US Work Visas Types for Professionals

Are you a skilled foreign professional looking to work in the US? In this article, you will learn about the different types of US work visas for foreign professionals, and determine which is best for you based on your qualifications.

There are 2 broad categories of US work visas;

  1. Non-immigrant (or temporary) work visas
  2. Immigrant (or permanent) work visas.

Both types of visas are given to individuals with the primary purpose of living and working in the US. 

The main difference between these categories is in the period of authorized stay in the US.

Individuals entering the US on a temporary work visa are allowed to stay in the US for a fixed period of time, beyond which they will need an extension of stay to remain in the US.

While individuals entering the US on a permanent work visa may remain in the US indefinitely. 

This article only discusses the types of non-immigrant US work visas for foreign professionals. 

Types of US Work Visas

In alphabetical order, these are the most common types of temporary US work visas for skilled foreign professionals.

E1/E2 Treaty Visas

This visa is granted to nationals of countries that have a treaty of commerce or an international agreement with the United States, who wish to enter the US to engage in international trade on their own behalf, (as in the case of the E1 visa), or to invest a substantial amount of capital in a U.S based business (as in the case of the E2 visa). 

Of all the non-immigrant work visas, the E1 and E2 visas are the most suitable visas for entrepreneurs who wish to enter the US to start their own businesses.

Currently, there are 81 countries with at least one of these treaties with the US

E3 Visa

This visa is only granted to nationals of Australia who wish to come to the US to work in a specialty occupation and have obtained an offer of employment in the US to do so.

Specialty occupations require specialized knowledge and you must have attained at minimum a bachelor’s degree in your field to enter the US on this visa. 

Individuals entering the US on an E1, E2, and E3 visa are typically allowed to remain in the US for a 2 year period.

Beyond this 2 year period, they must apply to extend their period of stay for another 2 years if they wish to remain in the US.

However, there is no cap to the number of extensions that may be granted to an E1, E2, or E3 non-immigrant.

H1B Visa

This is the most popular non-immigrant work visa for highly skilled professionals coming to the US and is given to individuals who wish to work in a specialty occupation. 

Similar to the E3 visa, you must have an offer of employment in a specialty occupation and must possess at minimum a bachelor’s degree or higher in the field of the specialty occupation that’s equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree or higher degree.

Foreign nationals entering the US on an H1B visa are usually admitted for a period of 3 years, which could be extended for an additional 3 years, for a maximum period of stay in the US of 6 years.

H3 Visa

Foreign nationals coming to the US to receive job-related training for work that will ultimately be performed outside the US can obtain an H-3 Trainee visa. 

Individuals entering the US on an H-3 visa are usually allowed to remain in the US for up to 2 years.

L1B Visa

The L1B Intra-company Transferee Visa allows a US employer to transfer a professional worker knowledgeable about the employer’s business from a location in a foreign country to a US location.

To be eligible for the L1B visa, you must have worked for the prospective employer for one continuous year within 3 years prior to when you seek entry into the US. 

Most Individuals entering the US on the L1B visa are usually admitted into the US for an initial period of 3 years, and may extend their stay in the US until a maximum limit of 5 years is attained. 

O1 Visa

This type of visa is granted to individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics and are coming to the US to work temporarily in their field of extraordinary ability. 

Put simply, extraordinary ability in one’s field means that you MUST have attained a level of expertise that puts you at the very top of your field.

This is usually shown by the receipt of national and or international awards in one’s field. 

TN Visa

The TN non-immigrant class is based on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

This allows a Canadian or Mexican citizen to enter the United States temporarily to work in a qualifying professional-level business activity.

Some of these professions include; lawyers, teachers, engineers, and scientists. See a full list of the qualifying professions here.

Canadian and Mexican citizens must have the qualifications for these qualifying professionals and must have obtained a job offer letter from a prospective US employer in the qualifying field.

While citizens of Mexico need to obtain a TN visa stamp in their passport to enter the United States, citizens of Canada do not. 

Citizens of Canada and Mexico entering the US as TN nonimmigrants are usually allowed an initial period of stay of 3 years but there is no limit to the number of times the TN status could be extended.  

Limitations of Temporary US Work Visas

All the aforementioned non-immigrant visas allow you to bring your dependent spouse and children but only the L and E visa classes allow your dependent spouse to seek employment in the US. 

With the exception of the E1 and E2 visas, all the other work visas require a US employer to first file a petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS.

Once approved a foreign national living outside the US must then apply for this US visa to seek entry into the US.

In the case that the foreign national is lawfully present in the US on a non-immigrant status, they can change their status accordingly with USCIS. 

FAQs About US Work Visas

How long does it take to get a work visa in the US?

The length of time it takes to get a US work visa varies from one visa to the next. Some visas like the H1B visa can be obtained within a 6 month period. While other visas like the O1 visa might take longer than 12 months to obtain.

Is it hard to get a US work visa?

How difficult it is to get a US work visa as a primary applicant depends on the requirements for that visa. For example, the O-1 work visa is very difficult to obtain, as this visa is reserved for high skilled professionals with extraordinary abilities in their profession. While the H3 visa can be obtained by people with much lower skills.

What is H3 visa?

H3 visas are for foreigners coming to the US for job-related training in a field that could benefit their home country. This visa is usually valid for 2 years.

What is the O2 visa?

The O2 visa is given to professionals who will be coming to the United States to work under the supervision of a primary O1 visa holder.

What is the HB4 visa?

The HB4 visa also called the H4 visa is given to the spouse and children of nonimmigrants on an H1 visa. In most cases, the H4 visa does not allow one to work in the United States.

DISCLAIMER: This post is written for general information only and is not legal advice. The information presented in this post should not be construed to be formal legal advice. If you need legal advice, you may contact a licensed attorney.