US Work Visas – Employee Guide
There are 5 main ways an individual can obtain residency and work authorization in the United States:
Sponsorship by an Employer
Sponsorship by a close Family Member in the United States
The Diversity Visa Lottery Program
Asylum & Refugee Status
Workpermit.com can help you with the first 4 items from the above list.
The main types of temporary US work visas are the H1B, the L-1 and the E.
Lawful Permanent Residence –The 'Green Card'
For many people, obtaining a 'Green Card' is a significant personal goal. The technical term is 'lawful permanent residence', and the visa is no longer green, but we are happy to use the near-universally accepted term 'Green Card'.
The sad news is that it will generally take several years to obtain a green card, so your employer will probably want to use a temporary ('non-immigrant') visa to get you to the US; once you are there you can embark on the longer project of getting your 'Green Card'
For details on Gaining a Green Card through employment please see our Employment Based Immigration Visas section.
Can I be a freelance contractor in the US?
Being a professional freelance contractor, in the way that IT professionals have been able to in Australia, the UK (pre IR35), and in much of Continental Europe, is not an option in the US.
This restriction is not linked to visa requirements. Indeed, agencies are able to sponsor visas,. However, in the US people do not normally act through personal service companies, because laws force them to be the direct employees of the agency.
H1-B Speciality Occupation Visas
This is a visa for people coming to the USA to work for a US employer in a professional-level position. Valid for 3 years initially, can be extended to 6.
The candidate must have a US job offer in a speciality occupation, and must meet at least one of the following criteria:
Have completed a US bachelor's or higher degree required by the specific specialty occupation from an accredited college or university.
Hold a foreign degree that is the equivalent to a U.S. bachelor's or higher degree in the specialty occupation.
Hold an unrestricted state license, registration, or certification which authorizes you to fully practice the specialty occupation and be engaged in that specialty in the state of intended employment.
Have education, training, or experience in the specialty that is equivalent to the completion of such a degree, and have recognition of expertise in the specialty through progressively responsible positions directly related to the specialty.
NB If you wish to practice a profession such as law, medicine, or accountancy, etc, you will also need to obtain the relevant State or Federal licence to practice in the place of intended employment.
If you would like to find out about the H1-B visa please see our dedicated H1-B visa page.
L-1 Intra-Company Transfer Visas
The L-1 visa is used to transfer workers from a related foreign company to a US parent, affiliate, subsidiary or branch office. There are two types of L-1 visas:
The L-1A for Executive/Managerial staff
The L-1B for Specialist Knowledge staff
L-1 visas are issued for an initial 1 or 3 years. L-1A visas can be extended to a maximum of 7 years, while L-1B visas can be extended to a maximum of 5 years
You must have worked for the transferring employer outside US for at least one year in the last three.
If you are a manager/executive, you must be going to manage a major subdivision or function of your employer's US operation.
If you are a specialized knowledge worker, you must have in-depth experience of your employer's particular products, processes, procedures and/or practices.
If you would like to find out about the L1 visa please see our dedicated L-1 visa page.
E Treaty Trader or Treaty Investor Visas
These are visas for the employees of companies registered as Treaty Traders or Treaty Investors (i.e. those which undertake substantial trade with, or have made substantial investment in, the USA.)
E visas are now generally issued for an initial period of up to 2 years; they can be renewed indefinitely.
E-1 Treaty Trader For businesses and individuals engaged in substantial international trade between the US and the treaty investor country. The volume of trade must be sufficient to justify the trader or his/her employee being in the United States to manage the trade, and must constitute the majority of the trader's international trade.
E-2 Treaty Investor For those who have made a significant investment in a US business in which the investor has at least a 50% ownership. The investment must be sufficient to justify the investor or his/her employees being in the United States, and must be in an active US business - not simply in stocks or property.
If you would like to find out about E Visas visa please see our dedicated E Treaty Visas page.
E-3 Visa for Australians
These visas allow certain Australian professionals to enter the US in order to work in certain 'specialty occupations'.
E visas are generally issued for an initial period of up to 2 years; they can be renewed indefinitely. A specialty occupation is one that requires a body of knowledge in a professional field, and at least a bachelor's degree or its equivalent, as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States. For Australians interested in the E3 visa, the process is actually quite similar to the H1B visa. You must first find a job with a company who will then sponsor your visa. There are 10,500 E-3 visas available per year.
Spouses of an E-3 visa holder are permitted to come to the US and work also. A spouse's employment may be in a position other than a specialty occupation.
If you would like to find out about E-3 Visas visa please see our dedicated E-3 Visa page.
Exchange visas can be obtained for 18 months through approved J visa programs. The aim of this program is to foster international relations by bringing exchange visitors into the US to acquire skills that can be utilized in their home country. These programs need to be designated by the United States Information Agency. If you wish to work for a short period of time, the easiest method may be on a J-1 exchange visitor visa. However if you wish to apply for a more permanent non-immigrant visa at a later date or permanent residence, depending on the scheme, there may be problems as there is a two-year home residency requirement after the J visa program is complete.
Workpermit.com can help with applications for the Trainee & Intern, the Au Pair, and the Summer Work/ Travel categories which are part of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program in the Private Sector. For more information please see our dedicated J Visas page.
TN-1 Visas for Canadians
Canadians can often gain entry to the US with greater ease than others; this preferential treatment for Canadians is linked to treaty provisions within the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). While there are many NAFTA related visas, the most useful one is the TN1. The TN1 visa was modeled on the H1B; it may only be used where the employer is based in the US, and the candidate is a professional in one of the categories listed on below. Where a candidate, by their profession and nationality, qualifies for the TN1 visa, it has the following advantages over the H1B:
It is granted for one year, but can continue to be renewed indefinitely.
It can be applied for at the border with the US, and is usually granted immediately.
The documentary requirements and procedure is far less burdensome than the H1B visa.
If you would like to find out about TN-1 Visas visa please see our dedicated TN-1 Visa page.
What about my spouse and children?
Dependants of personnel with US work visas are not generally allowed to work in the US, unless they can qualify for a US work visa in their own right, and can find a US employer to sponsor them. Though these rules vary depending on which type of work visa is held. Dependants can, however, engage in study in the US. The dependants of a US work visa holder obtain their derivative visas at the same time as the main visa holder.
Further information, help, and advice
Workpermit.com's team of specialists has over 25 years of experience in immigration services, and have helped thousands of people to study and work in the US. All applications for US visas are dealt with in-house by a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).