Understanding U.S. Immigration: U.S. Work Visas

Guest Blog by U.S. Attorney Olivia McLaren who has recently opened an American Immigration Law firm in Edinburgh. When a U.S. company wishes to hire a foreign national, nine times out of ten it is necessary to explore nonimmigrant visa options because either the employment is intended as a temporary assignment or the intending immigrant visa options are backlogged and the employment needs to begin right away.  Analysis of eligibility for each nonimmigrant work visa option is premised on (1) the job description and minimum educational and employment credentials required for the position; and, (2) the credentials of the beneficiary foreign national. As a brief primer, here is a summary of the most popular work visa categories:

E-2: Individuals from treaty countries (including the United Kingdom) who are making a substantial investment in a U.S. enterprise or will be employed in certain capacities by an enterprise that is owned by individuals who are from a treaty country.  E-1s are for individuals from a treaty country who are carrying on substantial trade with the United States.

H-1B: Individuals who will be employed in a specialty occupation, defined as a position that requires at least a baccalaureate education in a specific field of study (e.g., architects, accountants, actuaries).  Demand for this visa far exceeds the number of available visas, so a lottery is ordinarily conducted in the spring of each year.

H-2: Certain types of seasonal/intermittent workers, either agricultural or nonagricultural (e.g., restaurant workers) where the employer can prove the offered position cannot be filled with U.S. workers.

H-3: Trainees who need to acquire skills in a U.S. enterprise and return oversees to apply them.

J-1: Exchange visitors, who are taking part in certain programs intended to share skills and knowledge internationally.  Within this category, trainees/interns are common, but there are a variety of other occupations, such as research scholars and au pairs, who may qualify.

L-1: Intracompany transferees, where a manager, executive or specialized knowledge employee has worked for a company abroad for a year and will be moved to an affiliated entity in the United States.

O-1: Individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts, education, athletics, business or science, with an offer of employment or an itinerary of engagements in the United States.

P-1: Internationally recognized artists and entertainers (groups only) and athletes (groups and individuals).  There are also P-2 and P-3 visas, which are related, but have slightly different criteria.

This is not a complete list of U.S. nonimmigrant visa categories, but unless the beneficiary falls into other very narrow categorizations such as religious workers or journalists, these likely would be the visas up for consideration.