US visas overview
Many types of work visas allow non-citizens to work in the United States. Some allow you to work for a temporary period of time, and others provide a path to permanent residence. Find out if you are eligible for a temporary or permanent work visa.
What do I need to start working in the US?
As a noncitizen, you may work in the US if you have either a temporary work visa or a permanent work visa. You may also work in the US if you are a foreign student, a refugee who has been granted asylum, or a lawful permanent resident.
What are temporary work visas?
Temporary work visas, also called non-immigrant work visas, allow you to work in the United States for a specified period of time. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides numerous types of temporary visas, including visas for:
- Employees whose employer wishes to transfer them to work in the US
- People from specified countries who wish to engage in international trade
- Individuals with specialized skills, occupations, or extraordinary abilities
- Trainees in special educational programs
- Special religious workers
Common types of temporary work visas include H1-B visas, L-1A visas, L-1B visas, and J-1 visas.
H1-B specialty occupation visas
Though there are three types of H1-B visas, the H1-B1 visa is the most common. It allows non-citizens with bachelor’s degrees or higher to accept job offers in the United States. If you hold a foreign degree, it must be the equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree or higher. For this type of visa, the job that you wish to pursue must relate to the degree that you have. Your employer must petition for you by filing forms ETA-9035 and I-129.
L-1A and L1-B intracompany transferee visas
L-1A non-immigrant visas allow US employers to transfer executives or managers from a foreign office to an employer’s US office. It also allows a foreign company that does not yet have a US office to send an executive or a manager to the United States in order to establish one. L1-B visas enable US employers to transfer employees with specialized skills in a similar manner as L1-A visas. For either visa, the employer must file form I-129 on behalf of the employee.
J-1 exchange visitors visa
J-1 visas allow non-citizens to attend approved exchange programs to study education, arts, and science. Exchange visitors may include professors, scholars, research assistants, students, trainees, teachers, specialists, nannies, and camp counselors.
If you would like to work based on a J-1 visa, you must submit form DS-2019 with the Department of State, and your employer or school must sponsor you. If you are granted a J-1 visa, your spouse and children are also allowed to work in the US.
What are permanent work visas?
If you wish to immigrate to the US rather than work temporarily, consider applying for a permanent work visa, also called an immigrant work visa. Because the US only approves 140,000 immigrant work visas per year, the 5 types of permanent visas are organized into 5 preference categories.
- EB-1 visas allow highly trained people of “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics to immigrate based on their professional success.
- EB-2 visas provide work visas for those who hold advanced degrees or have exceptional abilities in the arts, sciences, or business.
- EB-3 visas are for professionals, skilled workers, and other workers.
- EB-4 visas are reserved for “special immigrants,” including some religious workers, retired employees of international organizations, and minors who are wards of courts.
- EB-5 visas allow business investors to invest $1 million in a new commercial enterprise that employs at least 10 full-time employees.
How do I know if I am eligible to work in the United States?
Eligibility is determined by your education, skills, and goals. An immigration attorney who specializes in employment issues will help you choose which visa to apply for, and can even help you complete and file your application.
The United States has several dozen different types of visas, and processes millions of applications annually. However, most people enter on a small handful of the overall available visa types. Some of the most common include the B1 business visa and the B2 tourist visa (often issued together as a B1/B2), the F-1 student visa, the H-1B specialty occupation visa, the H-4 dependent visa, the J-1 exchange visa, and the K-1 fiancee visa.
Each of these visa types has their own requirements. You can learn more about them in the table below. However, because immigration law is constantly changing, it's always a good idea to consult an immigration lawyer before filing an application.
|Purpose||Length of stay||Application||Key requirements|
|B1/B2 Visa||Tourism, visits, and business travel.||Up to 6 months.||Complete the online DS-160 application.||1) Evidence that your stay in the United States will be temporary.|
|F-1 Visa||Study in an academic or language-training program at a qualifying US college or university.||Until graduation or your last day as a student, plus a 60 day grace period.||Obtain an I-20 from your school, and complete the online DS-160 application.||1) Enrollment in an SEVP-approved school. 2) In an academic or language-training program (vocational programs do not qualify).|
|H-1B Visa||Employment in a specialty occupation.||Duration of employment relationship.||Your employer handles the application process.||1) Position in a specialty occupation. 2) Position related to your field of study. 3) Pay at or above the actual or prevailing wage. 4) Valid employment relationship. 5) Available at time of petition.|
|H-4 Visa||Family members of an H-1B worker.||Duration of the H-1B visa used as the basis for the H-4 visa.||Complete the online DS-160 application once the H-1B holder has received their I-797 notice of approval.||1) Spouse or child of an H-1, H-2, or H-3 visa holder.|
|J-1 Visa||Participation in an exchange visitor program.||Dependent on program. Ranges from 4 months to 7 years, plus a 30 day grace period.||Complete the DS-2019 form provided to you by your program's sponsor.||Varies by program.|
|K-1 Visa||Fiancee of a US citizen traveling to the US to marry that citizen.||90 days, during which marriage must occur.||US citizen completes the I-129F petition, then fiancee completes the DS-160 application.||1) US citizen petitioner. 2) Marrying within 90 days of fiancee's entrance. 3) Free to marry. 4) Has met fiancee in person at least once in the 2 years before application (with certain exceptions.)|
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