Working Legally in the U.S.: A Visa Applicant's Guide

Created: Nov 22, 2023 | Updated: Apr 3, 2024

In an era of globalized economies, many professionals find exciting opportunities in the United States. However, it is important to understand the nuances of working in the U.S. on a visa in order to have a successful and stress-free experience. Let’s explore the essentials you need to know to steer through the complexities of U.S. work visas.

What is a U.S. Work Visa?

A U.S. work visa is a formal authorization granted by the Government of the United States that allows foreigners to work within the country for a specified period. 


U.S. Work Visa Types

There are various types of U.S. work visas, each designed for a special purpose. To apply for any of these visas, you have to understand their eligibility criteria. This is the first step in determining which one suits your needs.


Temporary Work Visas

Temporary work visas, also known as non-immigrant visas, are issued to foreign nationals who wish to enter the United States for a specific purpose and a limited duration. These visas are designed for individuals who have a job offer or a particular employment-related reason but do not intend to permanently reside in the U.S. Once the authorized period expires, the visa holder is generally required to leave the country unless their status is changed or extended. Some common types of temporary U.S. work visas include: 

  • H-1B Visa: It is issued to foreign workers in speciality occupations and requires a job offer from a U.S. employer and a relevant educational background.
  • L-1 Visa: This visa facilitates the intra-company transfer of employees from a foreign office to a U.S. office of the same employer. It is divided into L-1A for managers and executives and L-1B for employees with specialized knowledge.
  • O Visa: This visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in fields such as science, education, business, athletics, or the arts.
  • TN Visa: This is available for Canadian and Mexican citizens under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now replaced by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). It is for certain professional occupations.
  • H-2 Visas (H-2A and H-2B): The H-2A visa is for temporary agricultural workers while the H-2B visa is for temporary non-agricultural workers.

If you want to work temporarily in the U.S. as a nonimmigrant, a common way is to have your prospective employer file a petition with USCIS on your behalf.


Permanent Work Visas

Permanent work visas, on the other hand, are intended for foreign nationals who wish to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. These visas are often employment-based immigrant visas and are typically obtained through a multi-step process that involves employer sponsorship and approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Some of these visas include:

  • EB-1 Visa: The EB-1 visa is for individuals with extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors or researchers, and multinational executives and managers.
  • EB-2 Visa: This is for professionals with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities in their field.
  • EB-3 Visa: This is for skilled workers, professionals, and other workers with less than two years of experience.
  • EB-4 Visa: This Visa is for special immigrants, including religious workers, broadcasters, and certain employees of U.S. foreign service posts.
  • EB-5 Visa: For immigrant investors who make a substantial investment in a new commercial enterprise that creates jobs.

With the right combination of experience, skills, and education, you may be able to work permanently in the U.S. You can do this by going after an employment-based immigrant visa. 


Working in the U.S. on a visa


How to get a Work Visa in the U.S.

To get a U.S. work visa, you would have to go through a series of steps and this process can sometimes be challenging. Understanding this process is your first step to achieving your goal of working in the U.S. 

The process typically involves a few simple steps: putting together the necessary documents, filling out the online form, attending the visa interview, and waiting for your visa. 


Put Together the Necessary Documents

For a U.S. work visa, you need to present the generally required U.S. visa documentation as well as additional documentation pertaining to your job. The U.S. work visa requirements usually include:

  • Proof of professional degrees.
  • Proof of qualifications.
  • Your job offer letter from a U.S. employer.
  • Your CV/Resume.
  • Letters from previous employers.
  • State Licenses (if needed).
  • Proof of your abilities.


Fill out the Online Form

The next step is to go online to the U.S. Department of State website and fill out the online Form DS-160. You can fill this form by yourself, or with the assistance of a third-party company.

After you have filled out the form, make sure to print out the confirmation page and take it with you for your interview. 


Pay the Visa Fees

The U.S. work visa costs $185. You should expect additional fees that may apply to your location, so be sure to check with your local U.S. Embassy for more information.


Attend Your Interview

On the day of your interview, make sure to come early, confident, and prepared. Be sure you have all the required documentation. You will be asked questions related to your background, purpose of travel, ties to your home country, and financial ability to support the trip. Make sure all the information you provide is honest and accurate.


Wait for Your Visa

On average, the visa processing at the Embassy takes three days after an in-person visa interview but mail-in applications take 4 weeks. When the process is done, you will know if you have been approved or denied a visa so it is advisable to book tickets and make other travel plans only after getting the visa. On a final note, processing times may differ, depending on the circumstances of your application.  


Maintaining Legal Status in the U.S.

The U.S., like many other countries, has strict rules and regulations to help maintain order in the country. This is why each visa has specific terms that are your responsibility to understand and comply with during your stay in the U.S. A violation of any of the immigration regulations could have serious consequences.


Responsibilities of  U.S. Visa Holders

  • Always Have Your Registration Documentation
    As a non-citizen, from the age of 18, you are required by U.S. law to carry your registration documentation with you at all times. For non-immigrants, you need evidence of registration as your most recent I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. The stamp on your passport is your registration document if you were given an electronic I-94 Record.
  • Be Sure to Report a Change of Address
    As a non-citizen living in the United States, you have to inform USCIS when you change your address. It is generally an easy process, so it is best to get it done to avoid any issues. As a permanent resident, you do not need to seek approval for a change of residence. You can move to a different residence before informing USCIS of your new location. Updating your address with USCIS is necessary, because it is the law and, secondly, because the immigration agency needs your contact information for future communication.
  • Don’t Let Your U.S. Visa Expire
    Temporary work visas have expiration dates. Initiate an extension or renewal process well before your current visa expires. Delays or lapses in this process could result in the loss of legal status. Stay organized and keep track of important deadlines to avoid any unintended complications.
  • Take Good Care of Your Passport
    Just like your temporary visa, your passport should not be allowed to expire before renewal. At all times, your passport has to be valid, so contact your country’s consulate in the United States for any issues pertaining to your passport. Report to the police or relevant authorities immediately if your passport gets missing or stolen because you might be required to bring a police statement before your passport can be renewed. Keep your passport safe and always carry a photocopy with you.
  • Comply With Your Employment Terms
    You need to comply with the terms of employment if you are on a temporary work visa. Make sure you are working for the employer and in the position specified in your visa petition. Any changes in job responsibilities, location, or employer may require an amendment to your visa, and failure to do so could jeopardize your legal status.
  • Avoiding Unlawful Presence
    Overstaying the authorized period on your visa can lead to serious consequences, including deportation and a bar on re-entry. If you have not changed or extended your visa, you must make plans to leave the U.S. before your expiration date. 


Know Your Employment Rights and Benefits

Everyone, regardless of their immigration status, has the right to be treated fairly and without discrimination. Your race, nationality, or visa category should never be a barrier to fair treatment. Know what your rights are in order to avoid being taken advantage of or any form of harassment. 

  1. Every non-immigrant worker in the United States has the right to fair pay. You should earn full pay for all your work and this pay should at least be up to the minimum wage.
  2. You have the right to be free from discrimination. No employer is permitted to discriminate against you because of your age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or disability.
  3. You also have the right to a healthy and safe workplace. Your employer is required to provide a safe working environment as well as seek medical intervention for injuries or illnesses obtained from work.
  4. As a worker, you have the right to be free from sexual harassment and sexual exploitation. On no account is your employer allowed to engage in any form of sexual harassment towards you, which also includes making offensive sexual or gender-based comments.
  5. You have the right as a U.S. worker to request help from union, immigrant, and labour rights groups.
  6. You have the right to leave an abusive employment condition. If your employer is abusive or the working environment is unconducive, you can file a complaint or lawsuit against your employer or leave the job.

Finally, if you find yourself in need of a USCIS-certified translation service as a foreigner who wants to work in the US, Translayte is your go-to location for certified translation services. We make sure you have a smooth and hassle-free experience while receiving the most accurate translation for your documents.

After covering all the essentials about working in the U.S. on a work visa, from understanding the various visa categories to your rights and responsibilities as a visa holder. The U.S. offers a lot of opportunities, and with the right knowledge, you can confidently pursue your career aspirations. Leverage the resources available, seek professional guidance when needed, and embrace the exciting opportunities that come with working in one of the world's most dynamic and diverse professional landscapes.


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