There are multiple visas available to non-citizens looking to work in the United States, depending on what category of visa the non-citizen fits in.  This article explains the employment visa categories that are available in the United States for non-citizens.

 

Getting Started

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) handles the service of applications for immigration benefits. USCIS's website is accessible in 22 languages and explains U.S. immigration law and the procedures and paperwork involved in more detail. Additionally, the USCIS National Customer Service Center is available at 1-800-375-5283 (toll-free) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer questions.

Visa applications are filed with USCIS Field Offices. The Field Offices information page includes what may be filed at Field Offices and where they are located. 

 

Determining What Visa You Are Eligible For

The purpose of your intended travel to the U.S. and other facts will determine what type of visa you must have under U.S. immigration law.

  • If you intend to give up your country of residence and stay in the U.S. permanently, you are classified as an immigrant.
  • If you do not intend to give up your country residence permanently and plan to stay in the U.S. temporarily, you are classified as a nonimmigrant.

The two classifications (immigrant and nonimmigrant) have different visa categories that you may be eligible for, depending on the purpose of your travel and other factors. 

This article only discusses visas for the purposes of employment available to immigrants and nonimmigrants. There are other visas available to immigrants and nonimmigrants for other travel purposes. The U.S. Department of State’s website has information on other types of visas and more.

 

Visa Eligibility

To be eligible for an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, the immigrant/nonimmigrant must

  1. Fit within an open visa category; AND
  2. Not be inadmissible.

Immigrant and nonimmigrant visa categories are discussed in the sections below.

An immigrant/nonimmigrant can be found inadmissible for a number of different reasons, including immigration control reasons, political and national security reasons, criminal reasons, economic reasons, public health reasons, and moral reasons. The USCIS Policy Manual provides more information on inadmissibility.

 

Visa Application Procedures

Immigrant and nonimmigrant employment visa applications are typically filed by your U.S. employer.

An immigrant employment visa application is known as a “Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker”. The USCIS website has the form and instructions for completing and filing a Form I-140.

The visa application for nonimmigrant workers is called “Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker”. The  USCIS webiste has the form and instructions for completing and filing a Form I-129.

The USCIS website provides more information on how Form I-140 and Form I-129 are processed.

 

Immigrant Visas

An immigrant employment visa is known as a “permanent worker visa”. There are five categories of permanent worker visas.

First Preference: EB-1 Priority Workers

General Description:

Aliens with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers and certain multinational executives and managers.

Labor Certification Required?

No

Second Preference:  EB-2 Workers with Advanced Degrees or Exceptional Ability

General Description:

Aliens who are members of the professions holding advanced degrees or their equivalent

AND

Aliens who, because of their exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business, will substantially benefit the national economy, cultural, or educational interests or welfare of the United States.

Labor Certification Required?

Yes, unless applicant obtains a waiver

Third Preference:  EB-3 Professionals, Skilled Workers, and Other Workers

General Description:

Aliens with at least two years of experience as:

  • skilled workers,
  • professionals with a baccalaureate degree,

and others with less than two years of experience, such as unskilled workers, who can perform labor for which qualified workers are not available in the U.S.

Labor Certification Required?

Yes

Fourth Preference: EB-4 Special Immigrants such as those in a Religious Occupation or Vocation

General Description:

Aliens who fall under the definition of “special immigrants,” which includes certain religious workers and physicians.

To qualify as a special immigrant religious worker, the alien must

  • have been a member of a religious denomination that has a non-profit religious organization in the U.S. for at least two years before applying for admission to the U.S.;

AND

  • be seeking to enter the United States to work in a full-time, compensated position work in a religious vocation or occupation at the request of the religious organization.

Labor Certification Required?

No

Fifth Preference: EB-5 Employment Creation

General Description:

Aliens who invest at least $1 million U.S. dollars (or $500,000 if the investment is made in a targeted employment area) in a new commercial enterprise that employs at least 10 full-time U.S. workers.

Labor Certification Required?

No

The U.S. State Department Employment-Based Immigrant Visa page provides more specifics about visa criteria.

 

Non-Immigrant Visas

Non-immigrants seeking employment visas are known as “temporary workers” and there are several types of visas available to them, known as “temporary worker visas”. These visas are only valid for a limited time period. They do not allow the visa holder to work in the United States permanently. The most common non-immigrant employment-based visa categories include:

H-1B Visa

General Description:

This type of visa is only available to individuals who will perform work in a “specialty occupation.”  A “specialty occupation” usually requires a college degree or other specialized education or work experience. The worker must be sponsored by an employer in the U.S.

A limited number of H-1B visas are available each year. 

Time Limit: Typically granted for up to three years at a time, with the possibility for a three-year renewal.
Labor Certification Required?  

H-2A Visa

General Description: This visa is available to individuals filling temporary agricultural jobs.  Please refer to the “Farm Workers” section below for more information on this visa.
Time Limit:  
Labor Certification Required? Yes, a single valid temporary labor certification

H-2B Visa

General Description: This visa is available to individuals filling temporary nonagricultural jobs. The USCIS site has further information on this visa.
Time Limit: Typically granted for up to the period of time authorized on the temporary labor certification.  May be extended in increments of up to 1 year. Maximum stay is 3 years.
Labor Certification Required? Yes, a single valid temporary labor certification

L-1B Visa

General Description: This type of visa is only available to managers, executives, or employees with “specialized knowledge” who will be transferred from a company’s office abroad to the same company or its affiliate’s office in the United States. 
Time Limit: Typically granted for up to three years at a time, with the possibility for a two-year renewal.
Labor Certification Required? No.

R-1 Visa

General Description: This type of visa is only available to individuals who will be employed by a non-profit religious organization in the United States to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation. 
Time Limit: Typically granted for up to 30 months at a time, with the possibility for a 30-month renewal.
Labor Certification Required? No

The USCIS's page on Temporary (Nonimmigrant) Workers provides more specifics about the criteria.

 

Farm Workers in Maryland

The Farm Labor Contractor's Law requires all farm labor contractors who work in Maryland to be licensed by the Maryland Commissioner of Labor and Industry. The law also imposes duties on a farm labor contractor regarding the employment, housing and transportation of migrant agricultural workers. Growers must verify that a farm labor contractor is licensed before using the contractor's services.

Licensing Requirements:

  • Completion of application form
  • $25 application fee.
  • Two recent passport-size color photographs of the applicant.
  • U.S. Department of Labor registration as a farm labor contractor, with authorization to drive and transport migrant agricultural workers (if applicable).
  • Proof of workers' compensation insurance.
  • Proof of vehicle insurance issued by a Maryland-authorized company for each vehicle to be used to transport migrant agricultural workers in Maryland.

Licensing Fee: $25 per year. Licensing year begins March 1.

Read the Law: MD Code Labor & Employment §7–101; COMAR 09.12.45

 

Additional Resources

USCIS.gov has an online dictionary (glossary) that is useful in getting an immigration definition or explanation for a topic.

Source: 

Expanded and edited by Miranda D. Russell (December 2016); Edited by Kerstin M. Miller, Esq., Smith & Downey, P.A.

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