The global business landscape is constantly changing. Current trends in business include a worldwide shortage of workers and the adoption by an increasing number of companies worldwide of a fully-remote or hybrid work environment. These trends have led many companies to seek employees from nations around the world, thereby expanding their hiring reach and erasing the longtime barrier of location as a roadblock to hiring the best candidates possible.
In this article, you will learn about the types of US work visas and permits available; the requirements to obtain a US work permit; and the process to apply for a work permit in the USA.
Types of US work visas and permits
Any foreign national who wants to work in the United States must obtain the proper US work visa to work legally in the country. According to US immigration laws, a foreign citizen wishing to apply for a US work permit must obtain sponsorship from a US-owned, incorporated, and licensed business entity.
If you plan to expand globally or hire in the USA, here are the types of work visas and permits available in the US.
The H1B visa applies to workers in specialty occupations, Department of Defense (DOD) cooperative research and development project workers, and fashion models. This visa requires the applicant to possess highly specialized knowledge in a particular area and, at minimum, to hold a bachelor's degree or higher in their particular specialty or its equivalent.
As a worker on an H1B visa, you may reside and work in the US for up to three years. This period may be extended, but generally not beyond a period of six years.
Some workers may qualify for a B1 visa, which is a non-immigrant visa intended to allow business travelers into the US for the purposes of consulting with colleagues and business associates, attending conferences and such, negotiating contracts, or settling estates.
The H-2B visa allows qualified US employers to hire foreign nationals to fill temporary or seasonal nonagricultural job positions. Some examples are employees who travel to the US to work on cruise ships, in restaurants, in theme parks, in hospitality, or as ski instructors.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues the H-2B visa for a set time period as specified in the temporary labor certification. It can be extended in one-year increments when necessary. The maximum allowable stay on the H-2B visa is three years.
Qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens may enter and work in the US on a temporary basis using the nonimmigrant NAFTA professional (TN) visa. This visa allows these professionals to perform prearranged business activities in the United States. These individuals must work in a profession that is on the NAFTA list.
This visa is valid for a period of three years and is indefinitely renewable.
Permanent workers (EB visa)
For those who wish to work and live permanently in the United States, there are five types of employment-based (EB) immigration visas. The number associated with the EB visa denotes the preference category into which the applicant fits. These visas enable their holders and their immediate family members to apply for lawful permanent residence.
EB-1 visa: exceptional ability
The EB-1 visa is a first-preference US work permit that is reserved for foreign workers with extraordinary ability in their specific field, which involves outstanding achievements that have earned "sustained national or international acclaim." The areas that qualify for the EB-1 visa are education, business, science, arts, and athletics.
EB-2 visa: advanced degree or exceptional ability
The second-preference employment-based visa or EB-2 visa is generally intended for foreign professionals with an advanced degree or exceptional ability in their field. Qualifying areas include science, business, and art.
EB-3 visa: skilled, professional, or other workers
The EB-3 visa is a third-preference employment-based visa for skilled, professional, or other workers. This visa's requirements are less stringent than those of the EB-1 and EB-2 visas, so as a result, the application process often takes longer.
EB-4 visa: special immigrants
The EB-4 visa, a fourth-preference visa based on employment, applies to foreign nationals who do not fit the previous categories of employment-based visas. It often applies to religious workers, but certain other professions may also apply, including some broadcasters, armed forces, physicians, and special immigrant juveniles.
EB-5 visa: immigrant investor program
The fifth preference employment-based visa or EB-5 visa is designed for qualified investors. These investors must make the required investment in a US-based commercial enterprise and plan to create (or preserve) at least ten permanent full-time jobs for qualified US workers.
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US work visa requirements
To apply for a US work permit, both you as the employer and your foreign employee must provide the necessary documentation to meet the US visa requirements.
The employee must present:
- An employment offer from a US-based company
- A copy of their resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
- A copy of their passport
- Copies of all degree certificates relevant to their desired type of visa
As the employer, you must furnish:
- Your company's Federal Tax Identification Number (TIN)
- Your company's name, telephone number, and address
- The employee's job title and requirements; the salary they will earn in their designated position; and a detailed, specific job description
- All of the relevant forms and fees that must be filed for the desired type of visa
US work permit application process
The US work visa application process may differ depending on whether the employee is seeking an immigrant or a nonimmigrant visa.
Employment-based immigrant visas
If the employee is seeking an employment-based immigrant visa, the application process is as follows.
- As a prospective employer, you must obtain labor certification approval from the Department of Labor.
- Once you receive the labor certification approval (if required), you will then file an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, Form I-140 with USCIS on behalf of your employee. Ensure you fill out the petition for the appropriate employment-based preference category. (Note: EB-1 visa applicants can file their own petitions.)
- After USCIS approves the petition, it will go to the National Visa Center (NVC), which will assign the petition a case number. Based on the applicant's priority date and qualification date, the NVC will tell them when to complete form DS-261, Choice of Address and Agent. and begin pre-processing the case by instructing the applicant to pay the appropriate fees.
- The NVC will request the applicant's required documentation, including:
- Their passport
- Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application
- Two photographs, sized two inches by two inches
- The required civil documents
- Proof of financial support
- Completed medical examination forms
- When the NVC receives all of the required documentation, they will schedule the interview appointment and send the file to the US Embassy or Consulate location where the interview will take place. The applicant will receive appointment emails or letters containing the date and time.
- The applicant must undergo a medical examination conducted by an authorized panel physician and receive the necessary vaccinations.
- If the application is approved, the consular officer will give the applicant their passport containing their immigrant visa, as well as a sealed envelope containing the required documentation they submitted. They must not open the sealed packet. When they enter the United States, a US immigration official should open the envelope.
If the employee is seeking a temporary, nonimmigrant visa, the application process is as follows.
- As the sponsoring employer, you must obtain labor certification approval from the Department of Labor.
- Once you receive the temporary labor certification (if required), you will then fill out a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.
- After USCIS approves the petition, the employee should fill out Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.
- The employee should then schedule an appointment for their visa interview at their local US embassy or consulate.
- The employee should pay the appropriate fees prior to their interview.
- The employee should gather the required information, including:
- Their passport
- Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application confirmation page
- Proof of payment of necessary fees
- The receipt number for your approved Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
- Proof of compelling ties to your home country, such as a residence, family relationships, long-term plans, etc.
- At the employee's visa interview, a consular officer will approve or deny their application and, if approved, determine the appropriate visa category. If the visa application is approved, the consulate will notify the employee when they may pick up their passport with their visa included.
Application processing time
The waiting time for a US work permit can be impossible to estimate. If your company is planning to expand its hiring reach to a global level, it is best to start the application process for your employee's US employment visa well in advance.
Employment-based immigrant visa applications take longer than non-immigrant visas because each category of employment-based visa is limited to a certain number issued per year. There is no way to predict the length of time any individual application or case will take to process or complete.
The wait for an appointment for a nonimmigrant visa interview can vary depending on their location.
Planning to hire or work in the US? Here's how Skuad can help
If you want to hire a foreign national to work as part of your remote team, they may require a US work permit. Whether you're relocating existing team members to manage your projects or want to provide your employees with the freedom to work from wherever they choose, Skuad is making such mobility possible. Employ digital nomads in the United States and beyond and easily create your globally-distributed team with Skuad.
How can I get a work permit in the USA?
To obtain permission to work in the United States, you must first have an employment offer from a US-based company. Your employer will then begin the work permit USA process by applying for labor certification approval on your behalf. Please see the article above for details on applying for the appropriate type of work visa.
How long can I stay in the US with a work permit?
Each type of work visa in the US is valid for a specific period of time. Depending on the type of visa, this period could be anywhere from several months to six years long. You may also be eligible to become a permanent lawful resident of the US if you apply for an employment-based immigrant visa.
How hard is it to get a work permit in the USA?
It is easier and faster to obtain a temporary work visa in the US than it is to obtain an employment-based immigrant visa because the American government limits the number of employment-based visas it issues. Once you have decided what type of visa is appropriate for your situation, Your employer should start the process as early as possible, because the length of time for the work visa application process cannot be determined.
How much does a US work permit cost?
The cost to apply for a US work visa differs depending on several factors. More information on the cost of a nonimmigrant visa application can be found here. You can learn more about the fees for an employment-based immigrant visa here.
How do I get a work permit in the USA without a job offer?
You cannot apply for a work visa in the United States without first obtaining an employment offer from a US-based company.
Can I live in the US with a work permit?
A nonimmigrant visa will only permit you to reside in the US for the length of time your visa is valid. If you meet the qualifications for an employment-based immigrant visa, you may be eligible to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.