So you want to work in the United States? Not anyone can just apply for a U.S. work visa and expect to get one. There are special requirements that must be met and a lengthy application process that must be followed. But don’t get discouraged! It’s certainly not impossible. More than 25 million foreign-born workers are employed across the country at this very moment, which means you could be one of them, too.
There are two types of visas that a foreigner can get to start their employment in the United States. That is, either a temporary or a permanent one.
The United States issues temporary visas to workers who meet certain criteria based on their profession. These visas typically require sponsorship from an American company, which must prove that U.S. workers are unable to fulfill the talent requirements of the position you’re after.
These are the types of temporary work visas:
Foreign workers can also apply for permanent work visas, which are also known as employment-based visas. The American government only makes a finite number of these visas available each year, though, so competition is quite high.
These are the types of permanent work visas:
No matter which type of work visa you apply for, there are a few steps you’ll have to complete in order to get one.
While the process differs slightly for each type of visa, they all follow the same general outline. Work visa applications can take weeks or even months to process, so it’s always best to start as early as possible.
For many categories of work visas, you must first find a company in the U.S.A. to sponsor you before you can even think about applying. This involves the company filing a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker with the U.S. government on your behalf, also known as Form I-129. First and foremost, the petition has to be approved before you can begin the visa application process. If you’re having trouble finding a company to sponsor you but working in the U.S. is a long-term goal, there is a way around this requirement. Apply for positions at international companies in your home country that operate in the U.S. and indicate during the interview process that you’re interested in eventually relocating. After a couple years you might find yourself being transferred to a U.S. office under an L visa.
Once you’ve been deemed eligible, you’ll need to fill out the initial application for your work visa. During this process, you’ll also be asked to upload your photo and you’ll be given a list of the documents needed. Make sure to note the application ID number in case you need to refer back to it later.
As soon as you’ve completed your application, you’ll be issued a receipt which you can use to schedule an in-person interview. The interview will take place at the American embassy or consulate in your home country, which you can locate via the U.S. embassy website.
During the interview, you can expect to be asked many in-depth questions by an officer. The answers you provide will determine your eligibility for the visa. You might be asked about your family background, your travel history, and your work experience. Your fingerprints will also be taken during the appointment.
Don’t show up unprepared! Well ahead of your in-person interview, start collecting the required documents. Sometimes these take time to locate or require additional action from your home country’s government. Once you have all the right documents, make plenty of photocopies just in case.
You may also be asked to pay fees, either before or after your in-person interview. Make sure to pay these fees on time and in full or you’ll risk your application being denied.
Once you’ve applied for your U.S. work visa, completed your interview, and paid all the corresponding fees, all that’s left to do is wait. You may be contacted by the officer if any additional information is needed to process your visa. There’s no telling how long it might take to receive the final decision; some visas only take a couple of days, while others remain in processing for months.
Once you’ve received your work visa, it’s time to plan your departure. Moving to the United States as a foreigner can be overwhelming, so try to plan ahead as much as you can. From looking for housing to getting a prepaid phone card, there is a ton to do when moving. Try to negotiate a relocation package with your employer to help cover costs like airfare and shipping your belongings.
You might also want to consider finding an apartment ahead of time so that you don’t have to worry about arriving in a new city without a place to live. Blueground is a great option for this as all of the apartments offered come furnished, equipped and with flexible lease terms. Meaning, you don’t have to commit to a full year and can take time to explore different neighborhoods before settling down.
Finally, don’t forget to breathe and enjoy the moment! Moving to the U.S with a work visa is a special opportunity that not everyone gets to experience, and you’ll remember this time for the rest of your life.