Work Visa Options for Foreigners Coming to the United States
From college kids planning to spend a semester working at a ski lodge to investors looking to flip a business and obtain a Green Card, there is no one typical profile of someone in search of a work visa for the United States. The United States has long been the dream destination of entrepreneurs, educators, entertainers, and employment seekers. As such, there’s a long list of work visa options. Some are relatively easy to obtain. And some are more obscure and complex. Regardless of which visa is right for you and your circumstances, know that thorough organization and sound legal advice are needed to facilitate the application process. These are some of the most popular non-immigration and immigration focused visa types for foreigners looking to work in the United States.
How Much Does a Work Visa Cost?
There are several important considerations before you apply for a US work visa. The first is the cost. US visa applications start at $160 and there is no refund if you aren’t successful. This is really just the cost of assessing your application, not issuing a visa itself. In fact, for some visas, there is an additional fee you must pay if your visa application is indeed successful. This is sometimes called a ‘reciprocal’ fee. If your home country charges a visa, the United States will as well.
That’s just the beginning! Several visas come with additional fees. For instance, L-visa applications must pay a $500 fraud prevention and detection fee. And J-1 visa applicants must pay for a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee ranging from $180-$350.
Of course, many visa applications will require you to gather legal documents and even get legal assistance before you apply. This could range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.
How Long Does it Take to Get a US Work Visa?
The processing time for US work visas can vary dramatically. In general, temporary or non-immigration visa applications can take several weeks to several months to be processed. However, immigration visas can take months to years to be approved. In some cases, such as the O-1 visa, you can expedite the process by paying a fast-track fee.
All visa application forms, plus additional visa information, can be found here on the US visa government website.
B-1 Visa (Temporary Business Visitor)
The B-1 visa allows visitors to enter the United States to conduct business transactions. It’s designed to serve people from countries that don’t have a visa waiver policy. Under the terms of a B-1 visa, you are permitted to negotiate contracts, settle estates, and attend conferences, business meetings, and professional events. However, the focus is on business, not employment. Therefore, you aren’t allowed to work in the traditional sense of earning income as an employee. There is no limit to the number of times you can apply for a B-1 visa. Note that this is different from the B-2 visa, which is designed for tourism purposes.
H-2B Visa (Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker)
H-2B visas are generally used for jobs that are temporary, but not agricultural in nature. The H-2B visas permit employers to hire temporary foreign workers to perform non-agricultural work on a seasonal, peak load, and intermittent basis. Common examples include jobs at ski lodges, hotels, beach resorts, or amusement parks. There is a cap of 66,000 H-2B visas issued each year.
H-2A Visa (Temporary Agricultural Worker)
The H-2A visa program is designed for seasonal or temporary work in the agricultural sector. These visas are limited to a three-year term. As well, recipients must originate from a select list of countries.
H-1B Visa (Temporary Worker With University Degree)
The H-1B is a temporary work visa for individuals with university degrees. This program can help bright young students get their start in the American workforce. There are approximately 65,000 visas available for people with bachelor’s degrees. And there are 20,000 more available for people with a masters degree from an American university.
To obtain an H-1B, you must have an offer of employment from a U.S. employer. The employer makes the application on behalf of the employee. Your proposed position must be a specialty occupation, one which demands a bachelor’s degree or higher. The H-1B program is really focused on larger, more established companies. If you’re working for a startup, they have to be a legally operating business in the United States. The H-1B visa lasts for five years and can be renewed up to six times.
L-1 Visa (Intracompany Worker)
The L-1 visa is designed for employees that work for international companies with offices in the United States. For instance, an employee of a French firm can use the L-1 visa program to work at the firm’s subsidiary in the United States. It can range from 3 months to 5 years depending on the foreign country in question. However, even with extensions, it cannot be renewed past 7 years total. The L-1 visa also allows an accompanying spouse to apply for a work visa.
O-1 Visa (Individuals With Extraordinary Ability or Achievement)
The O-1 visa is a unique and challenging one. It’s designed to help foreigners with extraordinary abilities in the fields of arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics to work in the United States. Past O-1 recipients have included Nobel prize winners, Oscar recipients, and Olympic medalists. More than 60% of recipients traditionally move to California or New York, reinforcing the belief that this visa is for celebrities and superstars.
However, you don’t need to be a household name to apply. An estimated 83,000 O-1 visas were issues in 2014. While the criteria is vague, it helps that the applicants to have supporting documentation indicating their expertise in their field, their unique skills and abilities, and the acclaim, recognition, and honors they have received. Note that there is a similar visa, the EB-1, also known as the “extraordinary ability green card”. This visa has similar requirements but is designed with permanent residency in mind.
J-1 Visa (Trainees/Exchange Students)
The J-1 visa, also known as the trainee visa, is designed for people who want to come to the United States to train as opposed to work. It applies to individuals accepted into an accredited program for the purposes of teaching, instructing, lecturing, studying, conducting researching, consulting, or receiving training. It’s not the ideal visa program for those looking to work. However, it’s an excellent option for those looking to gain valuable experience in the workforce.
EB-1 Visa (Employment-Based Visa)
For people moving to the US to work on a permanent basis, the E visa category is the most common choice. With these visas, you can apply for a ‘Green Card’, also known as a Legal Permanent Residence (LPR) card. Common employment-based visas include the EB-1, available to priority workers with exceptional knowledge in the sciences, arts, education, business, and athletics (similar to the O-1 non-resident visa). It also includes outstanding professors and researchers. And it extends to some executives and managers of foreign companies.
EB-2, and EB-3 Visas (Employment-Based Visas For Skilled Workers)
The EB-2 visa is available for workers with a master’s or bachelor’s degree and five years of post-bachelors work experience. The focus here is on advanced degrees and exceptional abilities that are sought by employers. This is different from the E-2 visa, which is a non-immigration based visa popular with entrepreneurs.
Finally, the EB-3 visa is available to skilled workers or professionals with a bachelor’s degree who are filling a role that requires a college degree.
EB-5 Visa (Investor)
Not everyone who wants to do business in the United States has to use a form of work visa. There are also possible options for what’s known as financier visas. These are programs for investors who want to explore and expand investment opportunities.
The most common one is the EB-5 visa program, which is known as a green card program. It allows the entrepreneur (and their family) to apply for permanent residency status. It doesn’t come cheap. It’s known as the “citizenship by investment” visa. It requires an investment of $500,000 to $1,000,000 to create a new business, grow a business, or turn around a failing business and generate at least 10 full-time jobs within two years. It’s obviously not right for everyone but it still remains an option for the lucky few.