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What Is a Work Visa?

A United States work visa is an employment-based visa that allows foreign nationals to enter and stay in the United States while working legally. These visas are not permanent, and the duration a person is allowed to remain in the United States depends on the type of visa they are issued.

To obtain a work visa, a prospective US employer must first file a petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Once USCIS approves the petition, the potential employee may apply for a work visa.

To be eligible and approved for a work visa, a foreign national must meet all requirements mandated by USCIS, submit a visa application and supporting documents, and undergo an in-person interview. This process takes place in the potential employee's home country. Once approved, the employee is permitted to enter the United States and begin working.

For more information about temporary worker visas, click here.

How a Work Visa Works

Work visas are for people who want to legally enter the United States for temporary employment. The duration of employment will be determined by the employer and the type of visa that is issued.

There are various categories of temporary work visas that apply to different types of employees and occupations. Some of these categories include:

  • Specialty occupation
  • Free Trade Agreement professional
  • Agricultural worker
  • Non-agricultural worker
  • Trainee or special education visitor

Some of the visa categories require that an employer obtain labor certificates and approval from the Department of Labor before filing a petition with USCIS. It may be helpful for an employer considering hiring a foreign national to consult with an immigration lawyer to ensure they have met all requirements for a work visa.

Once a foreign national is granted a work visa and enters the United States, they must comply with all conditions of their employment and terms of the work visa. A non-immigrant who violates any conditions could have their visa revoked and denied re-entry to the United States.

Read this article for more information about how work visas work.

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How To Get a Work Visa – Step-by-Step

Obtaining a work visa can be a complicated process, and several steps must be completed before, during, and after the visa process.

Before Applying for a Visa

A foreign national and their potential employer must meet three requirements before even applying for a work visa. If they do not meet all three, the visa application can be denied.

  1. Job Offer. A foreign national who wishes to work in the United States temporarily must have first applied for and received an offer for a job in the United States.
  2. Petition by Employer. Once a foreign national has been offered a job, the potential employer must file a petition on their behalf. Employers must submit a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Work to the USCIS. Without an approved petition, a person cannot even begin the application process for a work visa. Even with an approved petition, a work visa is not guaranteed.
  3. Approval by the Department of Labor. The following work visas require that the employer receive a certificate from the DOL before submitting their petition:
    • H-1B
    • H-1B1
    • H-2A
    • H-2B

The certificate from the DOL proves that the employer needs foreign workers and is unable to fill the open position with a worker from the United States.

Visa Application Process

After fulfilling the above requirements and receiving an approved petition from USCIS, the foreign national can begin the visa application process. The applicant must follow the following steps:

  1. Visa Application: The applicant must complete Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. All the information entered must be truthful and accurate. While the application is available in different languages, all answers must be in English. Once this form is complete and submitted, the confirmation page must be printed.
  2. Schedule an Interview: After applying, the applicant is required to schedule an interview at a US Embassy in the country where they live. Applicants must have their approved petition receipt number to schedule the interview. Wait times for an appointment vary by country.
  3. Prepare for the Interview: Preparation is essential to ensure a successful interview. Applicants must pay the non-refundable visa application fee before the interview. They must also gather all required documentation to bring to the interview. Depending on the applicant's home country, they mare require additional documentation. Applicants should check the embassy or consulate website to make sure they have all necessary documents. Required documents include:
    • Valid passport
    • Nonimmigrant Visa Application confirmation page
    • Application fee payment receipt
    • Passport photo that meets guidelines
    • Approved petition receipt number
  4. Attend the Interview: At the interview, the applicant will meet with a consulate officer. The officer will review the application and ask the applicant a series of questions. It is crucial to be honest, and thorough in answering these questions. Officers are trained to detect deception and will deny a visa if they feel the applicant is dishonest.

Applicants must prove that they have compelling ties to their home country and plan on returning after the duration of the temporary US visa. These ties can include:

  • Owning a residence in their home country that they plan to return to
  • Family relationships and strong ties to their home country
  • Economic situation
  • Long term plans

At this interview, the applicant's fingerprints will be taken, and if the visa is approved, the applicant can pay a visa insurance fee.

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Types of Work Visas

There are several types of work visas in various categories. The type and purpose of work of the foreign national will determine what visa is appropriate.

  • H-1B Visa: Peron in Specialty Occupation. The H-1B visa requires a college degree or equivalent and expertise in a professional or academic field.
  • H-1B1 Visa: Free Trade Agreement Professional. H-1B1 visas are only for citizens of Chile and Singapore. They have similar requirements to an H-1B visa.
  • H-2A Visa: Temporary Agricultural Worker. This allows a person to work as a temporary or seasonal agricultural worker.
  • H-2B Visa: Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker. This visa is the same as the H-2A; however, the temporary worker can be employed in any industry, not just in agriculture.
  • H-3 Visa: Trainee or Special Education Visitor. An H-3 Visa is for people who want to receive training and education in the United States that is not available in their own country. This often includes training programs for educating children with disabilities. Even though the foreign nationals will be receiving education and training in the US, they will be pursuing their career outside of the US.
  • I Visa: Representatives of Foreign Media . An I Visa is for foreign media workers, including reporters and film crews. This visa will allow them to work in the US, usually for an indefinite period if they work for the same company.
  • L-1 Visa: Intracompany Transferee . When a company has locations in different countries, they can use an L1 Visa to transfer employees to locations abroad. The employee must remain employed by the same company.
  • O-1 Visa: Visa for Persons with Extraordinary Abilities . The O-1 visa is for a foreign national who shows expert knowledge in science , business , education , athletics , or art . They are often internationally recognized for their work.
  • P Visas: Performance Visas. P Visas include P-1A, P-2, and P-3 visas and are for athletes, musicians, or artists to enter the United States to perform.
  • R-1 Visa: Temporary Nonimmigrant Religious Workers . This visa is for individuals coming to the US to work with a religious organization.

Click here if you would like more information about the different types of temporary employment visas.

How Long Do Work Visas Last?

A non-immigrant work visa duration depends on which visa is granted and the employer's hiring contract. H-1B visas, for example, can be valid for up to six years . The duration of an H-2A or an H-2B visa may vary depending on the labor certification but initially cannot be longer than one year. After the first year, extensions are available but cannot exceed three years.

For those holding performance-based visas like an O-1 Visa, P Visa, or R-1 Visa, the duration is usually defined as the time necessary to accomplish the event or performance . These visas are all eligible for extensions; however, the O-1 visa is the only visa without a maximum time limit.

Suppose you are unsure about how long your visa is valid. In that case, you can consult with an immigration attorney to make sure you are in compliance with your visa conditions and find out if you are eligible for a visa extension.

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