How to Get a Work Visa

How to Get a Work Visa

by Roberta Codemo, September 2015

Under United States immigration law, foreign nationals must obtain a visa – an official permit – to legally enter and work in this country. There are different types of work visas. A nonimmigrant work visa is a temporary work visa lasting for a designated period of time. The process of how to get a work visa in the USA depends on the type of work visa USA applied for.

H1B Work Visa

The H1B work visa is one of the most popular nonimmigrant work visas USA and is a dual intent visa, which means visa holders can apply for a green card. If you don’t apply for permanent residency before your H1B work visa expires, however, you have to live outside this country for at least one year before reapplying for another H1B work visa.

Employers can hire foreign nationals to fill specialty occupations requiring a four year bachelor’s degree or higher when United States citizens or residents are not available. The foreign national must qualify for the job. Specialty occupations include:

  • Architecture
  • Business
  • Computer Science
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • IT
  • Law
  • Mathematics
  • Medicine and Health Care
  • Sales
  • Telecom

Employers submit an application to the Department of Labor before submitting a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, or Form I-129, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Prospective employees submit an application for a H1B work visa with the Department of State at a U.S. embassy or consulate once the petition is approved.

Only 85,000 H1B work visas are issued each fiscal year; 20,000 are restricted to individuals with a master’s degree or higher. H1B work visas are valid for up to six years.

The H1B1 work visa program allows employers to hire Chile and Singapore foreign nationals in specialty occupations. Employers don’t have to file a petition with USCIS. Only 6,800 H1B1 work visas USA are issued annually; 1,400 from Chile and 5,400 from Singapore.

B1 Visa

B1 visas are issued to travelers coming to the United States to engage in business activities including, but not limited, to:

  • Attending a business, educational, professional or scientific conference.
  • Consulting with business associates.
  • Negotiating a contract.
  • Settling an estate.

Business travelers may apply for a B1 visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their country of residency. Applications must include:

  • The purpose of the trip.
  • The intent to leave the United States after the trip.
  • The ability to pay for all expenses of the trip. 

B1 visas are valid for up to six months, and may be renewed for an additional six month period.

L1 Visa

Multi-national companies with offices in the United States can file a petition for an L1 visa to transfer managers and executives and foreign national employees with specialized knowledge to the United States from their overseas operations. There are two types of L1 Visas, L1A and L1B visas.

Managers/Executives (L1A Visa)

Managerial or executive staff should supervise professional employees and/or manage the company, or a key component, department, function or subdivision of the company. The L1A visa is valid for three-years and can be extended in two-year increments up to a maximum of seven years.

Specialized Knowledge Staff (L1B Visa)

Specialized knowledge staff has special knowledge of the company’s equipment, management, procedures, products, research, services, systems, techniques The L1B visa is valid for three-years and can be extended in two-year increments up to a maximum of five years.

An employee must have worked abroad for the company for one continuous year within a three year period prior to applying for a L1 visa. The U.S. company must be an affiliate, branch, parent company or subsidiary of the foreign company.

E1 Visa

A treaty trader – a foreign national traveling to the United States to engage in international trade from a country the United States maintains a trade treaty with – or their employees are eligible to apply for an E1 visa.

Trade is defined as the international exchange of items between the United States and the treaty country. Trade items include:

  • Goods
  • Insurance
  • International banking
  • Services
  • Technology
  • Tourism
  • Transportation

Employees must:

  • Be the same nationality as the employer.
  • Meet the prescribed legal definition of “employee.”
  • Engage in executive or supervisory duties, or have special qualifications.

If the foreign national is traveling from outside this country, they first apply for a visa and then seek admission as an E1 nonimmigrant; if the foreign national is currently in this country, they must file an I-129 to request a change of status to an E1 nonimmigrant. A treaty trader can file an I-129 on behalf of their employees already in this country to request a change of status to an E1 classification.

The E1 visa is valid for up to two years, and can be extended in two-year increments. If traveling abroad, the treaty trader or their employees are granted an automatic two-year period of readmission upon their return to the United States. E1 nonimmigrants must intend to leave this country when their status expires.

E2 Visa

A treaty investor – an individual traveling to the United States to invest a substantial amount of capital in a United States business from a country the United States maintains a trade treaty with – or their employees are eligible to apply for an E2 visa. The treaty investor must own at least 50 percent of the company or possess operation control through a managerial position. 

Employees must:

  • Be the same nationality as the employer.
  • Meet the prescribed legal definition of “employee.”
  • Engage in executive or supervisory duties, or have special qualifications.

If the foreign national is traveling from outside this country, they first apply for a visa and then seek admission as an E2 nonimmigrant; if the foreign national is currently in this country, they must file an I-129 to request a change of status to an E2 nonimmigrant. A treaty investor can file an I-129 on behalf of their employees already in this country to request a change of status to an E2 classification.

The E2 visa is valid for up to two years, and can be extended in two-year increments. If traveling abroad, the treaty investor or their employees are granted an automatic two-year period of readmission upon their return to the United States. E2 nonimmigrants must intend to leave this country when their status expires.

Note: Treaty investors who want to start their own business must first enter this country as a business visitor before applying for an E2 classification.

J-1 Visa

Individuals participating in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs are eligible to apply for a J-1 visa, or a working holiday visa. The U.S. State Department administers the program. There are 13 separate categories, and each has its own application requirements.

Persons apply to designated sponsoring organizations, who screen and select program participants. The sponsoring organization provides the necessary documentation to present at an U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a J-1 visa, and support and monitor program participants throughout their stay here.

An applicant must:

  • Pay for round-trip travel expenses.
  • Bring sufficient funds to cover living expenses.
  • Purchase mandatory health insurance.
  • Return home at the conclusion of their program.

In addition, summer work travel students must meet the following criteria:

  • English language proficiency.
  • Have completed one semester of post-secondary academic study.
  • Be pre-placed in a job.

J-1 visas are valid for four months, and program participants may apply more than once.

Foreign nationals are free to travel to the United States for employment with a valid U.S. work visa. The application process differs for each type of work visa and requires a thorough knowledge of each work visa’s requirements. If the proper paperwork is not submitted to the right agencies in the right order, the foreign national’s application may be denied. It’s important to understand immigration law to ensure your application is processed and your visa is approved. Once your working visa USA is approved, maintaining a lawful nonimmigrant status allows you to remain in this country. 

If you're ready to apply for a work visa, LegalZoom can help. Answer a few simple questions to get started. You'll receive a free work visa evaluation to determine proper visa classification and how long it could take to get your visa. If you decide to proceed, an independent law firm will handle your case.