The A-Z's of United States Work Visas

Each visa has its own rules, all are different, and one is not necessarily easier to obtain than another – it all depends on your qualifications and your goals. Most will require a U.S. employer job offer.

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Nadine Heitz, Immigration Attorney

Working in the U.S.A.

We have put together a description of all the different types of United States visas that allow you to work in the United States. Remember that without a work visa, you are not authorized to work in the U.S. while visiting. 

Immigrant vs. Nonimmigrant Visas

Visas are divided up into two categories: Immigrant visas are those that allow you to live in the United States permanently by becoming a lawful permanent resident (green card). Nonimmigrant visas, described below, are those that temporarily allow you to live and/or work in the U.S. However, even with this delineation, some of the work visas below can lead to a green card if the employer chooses to sponsor the worker.

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A to Z Nonimmigrant Work Visas

Click on the + sign to the right of any work visa category below for a detailed description. Then book your immigration consultation to find out which work visas could be the best match for you.  

A Visa: Diplomats and Foreign Government Officials

The “A” visa allows diplomats and foreign government officials, including their assistants, to visit the U.S. for the purpose of official business. If you work in such a capacity for your government (only national positions, not provincial or other local entities) and you need to visit the U.S. in order to engage in activities on behalf of your government, then the “A” visa is what you would use.

B-1 Visa: Business or Domestic Employee (Nanny)

A domestic worker such as a nanny, maid, valet, or cook, may accompany the person or family they work for, to the U.S. on a B-1 visa. The employer of the domestic worker must already have approval to be in the U.S. or to arrive in the U.S. on some type of nonimmigrant visa, thereby allowing them to bring their domestic employee with them using the B-1 visa for the worker. The B-1 visa is also used for business reasons in conjunction with a B-2 (visitor visa) such as attending a business convention or negotiating a contract.

C, D Visa: Transit and Crewmember Visa

The C visa is for visitors in transit through the U.S., which combined with the D visa allows a person to work on board a sea vessel or aircraft in the U.S. Once the crewmember arrives in the U.S. with this visa, they must depart on the vessel or aircraft they are employed by within 29 days.

E Visa: Treaty Trader and Investor

The E visa is available to those foreign nationals whose country maintains treatises of commerce and navigation with the U.S. The E-1 treaty trader visa is for the person who owns at least 50% of an enterprise in their home country and wants to come to the U.S. to engage in trade. The E-2 treaty investor visa is used to develop and direct a new enterprise in the U.S.

F Visa: Student, Academic Institution

The F-1 visa allows a student to come to the U.S. to attend school full time at a university, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or other academic institution. The student may work full time in their field of study for 12 months under the OPT program (Optional Practical Training) or CPT (curricular practical training) after their first year of study. If enrolled in a STEM degree (science, technology, engineering, math) the student can request a 17 month extension for OPT work. Canadian students who remain living in Canada within 75 miles of the U.S. border while they commute to school qualify for the F-3 visa.

G Visa: International Government Officials

The G visa is for representatives of international organizations, including NATO, so that they may travel to the U.S. to pursue official duties such as attend meetings, or take up appointment at the United Nations.

H-1 Visa: Professionals with degree, Fashion Models

The H-1 visa is the most common work visa because it encompasses so many types of workers. H-1B is for professionals with a B.A. degree or higher in a specialty occupation. Some examples are IT workers, architects, engineers, lawyers, accountants, or scientific researchers. The H-1B is also used for fashion models of distinguished merit and ability.

H-1 Visa: Nurses with B.A. degree

The H-1B visa for nurses requires that the nurse have a B.A. degree, something that registered nurses are not required to have. This means that only certain nurses with this degree would qualify under the H-1B visa category. The H-1C nurse visa for RN’s to work in health professional shortage areas, was unfortunately retired in 2009. Nurses must complete a certification program through the CGFNS (Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools Certification Program) in order to qualify.

H-2 Visa: Temporary Workers

The H-2A visa is used for temporary workers in the agriculture industry, and the H-2B visa is for other jobs which U.S. employers need to hire workers on a temporary basis such as for seasonal work, or for a peakload need, or for a one-time occurrence. The hotel and hospitality industry as well as construction companies often use this to employ workers for jobs lasting less than one year.

I Visa: Journalists, Media

If you are a member of the foreign media with your office in your country, travelling to the U.S. to engage in your profession, then you would use the I visa. This would include reporters, crews and editors from the press, radio, film and print industries.

J Visa: Exchange Visitor Program

The J-1 visa is intended for those who wish to work and study in the U.S. through a U.S. State Department designated sponsor. These sponsor organizations are responsible for screening and selecting candidates as well as supporting and monitoring their stay in the U.S. Some of the areas this visa is used for is a  nanny (au pair), camp counselor, intern, teacher, research scholar, student, teacher, and physician.

L Visa: Intracompany Transferee

The L-1 visa is used for a manager or executive who has worked in a foreign company at least one year out of the last three years, to be relocated to the U.S. to work at its subsidiary, branch or parent company. This can allow the foreign business to expand to the U.S. by sending its manager there, and the new U.S. entity can even be in a completely different industry.

M Visa: Student, Non-Academic Institution

The M student visa is similar to the F student visa, but the M is used for students who attend a non-academic or vocational and technical school. Students may work in their field of study under the CPT progam (curricular practical training) but only after they have completed their studies.

O Visa: Extraordinary Ability

The O visa is for the person who has demonstrated extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics. It can also be for someone who has shown extraordinary achievement in the entertainment industry (film, TV) with national or international recognition. This person would be coming to the U.S. to continue to work in their area of extraordinary ability.

P Visa: Entertainers and Athletes

The P visa can be used for those who may not qualify under the extraordinary ability category of the O visa. For the P visa, athletes who compete alone or on a team at an international level, or entertainers who perform as part of a group with international recognition, may come to the U.S. to compete or perform. Solo entertainers may only use the P visa if they are joining a foreign-based group.

Q Visa: International Cultural Exchange

The Q visa is for someone participating in a cultural exchange program in order to provide training, employment and to share the history, culture and traditions of the home country.

R Visa: Religious Worker

The R visa is used for a minister, rabbi, priest, or religious worker such as religious counselor, to perform a religious vocation in either a professional or nonprofessional capacity in the United States.

TN Visa: Canadian, Mexican Professionals

The TN visa is only for Canadians and Mexicans through NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement). It is for certain designated professional occupations with at least a B.A. such as architects, engineers, computer programmers, management consultants, pharmacist, plus many others. This visa can be adjudicated right at the border crossing.

How many Nonimmigrant Visas are issued each year?

The latest statistics from the U.S. Department of State show that in 2017, there were almost 10 million nonimmigrant visas issued to come to the United States. Find out if you qualify for one of these visas.