How To Apply For a Work Visa In the United States

Getting a job is a crucial step to building your life in the United States. In order to do this legally you’ll need a Green Card (permanent resident visa), or valid nonimmigrant work visa.  The government offers several options for obtaining a work visa, but it can be challenging to determine which option is best suited for your situation. 

In this article, we’ll outline your work visa options, as well as the steps to take to begin this process.

Requirements for Working in the United States

The requirements for obtaining a work visa vary depending on the type of visa you’re applying for. That said, there are certain basic criteria that most applicants have to meet. If you don’t have any of the following characteristics, you most likely won’t be eligible to work in the U.S. It should be noted that this isn’t an exhaustive list. 

Be Of Minimum Legal Age

In general, the minimum age to work in the United States is 16. However, certain jobs have exceptions such as agriculture work and acting. Officially, there is no minimum age to obtain a work visa in the U.S. Most work visas are granted to adults who can demonstrate experience in some field, so obtaining a work permit as a minor is highly unlikely.

Have a Valid Passport 

A passport is indispensable for entering the country legally, and it’s also essential during the work visa application process. If you need to process or renew your Mexican passport, either in Mexico or at a consulate in the U.S., we recommend reading this article. If you need information about passports from another country, don’t hesitate to write to us.

No Felony Charges On Your Criminal Record

Having a criminal record might reduce your chances of obtaining a work visa in the U.S. That said, some misdemeanors aren’t considered inadmissible, but there are others that result in an automatic disqualification during the visa process. This website provides a list of the types of offenses that bar you from obtaining a U.S. work visa.

U.S. Work Visa Types

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There are several different types of work visas. Each focuses on different types of work. Every visa has different requirements, so before you begin your application process, it’s very important to understand which one best suits you.The following are the main types of work visas issued by the USCIS:

H Visas 

H-1B visas are issued to individuals who work in a specific professional or academic field or have specialized expertise. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree or higher or demonstrate equivalent work experience. These visas have a three-year residency cap.

H-2A visas are intended for temporary workers in the agricultural industry, while H-2B visas are non-agricultural temporary work in industries where the domestic labor force is not sufficient to meet the labor demand. Generally, these visas do not extend beyond one year.

Individuals seeking training in any activity (except medicine) may apply for an H-3 visa. This classification is for foreign nationals who wish to train within the United States, but who will pursue their careers outside the country.

I Visas

I visas are intended for foreign media workers— including reporters, film crews, editors and other similar positions. For most applicants, this is an indefinite-term visa, as long as the holder continues working with the same company.

L Visas

This type of visa is for workers who temporarily transfer to the U.S. within an international company where they already work. Applicants must hold an executive/managerial level position (L-1A visa), or demonstrate specialized knowledge (L-1B visa). An L-1A visa normally lasts three years, while the L-1B is often granted for only one year.

O Visas

O visas are for individuals with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. They’re also granted to workers in the entertainment industry who have received international recognition. This type of visa can also be extended to persons accompanying the holder to attend a specific event and to members of their family.

P Visas

P visas are for internationally-recognized artists or athletes coming to the country to participate in a competition, event or performance. These visas have several subcategories:

  • P-1A, for athletes
  • P-1B, for artists or artistic group members
  • P-2, for individual artists or artists who belong to a group with the intention of coming to the country through a cultural exchange program
  • P-3, for artists or presenters, either individual or part of a group, who are coming to perform, teach, or advise on a unique cultural program

R Visas

The R visa is for non-immigrant religious workers. In order to apply for one of these visas, the person's religious denomination must have official non-profit status in the U.S. They must demonstrate that they’re coming to work directly for that religious organization or non-profit organization.

Permanent Resident Visas

These are also known as Green Cards. U.S. permanent residency can be obtained through the right combination of education, experience, eligibility, and skill sets. Most of these visas require an existing job offer from an employer with the proper certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. This certification indicates that there aren’t enough workers with a certain skill set within the U.S. and hiring foreign nationals with these skills won’t take jobs away from U.S. citizens.

Keep in mind: If you plan to come to the U.S. on business for a short period of time as part of your current employment abroad, you probably won’t require a work permit, but rather a B-1 visa. This document is also known as a temporary visitor visa for business purposes.

What is the process for obtaining a work visa?

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The above-mentioned visas can only be obtained at U.S. consulates (except for the permanent resident or Green Card.) To process them, you must have a job offer from an employer in the country. The specifics of the process depend on the type of visa you’re applying for and the consulate, but in general, the steps to follow are:

1. Find a Job In the U.S.

    The first step in obtaining a non-immigrant worker visa is to have a job offer in the U.S. If you don’t know where to start, we recommend that you create a resume and post it on various online job search sites. Once you have a job offer, review the employer's proposed contract and make sure you agree with their terms. 

    2. Make sure your potential employer files an I-129 petition.

      Once you have a firm offer of employment and the details of your contract have been finalized, your prospective employer must file a I-129 petition. This form tells the U.S. government that the employer is seeking your services. This is required for your visa application.

      3. Complete the DS-160 form

        If the USCIS approves the I-129 petition it will send your prospective employer a Notice of Action (I-797 form), and your employer must forward it to you. Once you have this document, you will need to fill out the DS-160 form (Application for Nonimmigrant Visa). 

        4. Make an appointment at your nearest embassy or consulate

          After filling out the visa application you’ll need to make an interview appointment at your nearest consulate. The consulate will tell you the fees, how to pay them, and what documents you will need to bring with you to the appointment.

          5. Keep your appointment

            Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early on the day of your scheduled appointment and bring all the requested documents. Your interview will determine whether you are eligible for the visa you applied for. If your visa is approved, you’ll receive your document by mail or courier at the address you provided. 

            A Work Visa is Within Your Reach 

            Securing a U.S. work visa can sometimes be complicated, but it’s worth it if you find unique opportunities that suit your ambitions. We encourage you to give it a try! 

            If you’re in the process of obtaining a U.S. work visa or are thinking of doing so and have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact our team. We’ll gladly provide you with the information you need.