The United States allows certain foreign nationals to work in the country on a work visa. There are two broad categories of work visas available to non-U.S. residents, including:

  • Work visas for temporary employees
  • Work visas for sponsored or permanent employees

Temporary employees can work in the United States on a non-immigrant visa. When you receive a non-immigrant visa, it means you intend to reside in the United States temporarily before returning to your home country.

Meanwhile, some employees work in the United States on a more permanent work visa. Your employer might sponsor you to arrive in the United States as a permanent employee, for example, in which case you can begin the process of applying to become a lawful permanent resident (i.e. a green card holder).

Your American work visa will state the period of time for which the visa is active. Work visas vary widely in terms of expiry dates. Some work visas last for only a few months, while other work visas last three years or more.

Types of U.S. Work Visas

Different work visas are available to different types of workers in the United States. Some work visas are designed for highly-specialized employees with exceptional skills or experience in a particular field. Other work visas are designed for genera laborers working in agriculture. Depending on your background, skills, experience, and country of origin, one of the following work visas might allow you to work in the United States:

H-1B Visa

Individual in a Specialty Occupation

The H-1B visa allows the visa holder to work in a specialty occupation. The visa holder must have a higher education degree or equivalent training that gives them unique ability in a particular field. The worker must be sponsored by an employer in the United States to receive an H-1B visa.

H-1B1 Visa

Free Trade Agreement Professional from Chile or Singapore

Reserved exclusively for citizens of Chile and Singapore, the H-1B1 visa allows Chileans and Singaporeans to work in specialty occupations in the United States. To qualify, the applicant must have a post-secondary degree involving at least four years of study in their field of specialization. Unlike other visas on this list, the H-1B1 visa does not require a petition.

H-2A Visa

Temporary Agricultural Workers

The H-2A visa is for temporary agricultural workers who wish to work in the United States on a temporary or seasonal basis. Only residents of certain countries may apply for the H-2A visa.

H-2B Visa

Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers

The H-2B visa is for temporary or seasonal non-agricultural workers. Like the H-2A visa, this visa is only applicable to citizens or nationals of designated countries.

H-3 Visa

Trainees or Special Education Visitors

The H-3 visa is for applicants who wish to visit the United States to receive training. This visa only applies to certain types of training. It does not apply to medical or academic training, for example, and the training must not be available in the applicant’s home country. The visa is also available to those who seek practical training in the field of child education for those with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities.

I Visa

Representatives of Foreign Media

This visa allows journalists and those working in media, press, or journalism to work in the United States. If you are a reporter or journalist visiting the United States, then you may require an I visa.

L Visas

Intra-Company Transfers

Some companies have branches in foreign countries with other offices in the United States. If you work for a company that is affiliated with a company in the United States, then oy may be eligible for an L visa. This visa is reserved for executives and managers within a company who occupy a position requiring specialized knowledge.

O Visas

Individuals with Extraordinary Abilities or Achievements

Individuals who feel they have accomplished extraordinary achievements or have exceptional abilities may apply for an O visa. This visa is typically reserved for those who have excelled in the field of arts, education, business, sciences, athletics, or entertainment. “Exceptional achievement” can include things like national or international acclaim.

P-1 Visa

Individuals or Team Athletes or Members of an Entertainment Group

If you are an individual athlete or a member of a team, then you may apply for a P-1 visa. This visa also applies to members of an entertainment group. To qualify for this visa, the team, individual, or entertainment group must have achieved an internationally-recognized level of performance in their field.

P-2 Visa

Artists or Entertainers

Individual artists or entertainers, or those who are a member of a group, may wish to apply to a P-2 visa to work temporarily in the United States. Typically, these visas are reserved for organizations that have a reciprocal exchange program with the United States.

P-3 Visa

Artists or Entertainers Participating in a Cultural Exchange

The P-3 visa is for artists or entertainers that aim to share unique cultural experiences with American audiences. If you are an artist or entertainer in an individual or group, then you may qualify for a P-3 visa. The visa is specifically reserved for those performing culturally-unique content, including traditional ethnic, folk, cultural, musical, theatrical, and artistic performances or presentations.

Q-1 Visa

Cultural Exchange Participants

The Q-1 visa is for those participating in a cultural exchange program with the United States. These programs can include unique employment or training opportunities where a two-way exchange of culture is to be expected.

R-1 Visa

Religious Workers

The R-1 visa is for temporary non-immigrant religious workers who wish to work in the United States. If you plan to perform religious work while visiting the United States, then you may qualify for an R-1 visa.

Who Qualifies for a Work Visa in the United States?

If you want to qualify for a work visa in the United States, then you first need to meet three main conditions. Failure to meet all of these conditions could make you ineligible for a U.S. work visa.

The conditions include all of the following:

Have a Job Offer in the United States

Before receiving a work visa, you first need a job offer in the United States. Once you have a job offer for a position in the United States from an American company, then you can proceed with the rest of the application process.

Approved Petition by USCIS

United States Customs and Immigration Services handles all petitions from U.S. employers. Your American employer will petition USCIS. The employer’s petition involves proving that the employer will pay you a fair wage similar to what a U.S. worker would receive. The employer also needs to pay a fee and abide by specific working condition requirements. Once the employer has filed the petition, also known as an I-129 form, the USCIS will either approve or deny that petition.

Labor Certification Approval from the Department of Labor

Some of the work visas listed above require you to have a labor certification approval from the United States Department of Labor. Essentially, this document ensures that the American business genuinely needs to hire foreign workers to stay competitive. The employer may need to verify that they cannot find American workers to do the job, which is why they hire foreign workers. The goal of this process is to ensure that American companies are not hiring cheap foreign labor to replace costlier American workers who would otherwise be able to do the job.

With these three things, you can begin applying for a U.S. work visa.

Requirements for a U.S. Work Visa

We mentioned the core requirements for a U.S. work visa above. In addition to those requirements, you need to provide other information similar to what you would see on a traditional visa application, including:

  • Valid passport that will not expire within six months of your estimated date of departure from the United States
  • Visa photo that abides by all U.S. visa photo requirements (upload this photo when you fill out the online application)
  • Receipt number from your employer’s I-129 petition
  • Confirmation page certifying that you have completed your non-immigrant visa application (DS-160 form)
  • Receipt proving you have paid the application fee after filling out the DS-160 form (typical application fee for a U.S. work visa is $190 USD)
  • Proof you intend to return to your home country once your work visa expires (if visiting the United States on a non-immigrant temporary work visa); this proof can include documents proving a stronger connection to your home country or a document stating long-term plans in your home country
  • An I-129S form for L visa applicants, which is a special petition reserved for those making an intra-company transfer

These are the general requirements for most U.S. work visas. Your specific work visa might come with additional requirements. Make sure you understand all document requirements prior to beginning your work visa application.

How Does a U.S. Work Visa Application Work?

Once you have completed the three qualifications above and verified you have the information directly above, you can proceed with your work visa application.

The specific process varies between work visas. However, you generally just need to complete an online application form and then attend an interview at your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate:

Step 1) Complete Form DS-160: Form DS-160 is the standard form for non-immigrant visa applications to the United States. You can find it online at your local U.S. embassy’s website. Enter all required information into the form, then submit the form and receive your receipt. You should receive a confirmation page and a barcode confirming your completion of the DS-160 form.

Step 2) Pay your Fee: All U.S. work visas come with an application fee ranging from $160 to $300. This fee must be paid in order to proceed with the next steps. After you pay your fee, make sure you have the receipt confirming that you have made the payment. You will need that receipt moving forward.

Step 3) Schedule your Interview: After completing the two steps above, you can schedule your interview with a U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence.

Step 4) Collect your Required Documents: In the weeks leading up to your embassy interview, collect all required documents that we mentioned above. You may also need additional documents that are not mentioned above depending on your unique work visa.

Step 5) Attend Your Interview: Bring your documents and yourself to the U.S. embassy for your interview. You may have your fingerprints taken prior to your interview. The interview will begin, and the consular officer will ask questions to verify the information on your application. The goal of the interview is to ensure that you have been truthful and that you intend to abide by the rules of your U.S. work visa.

Can My Dependents Join Me in the United States?

If you have a work visa, then you may be able to bring certain dependents – like a spouse and children – to the United States to accompany you. Certain work visas qualify for additional dependent visas, including all of the following:

  • H visa holders can request an H-4 visa for their spouse and children
  • L visa holders can request an L-2 visa for their spouse and children
  • visa holders can request an O-3 visa for their spouse and children
  • P visa holders can request a P-4 visa for their spouse and children
  • Q visa holders can request a Q-3 visa for their spouse and children

Typically, your family will qualify as “dependents” if they are your spouse or your unmarried children under age 21. If your family qualifies for a dependent visa, then they should be able to remain in the United States with you throughout the duration of your work visa.

If you do not see your visa type listed above, then your family may still visit you while you work in the United States. However, they will have to qualify for their own visa – say, an ordinary B-2 visitor visa.