Obtaining a US Work Visa: Types and Information
Interested in Obtaining a Work Visa?
Welcome! If you're looking for information on a US work visa or how to obtain one, you've come to the right place. While I'm not an immigration attorney, I have a lot of experience with visas. Also be sure to check out the comments for more valuable insight from others.
All around the world, people dream of having the opportunity to come to the United States. Many know that the jobs available in the US pay better and have better conditions than anything available to them at home. Since so many people are interested in visiting the United States, the rules have been getting more and more strict as to who can come in and why.
The Guest Worker Program
Because of the lack of available U.S. workers, the U.S. government has established the Guest Worker program. This program provides qualified individuals with work visas, allowing them the ability to live and work in the United States anywhere from three months to three years (and beyond, under certain conditions).
There are many different types of visas reserved for various jobs, lengths of stay, and countries of origin. The U.S. has over sixty types of non-immigrant visas alone. Maneuvering around and applying for these visas can be difficult, if not impossible for a single individual. More often than not, workers interested in acquiring a work visa have to apply for work with an international recruiter. Recruiters are usually able to offer them a position in a U.S. business, and can provide aid and advice in choosing a status and location.
Non-immigrant visas typically have a limit placed upon them as to how many applicants can receive the status. With H-2B and H-1B visas, the cap is 66,000 individuals per year. The cap is divided into two periods of 33,000 applicants per period.
It is notoriously difficult to get these types of visas, unless the applicant is able to apply as soon as the opportunity to do so arises. Applicants that wait to 30 days prior to the opening of the cap often miss out on the chance to be approved to hire nonimmigrant workers.
Available Types of Visas
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) typically grants two types of visas:
- Immigrant. These are permanent. Get an immigrant visa, and you're able to stay for good.
- Non-immigrant. This second type of visa is temporary—either on a temporary, seasonal, annual, or three-year basis.
All Family and Employment-Based (EB) visas are immigrant visas while most business visas and other non-employment (non-EB) visas are considered non-immigrant visas. Every type of visa is assigned a letter (designating the type of visa) and a number (designating the subclass).
Employment Immigrant Visas
- EB-1. Reserved for Priority Workers. For foreign nationals of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.
- EB-2. Reserved for professionals with advanced degrees or persons with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business.
- EB-3. Reserved for "Skilled" or "Professional Workers," defined as: foreign national professionals with bachelor's degrees not qualifying for a higher preference category; skilled workers with two years training; and experience and unskilled workers. In almost all cases, a job offer and labour certification are required. More recently the introduction of Programmed Electronic Review Management (PERM) is making the application process more complicated but is cutting waiting times significantly.
- EB-4. Special Immigrants. Reserved for religious workers, employees and former employees of the US government abroad.
Business visas are all about how much money you are willing to invest in the United States. In some cases, $100,000 or less could give you the chance to become a resident of the United States via an E-1 or E-2 visa.
Immigrant Business Visas
- EB-5. Immigrant Investor visa. Reserved for those who set-up a business in the States with a minimum investment figure of at least $500,000. The business must create or stimulate the employment of US nationals in an area designated as a Regional Center, or one million elsewhere. The EB-5 is the only business visa that provides immediate permanent residency to the applicant, his or her spouse and any children under 21. Often the EB-5 designation is presented as a 'retirement' visa, but it is, in fact, a 'passive' investment visa (meaning you do not have to actively participate in the business).
Non-immigrant Business Visas
- E Treaty Traders and Investors. A Treaty Trader is an individual from a country with which the US has a trade treaty.
- E-1. Treaty Trader. Reserved for those carrying out a trade of an international nature. Typically granted to those doing business on their own behalf, but also allowed for individuals doing business as the employee of a foreign business.
- E-2. Treaty Investor. The E-2 is for those who invest a 'substantial' amount of capital in a US enterprise that they are seeking to develop. This designation is often popular with business-oriented individuals from the British Isles. Renewals, which are typically granted for three years, can be gained should the business continue to meet the requirements. Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age can accompany the primary beneficiaries.
- B-1. Temporary Business Visitor. This designation permits temporary residence in the US for a specific, limited period. During this period, beneficiaries cannot normally take 'gainful employment', receive a salary from a US source or participate as a professional in entertainment or sporting events (where there is a cash prize or other economic incentive). B-1 visas are often granted to those travelling to the United States for a period between 2 weeks to 6 months, for the purposes of signing trade agreements or attending conventions related to their primary business.
- B-2. Reserved for those who don't qualify for any of the above. The B-2 designation is often referred to as the "Holiday Visa." It permits a stay of up to six months in the US. An interview with a consular officer is required to obtain a B-2 visa, and it is unlawful to engage in any work in the United States while under this status. As of late, residents of certain countries have been receiving authorizations for up to 5-10 years. However, they are only permitted to remain in the United States for up to six months (unless they specifically petition otherwise).
- F-1. Student visa. Reserved for individuals between the ages of 18 and 55. Permits a stay of up to seven years, provided the beneficiary remains enrolled in a U.S. college or University throughout the duration of his/her stay.
- J-1 Exchange program visa. This designation is popular with students from countries around the world. Typically reserved for the "summer season" (for Northern Hemisphere countries) and "winter season" (Southern Hemisphere countries).
US citizens can sponsor relatives to gain permanent residency in America, but they have to be defined as "immediate family." If you are eligible, however, don't expect to be able to leave in a hurry. This process can take a number of years, and is usually quite cumbersome. There are four types of Family visas, all subject to annual quotas.
- F-1. Reserved for Unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens who are over 21 years of age. Also allocated towards Exchange Students studying in U.S. universities. The processing period is one to five years.
- F-2A. Reserved for Spouses and unmarried children under 21 of a US permanent resident. The processing period is one to five years.
- F-2B. Reserved for Unmarried sons and daughters over 21 of a US permanent resident. The processing period is one to seven years.
- F-3. Reserved for Married sons and daughter of US citizens. The processing period is typically one to five years.
- F-4 Reserved for Biological siblings of US citizens. Processing period tends to be five to seven years.
- H-1B. Speciality Worker. Reserved for professions in which specific labour shortages are experienced in specialised industries. Qualifications for the via include college education and extraordinary ability.
- H-2A. Reserved for temporary and seasonal agriculture workers. This program supplements the needs of farms, greenhouses, and other agriculturally-oriented businesses throughout the United States. There is no cap on this visa status, but the requirements placed upon the employers are very strict.
- H-2B. Reserved for temporary and seasonal unskilled NonImmigrant workers. This visa is typically sought by employers and workers in the Hospitality, Tourism, Construction, Landscaping, and other unskilled industries.
- Other H-class visas. Reserved for nurses working in health professional shortage areas, trainees in various industries, truck drivers, and other such professions.
- Intracompany Transfers. Employees of foreign companies with parent companies, branches or subsidiaries in the US are able to work in the United States under the L Intracompany Transferee visa designation.
- L-1A. Reserved for executive or managerial roles. Also used by UK business owners to transfer to a US branch of their company.
- L-1B. This status covers specialised skills and knowledge.
- L-2. Reserved for the spouses and children of recipients of L-1A and L-1B visas (spouses are able to work on the L-2 visa).
Recommended Work Visa: the H-2B
The H2B work visa is a status that is designated for individuals:
- Who will be employed in non-agricultural positions that are either seasonal, intermittent or that can be labelled a one time occurrence.
- Qualifying positions include those in the: hospitality, restaurant, tourism, landscaping, construction, and other unskilled worker categories.
Spouses and children of H2B visa holders may enter and remain in the US in H4 status. H4 visa holders may attend school in the US but are not legally allowed to be employed.
For whom is the H2B work visa appropriate?
- US. companies hiring foreign nationals to perform temporary work for which there are no US workers are available.
What are the requirements for obtaining an H2B Work Visa?
- A worker that qualifies for the H-2B Worker program if they are a temporary/seasonal worker coming temporarily to the United States to perform temporary/seasonal services or labor.
- This worker must not displace U.S. workers capable of performing the job, and whose employment is not adversely affecting the wage and working conditions of U.S. workers.
- In all cases, even though the H-2B work visa can be issued for up to one year, it is assumed that the temporary need has a "clear beginning" and a "clear end" which will self-destruct in a year or less by a pre-arranged date when each non-immigrant worker must promptly return to a foreign shore.
- The temporary nature of needs lasting longer than 10 months are suspect and need to be adequately justified. H-2B workers do not qualify for temporary work unless the underlying job itself is temporary.
Remaining in the U.S. on an H-2B
Many H-2B workers, upon entering the country, are able to find employment throughout various employment seasons.
- For example, employers that typically need workers during the summer seasons do not have as many jobs open during winter months, and thus are not able to make full use of H-2B workers.
- Workers may then find another employer needing workers for winter and spring months, and continue their stay in the U.S. without being required to return to their home country.
- The cycle of continuously finding seasonal work can continue for up to three years, after which the non-immigrant worker must pursue a different status or return to their home.