The United States is the world’s largest economy and almost everyone wants to be a part of that economy. However, to do so, you need a work visa also called employment-based visas to be able to travel to the U.S. as a worker and a work permit to actually live and work there. As easy as it sounds, work visa applications USA usually require careful planning to ensure that you do not make any mistakes that may ruin your chances of getting approval.
Typically, the first step is to understand what kind of work visa you are applying for. This will determine other steps you will take because there are different visa types with different application processes. This guide discusses these different types of visas alongside the general application processes.
Types of Work Visas in the USA
There are two types of work visas you can apply for in the United States.
Temporary Work Visa (Nonimmigrant Visa)
A temporary work visa, also known as a nonimmigrant work visa, allows foreign nationals to work in the U.S. for a specific period and purpose. These specifications are usually in line with the specific job or project for which you are getting the visa. The duration can vary depending on the visa category. However, you are typically required to return to your home country once the authorized period expires.
Permanent Work Visa (Immigrant Visa or Green Card)
A permanent work visa is also called an immigrant visa or a green card. It allows foreign nationals to live and work permanently in the U.S. Permanent work visas do not have a specific expiration date. Hence, you have the right to reside and work in the U.S. indefinitely. Individuals holding green cards are considered immigrants and can eventually apply for U.S. citizenship.
Categories of Temporary Work Visas in USA
There are several U.S. visa categories under temporary work visa applications USA and some of them have subcategories. Below is an overview of some key categories. However, keep in mind that the information here is a general overview of each category. You can do more research on the particular category you fall under.
H-1B Visa (Specialty Occupation)
Description: Allows employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require specialized knowledge.
Subcategories: H-1B1 for Free Trade Agreement workers in a specialty occupation from Chile and Singapore, H-1B2 for Specialty occupations related to Department of Defense Cooperative Research and Development projects or Co-production projects, H-1B3 for Fashion models of distinguished merit and ability.
Eligibility: Requires a job offer from a U.S. employer and a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a specific field.
Duration: Initially up to 3 years, with the possibility of extension to 6 years.
L-1 Visa (Intracompany Transferee)
Description: Allows multinational companies to transfer employees from foreign offices to work in the U.S.
Subcategories: L-1A for managers/executives, L-1B for employees with specialized knowledge.
Eligibility: Requires a qualifying relationship between the foreign and U.S. companies and the employee to have worked for the foreign company for a specific period.
Duration: L-1A up to 7 years, L-1B up to 5 years.
TN Visa (Trade NAFTA)
Description: Allows citizens of Canada and Mexico to work in the U.S. in specific professional occupations under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Eligibility: Requires a job offer in a qualifying profession and Canadian or Mexican citizenship.
Duration: Typically granted in increments of up to 3 years.
E Visas (Treaty Traders and Investors)
Description: These work visa applications USA are for individuals engaged in substantial trade or investment activities between the U.S. and their home country.
Subcategories: E-1 for Treaty Traders, E-2 for Treaty Investors, E-3 for Certain “specialty occupation” professionals from Australia.
Eligibility: Depends on the existence of a qualifying treaty and the level of trade or investment.
Duration: This can be renewed as long as the qualifying activities continue.
O Visa (Extraordinary Ability or Achievement)
Description: For individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.
Eligibility: Requires a high level of expertise and recognition in the field.
Subcategories: O-1A for individuals with extraordinary ability, O-1B for individuals with extraordinary achievement in the arts.
Duration: Initially up to 3 years, with the possibility of extensions.
R-1 Visa (Religious Worker)
Description: For religious workers coming to the U.S. to work in a religious capacity for a non-profit religious organization.
Eligibility: Requires a job offer from a U.S. religious organization and a demonstrated history of religious work.
Duration: Initially granted for up to 30 months, with the possibility of an extension for an additional 30 months. The total stay is limited to five years for R-1 nonimmigrant religious workers.
I Visa (Representatives of Foreign Media)
Description: For representatives of the foreign media, including reporters, film crews, editors, and other individuals engaged in informational or educational activities.
Eligibility: Requires employment by a foreign media organization and engagement in qualifying activities.
Duration: Generally issued for the duration of the specific media event or series of events for which the individual is accredited. It is typically a short-term visa.
P Visa (Athletes, Artists, and Entertainers)
P-1 Visa (Internationally Recognized Athletes/Entertainers)
Description: These are work visa applications USA for internationally recognized athletes or members of entertainment groups.
Subcategories: P-1A for athletes, P-1B for members of entertainment groups.
Eligibility: Requires a high level of achievement and recognition in the respective field.
Duration: Granted for the duration of the event or performance, up to a maximum initial period of five years. Extensions are possible for a maximum of five years at a time.
P-2 Visa (Reciprocal Exchange Program Artists/Entertainers)
Description: For artists or entertainers participating in reciprocal exchange programs between U.S. and foreign organizations.
Eligibility: Requires a reciprocal exchange agreement and a U.S. petitioning organization.
Duration: Typically issued for the duration of the reciprocal exchange program, up to a maximum of one year.
P-3 Visa (Culturally Unique Program Artists/Entertainers)
Description: For artists or entertainers participating in culturally unique programs.
Eligibility: Requires a program that is culturally unique and the expertise of the artist or entertainer.
Duration: P-3 visas can be granted for the duration of the program, up to a maximum initial period of one year. Extensions are possible for increments of up to one year.
Categories of Permanent Work Visas in USA
There are five U.S. visa categories under the permanent work visa applications USA and each of these categories have subcategories. Below is an overview.
EB-1 Visa (Employment-Based First Preference)
Description: For individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, outstanding professors and researchers, or multinational managers and executives.
Subcategories: EB-1A for extraordinary ability, EB-1B for outstanding professors and researchers, and EB-1C for multinational managers and executives.
Eligibility: Requires demonstrating exceptional qualifications in the respective category.
Process: Direct petition by the employer or self-petition for individuals with extraordinary ability.
EB-2 Visa (Employment-Based Second Preference)
Description: For individuals with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities in their field.
Subcategories: EB-2A for advanced degrees, EB-2B for individuals with exceptional ability.
Eligibility: Requires a job offer and employer-sponsored petition, or a self-petition for individuals with exceptional ability.
EB-3 Visa (Employment-Based Third Preference)
Description: For skilled workers, professionals, and other workers.
Subcategories: EB-3A for skilled workers, EB-3B for professionals with bachelor’s degrees, and EB-3C for unskilled workers.
Eligibility: Requires a job offer and employer-sponsored petition.
EB-4 Visa (Employment-Based Fourth Preference)
Description: For special immigrants, including religious workers, broadcasters, and certain U.S. government employees.
Subcategories: Various subcategories with specific eligibility criteria.
Process: Requires employer sponsorship or, in some cases, self-petition.
EB-5 Visa (Immigrant Investor Program)
Description: For foreign investors making a substantial investment in a U.S. commercial enterprise that creates jobs.
Eligibility: Requires a qualifying investment and the creation of jobs for U.S. workers.
Investment Amount: Typically requires a minimum investment amount of $1.8 million or $900,000, which may vary based on the location of the investment.
Steps for Temporary Work Visa Applications USA
The process for temporary work visa applications USA involves several steps. The specific steps may vary depending on the category of visa you are applying for, but the general process typically includes the following:
- Determine Visa Type: The first step in the visa application process is to identify the specific temporary work visa category that corresponds to your situation (e.g., H-1B, L-1, TN, etc.).
- Employer Petition: For most temporary work visas, the U.S. employer must file a petition on behalf of the prospective employee with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The employer typically submits Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, along with supporting documentation.
- Approval of Petition: USCIS reviews the petition and, if approved, issues a Notice of Approval (Form I-797) to the employer. After that, the employer provides the employee with a copy of the approval notice.
- Consular Processing (if applicable): If you are outside the U.S., you may need to apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate. This process involves submitting additional forms, scheduling an interview, and providing required documentation. However, if you are already in the U.S. and applying for a change of status, you may skip this step.
- Completing the Visa Application Form: Complete the required visa application form (e.g., DS-160 for most nonimmigrant visas). You will have to pay the nonrefundable visa application fee.
- Scheduling an Interview: Schedule a visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate. Also, endeavour to provide the necessary documents including the petition approval notice, passport, visa application form, passport-sized photos, and any other documents specific to the visa category.
Steps for Permanent Work Visa Applications USA
Like with the temporary one, the process of permanent work visa applications USA varies depending on the category. Below are general steps you may take for any of the categories.
- Determine Eligibility: Identify the appropriate employment-based immigrant visa category based on your qualifications and the nature of the job.
- Labour Certification (PERM) Process: For many employment-based green cards, the employer must obtain a labour certification (PERM) from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). This process involves demonstrating that there are no qualified U.S. workers available for the position.
- File Immigrant Petition: The U.S. employer (or the individual in certain cases) must file an immigrant petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The form used depends on the category (e.g., Form I-140 for most employment-based categories).
- Wait for an Immigrant Visa Number: Wait for an immigrant visa number to become available. Employment-based immigrant visas are subject to numerical limitations, and availability is determined by the visa bulletin published monthly by the U.S. Department of State.
- Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing: Once a visa number is available, the applicant can either file for adjustment of status if already in the U.S. or go through consular processing if outside the U.S.
- Attend Interview: If required, attend an in-person interview with USCIS to discuss the work visa applications USA. You may also have a biometrics appointment to provide fingerprints, photographs, and other biographic information.
General Documents for Work Visa Applications USA
No matter the type of work visa you are going for, there are general immigration legal requirements that you must have. You can find some of them below, However, keep in mind that this is a general list, and the specific documents required may vary based on the type of work visa and individual circumstances.
- Visa application form (varies by visa category)
- Passport-sized photos
- Form DS-160 (for most nonimmigrant visas)
- Form I-797 (Notice of Approval, if applicable)
- Employment offer letter
- Educational and professional qualifications documentation
- Proof of financial ability to support yourself during the stay
- Medical examination results
- Police clearance certificate
- Proof of ties to home country (e.g., property ownership, family relationships)
- I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (if already in the U.S.)
- Additional documents specific to the visa category (e.g., Labor Condition Application, Petition Approval Notice)
Pursuing a work visa in the U.S. is a journey that can completely transform your life. However, there is a need for you to understand the various visa categories, and adhere to evolving immigration policies. As the U.S. remains a beacon for talent from across the globe, navigating work visa applications USA can be challenging. Nonetheless, this guide provides you with the information you need to get started as you journey towards your goals.