U.S. Work Visas and Eligibility Requirements

Are you a foreign national interested in employment in the U.S.? If so, you will need a work visa to be legally employed in the United States of America. There are several types of work visas available for foreign nationals who want to work in the United States, including green cards (permanent residency), temporary work visas, seasonal work visas, and exchange worker visas.

The type of visa you may be eligible for will depend on the type of work you do, whether you have a relationship with an employer, and, in some cases, your country of origin. The guidelines for obtaining authorization to work in the United States vary depending on the type of visa and the eligibility requirements for that visa.

Here is information on each type of U.S. work visa, including eligibility and requirements, plus information on how to apply for a visa. It is important to note that these requirements can change at any time so we’ve provided links to government resources, which will be the most reliable source for updated information on restrictions, quotas, and guidelines for green card and visa applications. 

U.S. Work Visas Explained

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What's a U.S. work visa, and why do you need one? A visa is a document that provides authorization for travel to and admittance to the United States. Before visiting, working, or immigrating to the U.S., a citizen of a foreign country generally must first obtain a U.S. visa. The visa provides entry to the U.S. and, depending on the type of visa obtained, may provide authorization for employment in the U.S.

Having a visa does not guarantee entry to the U.S. However, it does indicate a consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate has determined you are eligible to seek entry for the specific purpose listed on the visa. Visas are obtained from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate that is closest to your residence abroad. 

U.S. Green Cards

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It is possible to become a permanent resident (Green Card holder) of the United States through a job or offer of employment. There is also a lottery program that provides a limited number of green cards for successful applicants.

However, some categories require a certification from the U.S. Department of Labor to show that there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available in the geographic area where the immigrant is to be employed and that no American workers are displaced by foreign workers. 

Also, there are specialized job categories that may enable you to get a visa based on your current or past employment. For example, first preference (EB-1) is priority workers, including “foreign nationals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics; outstanding professors and researchers; or certain multinational managers and executives.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has more information on how to apply for a Green Card.

Green Card Lottery Programs

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The annual green card lottery program (Diversity Immigrant Visa Program) is an opportunity for potential immigrants to obtain the status as a permanent legal resident of the U.S. This program runs each year and provides 50,000 "Green Cards" to applicants randomly selected in a lottery process – known as Green Card Lottery.

Eligibility is limited for natives from some countries. The eligible country list is posted with the guidelines for each year's diversity program. Fewer than one percent of applicants are selected to undergo the process, which includes background checks. 

Exchange Visitor Visas

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U.S. Exchange Visitor (J) non-immigrant visas are available for individuals approved to participate in work and study-based exchange visitor programs. These visas allow visitors to experience life in the U.S., before returning to their home countries with an appreciation for the American culture and lifestyle. 

Per the state department, eligible categories of visitors for this visa type include au pairs, camp counselors, college students, interns, physicians, professors, scholars, teachers, and trainees. 

Temporary Work Visas (Non-Agricultural)

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U.S. Temporary Non-Agricultural (H-2B) Visas are available for foreign workers in non-agricultural fields to work in the United States, given that there is an insufficient number of domestic laborers to fill the position. H-2B visas are generally used for jobs that are temporary, though not agricultural – for example, jobs at ski mountains, hotels, beach resorts, or amusement parks.

There is a cap, currently 66,000 a year, on the number of employees who are issued this type of visa. Learn more about current requirements and restrictions at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Temporary Worker Visas (Skilled Workers)

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U.S. H1-B non-immigrant visas are for skilled, educated individuals employed in specialized occupations. The H1-B visa enables foreign workers to temporarily work for a specific employer in the United States.

To apply, you must have an employee-employer relationship, work in a specific in-demand specialty occupation, and be paid above the prevailing wage for that job. There is a cap of 65,000 H1-B visas issued each year. The USCIS website includes the latest instructions and forms for H1-B visas.

Seasonal Agricultural Worker Visas

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US Seasonal Agricultural Worker (H2-A) Visas are available for foreign agricultural workers to work in the United States on a seasonal or temporary basis, provided that there is a shortage of domestic workers. Fortunately, there's plenty of additional information on H2-A visas, including eligibility and requirements. To learn more about the program process and requirements, see the USCIS website.

Eligibility to Work in the United States

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When you have secured the appropriate visa, you will need to get a permit to work, which is officially known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), in order to prove you are eligible to work in the United States. The document provides proof to employers that you are legally permitted to work in the U.S.

You can review information on Employment Authorization Documents and how to acquire, renew, or replace them.