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How To Obtain a Work Visa in the United States

How To Obtain a Work Visa in the United States

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For many people living outside the United States, working in the US is the ultimate dream because of better living conditions and exponential opportunities. However, the process of obtaining a work visa can be strenuous and complicated. And so, in this article, we’ve put together important information one needs to be aware of when considering getting a US work visa.

What You Need to Know About the US Work Visa

First, it is important to understand the different circumstances under which an individual can work in the US. According to the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), individuals who wish to work in the US must have one of the following:

  • A Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)
  • An Employment Authorization Document (work permit), or
  • An employment-related visa (allows work for a particular employer)
  • Each of these documents has different application requirements depending on your specific circumstance and whether you are applying for temporary or permanent visas.

Temporary vs Permanent

To work in the US, you need to obtain either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for a permanent stay. Here is an explanation of each:

A Temporary Worker: Works in the US for a temporary period of time. Once in the States, this worker is restricted to employment and activity for which their visa was issued. Depending on their situation, this visa may be eligible for renewal.

Temporary Visitors for Business: This visa also requires the need to obtain a business visa (B-1) when traveling for business-related activity.

Student and Exchange Visitors: With these visas, people may be allowed to work under certain circumstances as part of their educational program. Students must submit an application and get approved by authorized officials at their school or university. For example, students studying at a university need permission from a Designated School Official (DSO) while exchange students need approval from their Responsible Officer (RO). Students can work part-time during their school years with Curriculum Practical Training (CPT) and work post-graduation with Optional Practical Training (OPT) opportunities.

Permanent Workers: Are authorized to live and work permanently in the States.

Different Types of Work Visas

Next, you need to consider the different types of work visas offered by the United States government to determine which you are eligible for.

H-1B: Person in Specialty Occupation This is a common work visa for those working in specialty occupations. A higher education degree is required.
H-1B1: Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Professional A post-secondary degree of least four years in the field of specialization is required.
H-2A: Temporary Agricultural Worker For agricultural work, temporary or seasonal. Limited to citizens of designated countries.
H-2B: Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker For non-agricultural work, temporary or seasonal. Limited to citizens of designated countries.
H-3: Trainee or Special Education Visitor Required in order to receive training, that is not graduate, medical, or academic, and provided the training is not available in the trainee’s home country.
L: Intracompany Transferee To transfer and work at a branch, parent, or affiliate of the current employer in a managerial or executive capacity, or for a position requiring specialized knowledge.
O: Individual with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement For persons with extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, motion picture, and television fields.
P-1: Internationally Recognized Athlete or Performer To perform at a specific athletic competition as an athlete or a member of an entertainment group. Requires an internationally recognized level of sustained performance.
P-2: Artist or Entertainer (Individual or Group) To perform through an exchange program between an organization in the United States and another country.
P-3: Artist or Entertainer (Individual or Group) To teach or perform under a cultural program focusing on a traditional ethnic, musical, folk, or artistic presentation.
Q-1: Participant in an International Cultural Exchange Program Required in order to teach or share information about the history, traditions, and culture of one’s home country through participation in a cultural exchange program.


Steps to Obtaining a Work Visa in the US

Step 1: Petition for nonimmigrant workers, Form I-129. An employer must submit Form I-129 on your behalf and this must be approved by USCIS before moving forward.

Step 2:Complete the online visa application. Once USCIS approves the Form I-129, you can apply for the visa. Start by completing the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-150. Upload your photo when completing the form. Then, print the application to bring to the interview.

Step 3:Schedule an interview. The interview will be scheduled at the US Embassy or Consulate in the country you reside in. Wait times vary based on location, season, and visa category.

Step 4: Prepare for the interview, pay the required application fee, and review instructions available on the website. L visa applicants may have to pay the Fraud Prevention and Detection fee and the Border Security Act fee.

Step 5: Gather the necessary documentation. Documents required are:

  • Passport valid for travel to the States
  • Confirmation page of Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160
  • Application fee payment receipt
  • Photo (bring a copy in case the photo fails to upload on the online application)
  • Receipt number (for your approved petition that appears on your Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129)
  • L Visa Applicants (if included in an L blanket petition, bring Form I-129S)
  • Review instructions and required documents for your specific location

Step 6: Attend the visa interview ― where a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive the visa and which category is appropriate for your purpose of travel. Digital fingerprint scans will also be taken.

After the interview, the application may require further administrative processing. Once approved, you will pay an issuance fee depending on nationality. Review visa processing time to learn how soon your passport with the new visa will be ready for pick-up or delivery.

Take Caution When Applying

As with every important step in your life, applying for a work visa in a different country is a big step that requires time and consideration. Make sure you understand the visa’s requirements and eligibility to ensure you make no mistake. Lastly, consult governmental websites and immigration lawyers for more information.

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