The Most Common Types of Work Visas (and When You’ll Need Them)

In today’s global economy, many U.S. businesses want to draw upon the diverse talents of an international workforce by hiring highly-skilled or highly-educated foreign nationals.  Or, some businesses need foreign workers when there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the work.  Likewise, there are many foreign nationals that are eager to work in the United States.

This article provides brief summaries of the main requirements of the most common work visas to help point businesses in the right direction as to which visa they may be able to sponsor for a foreign national employment candidate.  Please note that the following list is not exhaustive.  There are multiple work visas, and other types of visas (such as student or tourist) that may initially allow a foreign national to enter the United States.

H-1B Specialty Occupations

  • Job must require at least a bachelor’s degree in a particular field
  • The foreign national must have the required degree
  • Annual Cap – 85,000 (unless you are a “Cap-Exempt Employer”)
  • Filing deadline for random lottery – April 1 for October 1 start date
  • Family may accompany and spouses may work
  • Valid for three years, extendable for three years after that

The H-1B Visa is the most common type of employment visa.  In a future blog article, I will review that process in more detail.

L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager

  • Foreign national must be employed by an affiliated company abroad for one year
  • Foreign national must be an Executive or Functional Manager – making decisions or supervising and controlling work of other professional employees without direct supervision
  • Initial stay of one or three years with a seven-year time limit
  • Family may accompany and spouses may work

L-1B Intracompany Transferee Specialized Knowledge

  • Foreign national must be employed by an affiliated company abroad for one year
  • Foreign national must have specialized and advanced knowledge gained at company abroad, and that knowledge is needed in the U.S.
  • Initial stay of one or three years, with a five-year time limit
  • Family may accompany and spouses may work

TN NAFTA Professionals – for Mexican and Canadian Citizens

  • The job must be on the NAFTA list of approved professional specialty occupations
  • Most approved jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree
  • Initial stay of three years, extensions are allowed
  • Application requirements differ between Mexican and Canadian citizens
  • Family may accompany, spouses may not work but may study

H-2B Temporary Agricultural Workers

  • The job must be temporary or seasonal in nature
  • Demonstrate that there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work
  • Show that employing H-2A workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers
  • The maximum period of stay in H-2A classification is 3 years
  • Family may accompany, spouses may not work

H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers

  • The job must be temporary or seasonal in nature, or there must be a “peakload” need
  • Demonstrate that there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work
  • Show that employing H-2B workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers
  • There is a yearly cap for H-2B Visas
  • The maximum period of stay in H-2A classification is 3 years
  • Family may accompany, spouses may not work

Although most U.S. jobs for foreign nationals usually start as temporary, employment through a temporary employment visa can lead to U.S. permanent residency through a green card.  As an employer (or prospective employer), if you want to sponsor a foreign national to become a permanent resident based on a permanent job offer, you and the foreign national need to go through a detailed, multi-step process.  This topic will be the subject of another article – stay tuned!

Going through the process to obtain international employees, however, can be frustrating and extremely complicated.  Please contact McCarty Law’s Immigration Lawyers to assist with your needs.

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Kristy A. Christensen

Commercial Litigation and Dispute Resolution Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Kristy handles commercial litigation matters of every type, with an emphasis on construction matters and real estate matters. She also specializes in intellectual property and immigration law.