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Employment visas are categorized as immigrant or non-immigrant. Immigrant visas are also known as green cards and you become a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR). Usually you can apply for citizenship once you’ve been a citizen for 5 years. Non-immigrant visas are temporary; you may be able to stay in the U.S. for several years but you do not receive LPR or green card status. All employment visa petitions require careful attention to the required qualifications, forms, and supporting documents.
The following are the primary immigrant visa categories. There are annual quotas in several categories which have led to long waits for nationals of some countries, especially China, India, Mexico and the Philippines. You can check visa availability each month at the State Department’s Visa Bulletin site.
Unless specified, you must have a sponsoring employer in the U.S. who is offering you a full-time, permanent job, the employer might pay the costs of the visa petition process, and has to prove there are not sufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified and available to perform the work; and the employment of the prospective immigrant will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers in similar employment.
EB-1 A – Extraordinary Ability workers: must prove extraordinary ability in the sciences, art, education, business or athletics demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim. The worker can self-petition, i.e. s/he does not need a job offer from a U.S. employer.
EB-1 B – Outstanding Professors or Researchers: are recognized internationally as outstanding in a specific academic area and “should stand apart in the academic community through eminence and distinction based on international recognition.” The applicant must have 3 years experience in teaching or research in the academic area, and a job offer from the sponsoring employer.
EB-1 C – Multinational Executives and Managers: are very high-level executives and managers who have worked for an affiliate or subsidiary company for one year out of the past three.
EB-2 – Advanced Degree workers: the job must require an advanced degree and you must possess such a degree or its equivalent (a baccalaureate degree plus 5 years progressive work experience in the field); or you can show “exceptional ability” in the sciences, arts, or business.
EB-2 National Interest Waiver: Must show exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business who will substantially benefit the national economy, cultural or educational interests or welfare of the U.S. The worker can self-petition and must prove to USCIS (Immigration) that it is in the national interest to waive the requirement for a labor certification. S/he must show s/he seeks employment in an area of substantial intrinsic merit; the benefit will be national in scope; and the national interest would be adversely affected if a labor certification were required.
EB-3 – Professionals who possess a U.S. baccalaureate degree or a foreign degree equivalent, or skilled workers with at least 2 years of job experience or training, or unskilled workers or other workers performing unskilled labor (requiring less than 2 years training or experience), that is not of a temporary or seasonal nature.
EB-4 – Religious Workers: these are not lay positions. They can be Ministers of Religion/Imams/Rabbis and similar; or in religious vocations including nuns, monks and similar, or other religious occupations. The worker must have been in the denomination or religion for two years, and have worked in a qualifying position for two years.
EB-5 – Investor Green Cards. This program creates jobs in the U.S. through foreign investors. Foreign nationals can obtain LPR status if they invest $500,000 or $1,000,000 (depending on geographical area); and the investment creates full-time jobs for 10 U.S. workers. Investor green cards are conditional for 2 years so the government can see the requirements are still being met. The foreign national can invest individually by starting a new business or buying a business, or through a USCIS-approved EB-5 Regional Center which pools the funds of many investors to create jobs. Most EB-5 investors apply through Regional Centers.
Non-Immigrant Employment Visas
Non-immigrant visas are considered temporary visas because they do not provide you with a green card or permanent residence status. They have an expiration date such as 2 years from entry, though some can be extended, or you may be able to apply to ‘adjust status’ to a different category. When you enter the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa your intention must be to return permanently to your home country when the visa expires. However, some visas, including H1-Bs, are ‘dual intent’ visas so you can have the intention to immigrate if you enter on a dual intent visa. The issue of your intention can become very important. For example, if you enter on a non-immigrant visa but your intention is really to marry and remain permanently in the U.S., you may be deported for fraud.
The following are popular non-immigrant employment visa categories:
E-1 Treaty Trader: the applicant is usually an executive or manager, and is a citizen of a treaty country engaging in substantial trade between the United States and their home country.
E-2 Treaty Investor: the applicant must develop and direct the activities of a bona fide enterprise in which s/he has invested a substantial amount of capital- normally at least $100,000. You must be a national of a treaty country “with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation.”
H-1B Specialty Occupation: the prospective employer petitions for the worker, who must have a a baccalaureate or higher degree or its equivalent; the degree requirement is common to the industry in similar positions; the employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position, or the nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with earning a baccalaureate or higher degree. There is an annual quota of 65,000 H-1Bs with bachelors degrees and an additional 20,000 visas for those with more advanced degrees. In 2014, the government received 172,000 applications for these visas in the first week of the filing period, and held a lottery to determine whose applications would proceed. The next filing period will not start until April 1, 2015. Spouses of H-1Bs are not permitted to work.
L-1 Intracompany Transferee: the company petitions for a foreign national who is a high-level executive or manager, or who brings specialized knowledge about some aspect of the company’s operation. The foreign national must have been employed full-time abroad by a parent, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary of the petitioning United States company for one continuous year.
O-1 Extraordinary Ability: In this case, the foreign national is coming to work a specific event or performance, e.g. a sporting or artistic event, and can show extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business or athletics, or have extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievements in the motion picture or TV industry.