Understanding the Process for Obtaining US Work Visas

U.S. work visas are crucial for anyone wishing to work legally in the United States. According to the US Department of Labor, foreign-born workers made up 15.9 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2011. There are as many nonimmigrant categories as there are letters in the alphabet. Some of these visa categories provide work authority, others do not. Each category has different requirements and conditions, so it is important to understand eligibility requirements before you apply, to determine if you are eligible. In most cases the employer “petitions” for the U.S. work visa for the employee. The exception is the F-1 student who is eligible for Optional Practical Training; and the J-1 and H-3 where work is only “incidental” to the training. Spouses of L-1A visas and E visas may apply for blanket work authority.

Types of Foreign Worker U.S. Work Visas:

  • Temporary (non-immigrant) worker – These visas are for people who seek admission to the U.S. on a non-permanent basis. Once in the U.S., the worker may only perform the job for which their non-immigrant visa was issued. Sample U.S. work visas of this type include H-1B specialty occupations, L-1A Company Transferees; R-1 temporary religious workers, and E-1/2 treaty investors and traders.
  • Students and exchange visitors – Some students and exchange visitors are allowed to work in the U.S. This permission must come from a Designed School Official (DSO) for students or a Responsible Officer (RO) for exchange visitors. Sample visa categories include ‘F’ academic visas, ‘M’ vocational visas, and ‘J’ exchange visitor visas.
  • Permanent (immigrant) visa – Once someone attains lawful permanent resident status, they no longer need a U.S. work permit. Keep in mind that an Immigrant visa is synonymous with “lawful permanent resident status” and “Green Card”.

General Application Process

Remember that the petition process will vary depending on which visa category you apply for. Before a prospective employer files a US work visas are crucial for anyone wishing to work legally in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, foreign-born workers made up 15.9 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2011. petition on your behalf, or before you make an application for any U.S. work visas, confirm that you are eligible and have the correct paperwork. Review the required paperwork for each specific petition. Different forms apply to different visa categories. For example, the I-129 applies to the H, L, O and P categories, but different forms apply for the R-1 and J-1.

Student and Exchange Workers -First, you must be accepted to an SEVP-certified school or program and receive a form I-20. Then you must pay a SEVIS I-901 fee. After the fee is paid and a receipt is issued, you can go to any American embassy or consulate outside of the U.S. to apply for your U.S. work visa. Specific rules and requirements vary according to the embassy or consulate at which you apply.

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