Understanding the Different Types of U.S. Work Visas

by | May 1, 2024

As immigration attorneys, one of the most common questions we get from clients is about the various work visa options for coming to the United States. With so many different visa categories and requirements, it can certainly be confusing to navigate. In this blog post, we’ll break down some of the key work visa types that allow foreign nationals to live and work in the U.S. temporarily.

H-1B Visa

High-Skilled Workers
One of the most well-known work visas is the H-1B, which allows U.S. employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations that require at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent. This includes fields like IT, engineering, finance, accounting, architecture and more. H-1B visas are extremely popular, with the annual quota being reached within days of the application period opening up. They are initially granted for up to three years and can be extended to six years maximum. Employers must sponsor employees and prove they will be paid the prevailing wage.

L-1 Visa

Intracompany Transferees
The L-1 visa facilitates the temporary transfer of foreign employees who work for an international company to one of its offices in the United States. It includes two subcategories: L-1A for managers/executives and L-1B for employees with specialized knowledge. To qualify, the employee must have worked for the company abroad for at least one continuous year within the preceding three years. Initial L-1 visas are granted for a period ranging from 5-7 years.

TN Visa

NAFTA Professional Workers
Available only to citizens of Mexico and Canada, the TN visa allows qualified professionals to work in designated occupations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Over 60 occupations are covered, including accountants, engineers, scientists, college instructors and more. TN visas can be issued for an unlimited number of three-year periods, so long as the person continues to meet the requirements.

E-3 Visa

Specialty Occupation Workers from Australia
Similar to the H-1B, the E-3 visa allows employers to hire Australian nationals for two-year periods in specialty occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher. It has an annual quota of 10,500 and tends to have less competition than the H-1B. E-3 visas can be renewed indefinitely.

O-1 Visa

Individuals with Extraordinary Ability The O-1 visa is designated for foreign nationals who have demonstrated extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics or the motion picture/television industry. They must be among the small percentage who has risen to the very top of their field of endeavor. Their initial period of stay is for up to three years, which can be extended in one-year increments.

Green Cards for Permanent Employment

While the above are some common temporary work visas, many foreign nationals ultimately aim for a green card that grants lawful permanent residence. The main paths are employer-sponsored green cards and green cards for advanced degree holders and those with exceptional ability. These have much stricter requirements and quotas, but allow the recipient to live and work permanently in the U.S.

As you can see, there are a variety of work visa options depending on your qualifications, occupation, country of origin and other factors. Each visa type has its own procedures, document requirements, processing times and nuances. It’s critical to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer who can evaluate your situation and determine which visa category best fits your goals and background.

Taking the wrong approach can result in delays, denials or even bars to future immigration. With proper guidance and preparation though, the work visa process can go smoothly. Feel free to contact us if you have any other questions.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Please consult with a qualified business law attorney at Sayer, Regan & Thayer for specific guidance on your situation.