Immigration & Naturalization Law

Different Paths to Getting a Work Visa

Many people dream of expanding their horizons by working or studying in another country, and for many people, that means coming to the United States. In the U.S., workers from other countries receive “visas” that allow them to work legally on American soil. It’s an exciting opportunity, but the process can also be confusing.

What Is a Work Visa?

A work visa — also known as a work permit — is a document that gives someone permission to work in a country where they are not a citizen. Immigration law in the United States provides many different kinds of work visas, both permanent and temporary. Work visas can also offer a path to lawful permanent residency (green card) and eventually citizenship.

Work visas are different from travel or student visas. As the name implies, they allow someone to work legally in a foreign country. Someone visiting a country with a travel visa is generally not allowed to get a job. Someone studying on a student visa can only work a limited number of hours, if at all. The type of visa you might qualify for depends on the work you do.

Below, we discuss some of the different types of work visas available in the United States. Immigration law in the U.S. is complicated, so it often helps to consult with an attorney experienced in the area.

H1B Visa

H1B visas are for people in specialty occupations, such as researchers in highly specialized fields. An applicant typically must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in their specialty. In many cases, they have been hired by the Department of Defense. They are also sometimes given to prominent fashion models.

H-2B Visa

H-2B visas are for temporary workers who don’t work in agriculture. They apply to various jobs, from camp counselors and ski instructors to caregivers for terminally ill patients. In general, H-2B visa jobs are seasonal, but the visa is valid for up to one year and can be extended for up to three years.

To obtain an H-2B visa, you need to have a job offer from an employer in the U.S. to do temporary or seasonal work. Only 66,000 H-2B visas are available each year, and they are spread out over two periods: 33,000 for October 1-March 31, and 33,000 for April 1-September 30.

H-2A Visa

H-2A visas are given to temporary agricultural workers. Farmers who anticipate a shortage of workers for a given growing or harvesting season can apply for permission to hire workers on H-2A visas. The maximum time a person can remain in the U.S. on an H2-A visa is three years. Then they must leave for at least three months before returning. Like the other “H” visas, there are limits on how many H-2A visas can be given out each year.

L-1 Visa

L-1 visas are used by global companies to move employees between offices in different countries. In most cases, someone with an L-1 visa is an executive, a manager, or an employee with special knowledge. With the L-1 visa, they can come to the United States temporarily to help out at a local office.

B-1 Visa

B-1 “temporary business visitor” visas are available for people who need to come to the U.S. to:

  • Consult with business associates
  • Attend a professional convention
  • Settle an estate
  • Negotiate a contract
  • Participate in short-term training

B-1 visas usually last six months. In some cases, B-1 business visitors need additional work permits to conduct their business.

J-1 Visa

Professors, scholars, and other academic exchange visitors can come to the U.S. on a J-1 visa. Students who come to the United States to attend university also use J-1 visas. Some J-1 visa holders work while others cannot, depending on the terms of their exchange program.

Keep in mind that several visa types are given only to citizens of certain countries. And you may or may not be able to bring family with you on your work visa. Consult with an immigration attorney or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to find out more.

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