Who is eligible to work in the US?
All US citizens and permanent residents are eligible to work in the US without the need to apply for a work authorization document.
However, if a foreign citizen wants to enter the US for employment purposes, they must obtain an appropriate work visa. Most US work visas require having a job offer from a US-based employer who will act as the sponsor for the visa.
Some individuals are also on non-employment-based statuses and are permitted to work but they must first obtain a work permit. Examples are K-1 visa holders, individuals with temporary protected statuses, people with asylum seeker status, and F-1 students experiencing financial hardship.
Each US work visa category has its own set of requirements that applicants must meet. These requirements are usually set up by legislation and change from time to time. It is important to be conversant with the criteria of a visa before applying for it.
In addition, they involve a series of documentation and processes for employers and employees. You must follow the guidelines to improve your chances of approval to enter the US and undertake paid employment.
Permanent residence work visas
Some US work visas grant foreign nationals’ permanent resident status which allows them to stay and work in the US indefinitely. These are called employment-based permanent or immigrant visas. Individuals with such status are issued green cards and can work anywhere in the US.
The United States permanent resident status comes with several benefits and freedoms. A green card is usually issued with ten-year validity and can be renewed as many times as possible. It is also a smooth pathway to US citizenship.
As an employment-based green card holder, you can apply for citizenship by naturalization after five years of being on permanent resident status. There are also family-based green card categories for individuals who have qualifying relationships with US citizens and lawful permanent residents.
All employment-based green cards are issued in the chronological order, in which petitions were submitted. Once the annual limit for your categories is reached, you will need to stay in the waiting line until there is a visa available for you under that category.
Some categories have high backlogs which may keep applicants waiting for several years. After applying, you may need to regularly check the monthly visa bulletin to know your application status and when a visa would be available to you.
Employment-based green card categories
There are 5 major employment-based green cards for foreign nationals. Each has its own eligibility criteria. Some of them also have subcategories. You can apply for the one that best suits your skills, qualifications, and preference. They are:
First Preference EB-1: Priority Worker and Persons of Extraordinary Ability
This green card category is designed for professionals who can demonstrate special abilities in certain fields. It is sometimes reputed as the most prestigious US permanent work visa due to its high standard and requirements. Applicants must show a track record of notable awards or achievements in their field.
EB-1 green card has three subcategories, which are for:
- Persons with extraordinary ability (EB-1A)
- Outstanding professors and researchers (EB-1B)
- Certain multinational executives and managers (EB-1C)
Applicants who qualify for the EB-1A sub-group can file their own petition directly with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This means they don’t need a job offer or an employer to sponsor their green card application.
On the other hand, the EB-1B and EB-1C require an employment offer and the petition must be sponsored by a US-based employer.
Second Preference EB-2: Professionals with Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability
This is for applicants who hold an advanced degree or exceptional ability. Applicants must generally have a labor certification approved by the US Department of Labor (DOL). It also requires a job offer and the petition must be sponsored by a US employer. The EB-2 green card also has three subcategories, which are:
- Advanced degree
- Exceptional Ability
- National interest waiver (NIW)
Applicants seeking NIW don’t need labor certification or a job offer, and can also file their petition themselves with the USCIS.
Third Preference EB-3: Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers
As its title implies, the EB-3 green card also has three subcategories.
“Skilled workers” are individuals whose jobs require a minimum of two years of experience or training, not of seasonal or temporary nature. Applicants must meet the training, experience, or requirements of the job opportunity. USCIS may also consider relevant education as training.
“Professionals” are those whose jobs require a minimum of US baccalaureate of its foreign equivalent qualification and are a member of the professions.
The “other workers” subgroup is for individuals in unskilled labor that requires less than two years education, training, or experience.
All three subcategories generally require labor certification approved by the DOL and a job offer from a US employer. The petition must also be filed by the employer.
Fourth Preference EB-4: Certain Special Immigrants
This visa category is for religious workers, broadcasters, NATO-6 employees and family members, special immigrant juveniles, G-4 international organizations, and armed forces members. Other eligible candidates are US government international employees and some other eligible candidates. It does not require labor certification and applicants can file the petition themselves.
Fifth Preference EB-5: Immigrant Investors
This is a capital investment visa for foreign investors in new enterprises in the US. The investment must provide a certain number of jobs for US workers. The EB-5 visa has a minimum of $900,000 of $1.8 million, depending on the category an applicant is seeking.
If you qualify for the visa, you will first receive a conditional permanent resident status valid for two years. Within that period, you must demonstrate the fulfilment of certain EB-5 investment requirements. This will lead to unconditional permanent resident status with a green card valid for ten years.
Temporary work visas
If you wish to work in the US on a short-term basis only, there are various categories of temporary visas you can choose from. These are called nonimmigrant work visas and are issued for a limited period. Most of these visas are also renewable, but they usually have a stipulated maximum period you can stay in the US.
If you have reached the total allowed period you will have to depart the US, except you obtain another valid status. Foreign professionals who want to continue living in the US may adjust their temporary status to permanent, provided their visa category allows that.
Temporary work visa applicants are generally required to have a job offer from a US employer who will also sponsor their petition.
The following are some of the US temporary visas available to foreign nationals.
H-1B Visa: Person in Specialty Occupation
This is for individuals who possess a higher education degree, and/or have distinguished ability or merit in certain occupations.
H-1B: Free Trade Agreement for Professional for Nationals of Chile and Singapore
This is designed for Chilean and Singaporean professionals with four years of study in their area of specialization.
H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker
This is for applicants who wish to engage in temporary or seasonal agricultural work in the US. It is limited to nationals from certain countries.
This is also temporary or seasonal but in non-agricultural fields. It is also limited to certain countries.
This visa is for individuals seeking training that is not available in their home countries. It is open to various fields, other than graduate medicine or academic training or education.
This is available to foreign journalists or individuals in the media or information sector seeking to undertake some temporary assignment in the United States.
This allows an employee of a multinational organization to work in a US branch or office affiliated with that company.
P-1 Visa: Individual or Team Athlete or Entertainment Group Member
This category allows people to participate in entertainment or sporting events. P-1 visa holders can compete, perform and promote themselves while in the US.
P-2 Visa: Artist or Entertainer – Performance
This allows individuals to enter the US to perform as an entertainer or artist under a reciprocal exchange arrangement between a US-based organization and an organization in another country.
P-3 Visa: Artist or Entertainer – Performance, Teaching, or Coaching:
This is for individuals seeking to enter the US to teach, perform, or coach as entertainers or artists under a culturally unique program.
This allows individuals to enter the US to work in certain religious positions.
TN Visa: NAFTA Workers
It allows scientists, lawyers, teachers, and engineers from Canada to live in the United States on a temporary basis.
O-1 Visa: Persons with Extraordinary Ability:
This is for persons with high levels of expertise in the fields of education, science, business, art or athletics.
It is worth noting that each temporary work visa has its own specific eligibility criteria and application procedures that applicants must follow thoroughly.
How to apply for an employment-based green card
The application route will depend on the category you are applying for.
In most cases, your prospective employer (also known as sponsor or petitioner) must complete Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. They will submit the form to USCIS. They may also need to obtain a labor certification from the DOL. They usually need these to seek approval to employ foreign employees on a permanent basis.
If the I-140 petition is approved, the visa beneficiary (employee) can apply for a green card. They will do this by filing Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
The next steps may include attending a biometric appointment to have your photograph, fingerprints and signature captured.
You may receive an invitation for an immigration interview where you will receive a decision on your permanent residence application.
You may also be allowed to come to the US with your immediate relatives (spouse and children). After entering the US, they can apply for work authorization and permanent residence.
How to apply for temporary work visas
There is no single application route for temporary work visas as each has its own procedures.
However, in most cases, your employer will first file Form I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker with USCIS. If approved, you can then proceed with your visa application with a US embassy or consulate in your country of residence.
Some work visas, such as H-1B, H-2 require that your employer obtains a certification from the DOL. This certification is to demonstrate that there is a genuine need to employ a foreign worker and that the recruitment will not negatively affect US workers.
Your visa application must be submitted with all required documents. Though each visa has its own relevant documents, they all usually include the following.
- Valid passport (valid for at least 6 months following the end of your stay)
- Receipt number from your Form I-129 petition
- Receipt to prove that you have paid the application fee ($190)
- Evidence to show that you intend to depart the US following the end of your stay
There may be further documents required in your own case. It is best to work with an immigration expert who can guide you through each stage of the application process.
You will likely need to attend an immigration interview at the last stage of your application process. This is when an immigration officer will make the final decision on your case.
How IAS can help
While most US work visa application processes may look simple on paper, they can sometimes be complex in reality, especially for a non-immigration expert. There are several pitfalls that may lead to delay and denials. This is where we come in. We provide you with immigration assistance that meets your specific needs.
We have a team of US work visa immigration experts who will help you assess your eligibility for a visa category and guide you on how to obtain it timely.
If you want the guidance of an experienced immigration lawyer on your US visa application, we are ready to help you.
Our services include:
- Reviewing your contract or job offer to evaluate your eligibility for the role
- Assist your sponsor/petitioner in obtaining temporary labor certification
- Advise on the required supporting documents
- Liaise with your U.S. prospective employer throughout the process
- Assisting in filing your visa application to the highest standard
- Check the progress of the application and ensure you are kept informed of key deadlines and dates throughout the process
- Supporting you all through the application and ensuring you are given accurate information at all times
Comprehensive immigration advice tailored to your circumstances and goals.
Designed to make your visa application as smooth and stress-free as possible.
Fast Track Package
Premium application service that ensures your visa application is submitted to meet your deadline.
Ensure you have the greatest chance of a successful appeal. We will represent you in any case.
The Advice Package
With our untimed Advice Session, our professional immigration lawyers will review your case and provide you with comprehensive advice, completely tailored to your needs and your situation.
The Application Package
With our Application Package, your dedicated caseworker will advise you on your application process and eligibility. Your legal advisor will then complete and submit your forms to the Home Office on your behalf.
The Fast Track Package
Our Fast-Track Application Package is a premium service for those who need to submit their application in time with their deadlines. Your case will become a top priority for our lawyers and you will benefit from our highest-quality services.
The Appeal Package
By choosing our Appeal Package, you can rely on our lawyers’ legal knowledge and experience to ensure you have the highest chance of a successful appeal. We will also fully represent you in any hearings/tribunals.
Indefinite Leave to Remain
Spouse Visa Extension
This will depend on the visa category you are applying for. Usually, the costs include a filing fee of $460 for Form I-129 or $700 for Form I-140 petition. If the petition is approved, you will then need to apply for consular processing which also requires certain fees depending on the visa category. Other fees may also apply. This may include an immigration exam fee and immigration lawyer fee.
Most US temporary work visas are renewable. However, the US has the prerogative to decide whether a visa should be renewed or not after reviewing your application for an extension of stay.
In most cases, EADs or work permits are valid for one year. The validity of each EAD is set by USCIS and it is usually based on each applicant’s permitted period of stay in the US. You cannot have an EAD that lasts longer than the allowed period of stay on your visa.
There is no US visa that covers casual work. You must have an approved petition before you can apply for a visa.