Types of Employment-Based Visas

Posted by Frank Gogol
Updated on June 8, 2022

Understanding work authorization in the United States as a non-citizen can be difficult. There are many different kinds of visas you can apply for. This article will help you understand the various types of employment-based visas that you could apply for.

What are the Different Types of Employment-Based Visas?

Employment-based visas allow you to work and earn an income in the U.S. as a non-citizen. All applications for U.S. visas are processed and issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

The different types of employment-based visas can be grouped into the following four categories. 

1. Temporary Non-Immigrant Visa

Temporary Non-Immigrant Visas are for people who only want to work in the U.S. for a fixed period. 

Generally, these visas require that your employer files a petition with the USCIS before you apply for a visa based on that petition.

2. Permanent (Immigrant) Workers

If you want to live and work in the U.S. permanently, you can apply for an employment-based lawful permanent resident card (green card). The USCIS issues about 140,000 of these kinds of green cards every year. 

Employment-based green cards are given to people who have certain skills, education, or work experience. Generally, to get this kind of green card, you have to have an official offer of employment from a U.S.-based company that has labor certification from the Department of Labour.

The labor certificate is issued to your employer if it can prove:

  • that there are not enough workers already in the country who have the skills to do your job, and 
  • that hiring you would not be taking a job away from a U.S. citizen. 

3. Student and Exchange Visitors

Student visas and foreign exchange visas allow non-U.S. citizens to study in the country. 

You are allowed to do certain kinds of work to earn an income while you are in the U.S. on a student or exchange visa, but there are a lot of restrictions.

4. Temporary Visit for Business

These kinds of visas are specifically for business travel for very short periods, usually less than 12 months. 

Temporary Non-Immigrant Visa Explained

The various categories of Temporary Non-Immigrant work visas are explained in more detail below.

H Visas

H visas like H1B Visas are issued to people who work in an academic or professional job that requires special expertise. Generally, the minimum requirement for this kind of visa is that you have at least a bachelor’s level college degree. 

The longest you can remain in the U.S. on an H visa is 3 years. 

I Visas

I visas are for members of the press. This includes:

  •  reporters, 
  • photographers,
  • film crews,
  • support staff,

and other people who work for a foreign print, radio, or television news media outlet. 

There is no strict time limit for this type of visa. You just have to continue being in the media profession and working for the same foreign media company.

L Visas

L visas are specifically for people transferring from a foreign to a U.S. branch of the same company. 

There are separate categories of L visas for company executives and non-executives. Only employees with specialized skills are eligible for a non-executive L visa.

You can also apply for an L visa as an executive if you are going to be setting up your company’s first U.S. branch. L visas must be renewed after one to three years, depending on the type.

O Visas

O visas are for people with exceptional abilities or who have achieved exceptional things in their work. If you would like to travel to the U.S. with your family, O visas also extend to people who are traveling with you and to your family members.

P Visas

P visas are for people who have shown excellence in athletic or artistic performance. P visas are also extended to people who are traveling to the U.S. with the high performer. Generally, if you apply for a P visa it is for a specific event that you want to attend in the U.S. 

R Visas

R visas are for members of a religious group that is recognized by the federal government. You can apply for this type of visa to work directly for the religious organization you are part of or for an associated non-profit organization.

TN Visas

Only citizens of Mexico and Canada are eligible for TN visas. This kind of visa is useful if you want to enter the U.S. to do business at a professional level under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Permanent (Immigrant) Workers Explained

The visas below are all of the various types of immigrant work visas you can apply for in the U.S. These are ideal if you want to move to the U.S. to live and work permanently.

EB1 Visa (First Preference)

EB1 Visas are for people with “extraordinary ability”. This includes:

  • Business professionals
  • Academics
  • Scientists
  • Artists
  • Athletes.

This type of visa does not require the company that you are going to work for to get labor certification from the Department of Labour before filing a petition on your behalf. 

EB2 Visa (Second Preference)

You can apply for an EB2 Visa if you:

  • have an advanced degree or,
  • have 10 or more years of experience in your field, or
  • have a job that is in the national interest of the U.S.

Unless your job is of national interest, your employer will need to obtain labor certification before filing the petition. 

EB3 Visa (Third Preference)

You can apply for an EB3 Visa if you:

  • have a bachelor’s degree or,
  • you have a non-temporary employment offer from a U.S.-based employer.

Your employer will have to obtain labor certification before filing a petition on your behalf for this visa.

EB4 (Fourth Preference)

EB4 visas are a specialized category of visas. Only people who meet specific requirements are eligible to apply for this kind of visa. 

These requirements include:

  • workers for certain religious organizations
  • employees of U.S. foreign service posts
  • retired employees of international organizations
  • non-citizens who are minors and wards of a U.S. court.

Labour certification is not required for this kind of visa. In some cases, family members may also be eligible to be covered by the visa.

EB5 (Fifth Preference)

EB5 visas are issued under the Immigrant Investor Program. To be eligible for this type of visa your must:

  • invest at least $1.8 million into a new business that employs 10 or more U.S. workers on a full-time basis, or
  • invest $900,000 into a new business in a “targeted employment area” that employs 10 or more U.S. workers on a full-time basis.

Labour certification is not required for this kind of visa.

Student and Exchange Visitors Explained

The various categories of student and exchange visas are explained in more detail below.

F Visas

F visas are available for students who are enrolled in an accredited academic (degree-granting) institution. 

There are sub-categories of F visas for the family of students, and for Canadian or Mexican students who commute between their home country and the U.S. to study. 

If you have an F1 Visa, you are allowed to work if you are enrolled full-time in your course of study. In your first year, you are not allowed to work any off-campus job. 

After that, you can get one of the following types of job, if they are related to your field of study:

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) (pre-completion or post-completion)
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) OPT.

M Visas

M visas are for students enrolled in a vocational institution or another type of recognized, non-academic institution. M visas are broken down into the same categories as F visas for family and students who commute.

M visas also have similar restrictions as F visas on the kinds of employment you can get while studying in the U.S.

J Visas

J visas are available specifically for students who are enrolled in particular kinds of work-and-study programs. This includes:

  • au pairs,
  • interns,
  • trainees,
  • camp counselors.

If you want to apply for this type of visa, the program you are in must promote cultural exchange, and you have to meet several requirements including passing an English proficiency test.

Temporary Visit for Business Explained

The different types of temporary business visas are explained below.

B1 Visas

B1 visas are usually only valid for one to six months. You can extend your B1 visa by up to six months. It is rare for a B1 visa to last longer than a year.

GB Temporary Visitor to Guam

These types of visas are for travelers to the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Your visit does not have to be business, it can also be as a tourist, but it cannot last more than 45 days. You must have a return ticket when traveling with this visa.

WB Temporary Visitor Under Visa Waiver Program

Under this visa waiver program, citizens of 39 countries specified by the State Department may enter the U.S. without applying for a visa. If you are a citizen of one of these countries you can stay in the U.S. for up to 90 days.

Read More

Final Thoughts 

There are over a dozen types of employment-based visas that you can apply for in the U.S. The one that’s best for you depends on whether you want to live and work in the country for a long time or just temporarily. It also depends on what kind of job you are doing specifically. Student visas are primarily meant for studying, but you are allowed to do some kinds of work with some major restrictions. You can apply for all the different types of employment-based visas through the USCIS.


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