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I Want to Work in the U.S. What are my Visa Options?

By December 14, 2021Immigration
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If you want to move and work in the U.S., this blog post will summarize your non-immigrant options. For most visas, you will need a company in the U.S. that will offer you a job before you apply for the visa, but there are some options mentioned in this blog where that is not needed.

H-1B Visa

H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that permits a U.S. company to hire workers in specialty occupations. H-1b visas are available for nationals of any country but one caveat is that there are only 85,000 new H-1B visas available each year (this is the limitation unless you will work for a cap-exempt employer). This means, that each year around March, USCIS runs an H-1B lottery in which it randomly selects 85,000 H-1B registrations (65,000 regular registrations and 20,000 spots are reserved for people who hold a U.S. Master’s Degree). You will need a U.S. company that will file the H-1B registration on your behalf (this is usually done in February or March each year) – you cannot submit the registration on your own behalf.

The H-1B requirements are as follows:

  • You generally have to have a U.S. Bachelor’s degree (or foreign equivalent), have an unrestricted license, or have progressively responsible experience in the specialty occupation (in almost all cases, the applicant qualifies through the education though, the other 2 options are very rare).
  • The job in the U.S. is a specialty occupation.
  • You have a job offer from a US employer and the employer is willing to sponsor you for the visa (the U.S. employer will have to pay the H-1B fees).
  • The employer will have to pay you a prevailing wage (standard wage for your particular profession in a particular geographic area).

H-1B visa is a dual intent visa, meaning that you can have a green card petition pending while you are in the U.S. on an H-1B visa (you can even renew your H-1B visa while the green card petition is pending). This is a great advantage of the H-1B visa.

The H-1b visa can be granted for up to 6 years, and can be granted for 3 years at a time.

E-3 Visa

E-3 visa  is a non-immigrant visa available for Australian nationals only. The requirements are very similar to the H-1B visa requirements, but the application process is much more simple, especially if you are applying for an E-3 visa at a U.S. Consulate. You will need a U.S. company that will sponsor you for the E-3 visa and you have to have a job offer (you cannot come to the U.S. on an E-3 visa to look for a job).

E-3 visa is not a dual intent visa and can be renewed indefinitely.

You can read more about the E-3 visa here.

TN Visa

TN visa is a non-immigrant work visa that is available for Canadian and Mexican nationals (you only need to hold passport from these countries, you don’t have to be born there). To qualify for a TN visa, you must:

  • Have an offer from the U.S. company
  • Your profession must be listed on the NAFTA list (many professions are listed such as a lawyer, architect, engineer, or pharmacist).
  • You must meet either have an education or relevant experience (as specified for each occupation on the NAFTA list)

One great advantage of TN visa is that if you are a Canadian, you don’t need to schedule an interview appointment at a U.S. Consulate, and you can just apply for the TN status at a port of entry. This has been a great advantage especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many of the Consulates were backlogged/temporarily closed. If you are a Mexican national, you will need to apply for the visa at a Consulate.

TN visa is not a dual intent visa. A big advantage of TN visa is that there is no limit as to how many times you can renew the visa – as long as you qualify and keep meeting the non-immigrant intent, the visa can be renewed.

You can read more about the TN visa here.

O-1 Visa

The O-1 visas are for individuals with an extraordinary ability in the field of science, education, business, athletics, or arts or for people who achieved an extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry. You can find the O-1A and O-1B criteria here but generally the O-1 visas are for people who are in the very top of their profession. You will need a U.S. company to sponsor you for this visa, but you can set up a U.S. entity and this entity can sponsor you for an O-1 visa.

You can read more about the O-1 visa here.

You can be granted the O-1 visa initially for 3 years, and then renew it either for one or three years – please see our blog post about O-1 renewals here.

O-1 visa is a dual intent visa.

L-1 Visa

L-1 visa permits a U.S. employer to transfer an employee with specialized knowledge relating to the organization’s interests or a manager/executive from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the United States. Therefore, this visa is reserved for people who worked for a certain company abroad, and who are now being transferred to the U.S.

To qualify for L-1 classification, the employer must:

  • Have a qualifying relationshipwith a foreign company (eg. Subsidiary, branch, etc.),
  • Currently be, or will be, doing business as an employer in the U.S. and in at least one other country directly for the duration of the beneficiary’s stay in the United States as an L-1,
  • The employee must have been working for the qualifying organization abroad for one continuous yearwithin the three years immediately preceding his or her admission to the United States; and
  • The employee is seeking to enter the US to provide service in an executive or managerial capacity or specialized knowledge capacity for a branch of the same employer or one of its qualifying organizations.

You can be granted an L-1A visa (manager/executive) for up to 7 years and an L-1B visa (specialized employee) for up to 5 years. L-1 visa is a dual intent visa.

You can read more about the L-1 visa here.

E-2 Visa

This is not the typical work visa, but we quickly wanted to mention the E-2 visa option. You don’t need a U.S. sponsor for the E-2 visa you will have to meet the following requirements:

  • Be a National of an E-2 visa treaty country
  • You want to buy an existing business or start your own business
  • You must invest a substantial amount of money in the U.S. business (this will depend on what type of business you are starting, but at minimum, you should invest at least 40,000 USD).
  • The business will have to hire US employees (at least 3 by year 5 of operations)
  • You will have to develop and direct the business
  • You must intend to come back to your home country once your visa expires

There is no limit how many times you can renew the E-2 visa and as long as you meet the requirements, you can renew it indefinitely. Please see more information about the E-2 visa here.

E-1 Visa

An E-1 visa is also not the typical work visa. E-1 visa is available for foreign nationals who wish to live in the U.S. based on international trade that exists between the U.S. and the Treaty Country.

You will need to meet the following criteria:

  • Be a National of an E-1 visa treaty country
  • There is a substantial trade of goods or services between the US and your home country
  • The trade is already existing and ongoing
  • The trade between the U.S. and your home country is at least 50% of the international trade

There is no limit how many times you can renew the E-1 visa and as long as you meet the requirements, you can renew it indefinitely. You can read more about the E-1 visa here.

There are the main non-immigrant visa options if you want to move and work in the U.S.

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