy route. In most cases, you must first have a job offer (unless you have such extraordinary abiliities that you can qualify without one, as a type of "priority worker").

Then your employer must, in most cases, be willing to go through an extensive process on your behalf, which begins with it conducting a recruiting and hiring process to make sure no U.S. workers are willing and able to take the job. (This is called "PERM Labor Certification.") Only after that can your employer and you actually turn to the task of applying for a green card. And because of annual limits on numbers of visa numbers, it's possible that you will end up on a waiting list to receive your green card.

Please see Employment-Based Immigration for more information on eligibility in this category, and for how to apply.

Employment Authorization Documents

Certain classes of people who are lawfully within the United States must apply for and receive a valid Employment Authorization Document, also called a work permit or EAD, in order to work here. For example, refugees, fiance visa holders (K-1), spouses of various work-visa holders, and in some cases students (F-1) may apply for a work permit. To read more on this topic, see Who Qualifies for a Work Permit in the United States?

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