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What work visa categories apply to foreign employees seeking to work in the United States?

UPDATED: June 19, 2018

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There are a variety of work visa options available depending on the skills and qualifications of the foreign employee and the location, needs, and industry of the U.S. employer. Some of the work visa options available to a foreign employee include H-1B visa, L-1 visa, J-1 visa, H-2A visa, and H2-B visa.

The H-1B Visa

The H-1B work visa is usually reserved for specialty workers. Specialty workers should possess a highly technical or theoretical type of expertise in their field. H-1B visas also have sub-categories for even more specific individuals such as Department of Defense employees and certain fashion models. To obtain an H-1B visa as a fashion model, for example, you must demonstrate that you are a model of distinguished merit and ability. 

The L-1 Visa

The L-1 visa is available for transferring employees. For example, a foreign employee transferring here from a foreign-based company may find the L-1 visa category preferable if they have worked abroad for the company for a continuous period of at least one year during the preceding three years. As with an H-1B visa, your U.S. employer must demonstrate a special need for your employment in the United States. The fact that you are a good employee will not be sufficient. Your U.S. employer must demonstrate that you have a key position or a position with specialized knowledge that is not available within the labor pool in the United States.

The J-1 Visa

If you are a student, some types of student visas will authorize you to work on campus or off campus depending on your status. Student visas do not generally authorize full-time employment, but rather limit employment to approximately 20 hours per week. Similarly, if you qualify for a J-1 visa exchange, you may be able to work if the program requirements of your J-1 visa authorize limited employment directly related to the exchange program. 

H-2A and H-2B Visas

If you are a seasonal agricultural worker, you may qualify for an H-2A visa. This work visa is designed to allow employers to bring seasonal, agricultural workers to the U.S. when sufficient labor is not available in the United States. Similar to the H-1B process, a U.S. employer must obtain a labor certification verifying the need for the temporary labor. This type of visa tends to be more limited than other work visas. An H-2A work visa may only last for a season, whereas an H-1B work visa can authorize a foreign employee to remain in the United States for several years. A similar program exists for temporary non-agricultural workers called an H-2B work visa.

Getting Help

As you can see, there are a variety of programs and categories available to foreign employees seeking to work in the United States. To determine which category or categories of work visa best meet your employment objectives, consult with an immigration attorney.

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