If you are traveling to the United States for employment, then you may be confused by the variety of eligibility and paperwork requirements necessary to obtain a work permit. In many cases, your employer will have already taken care of these requirements or will help you to understand the process, but it can still be useful to learn the details yourself. In general, you will need a visa if you are not an American citizen or permanent resident and you intend to do any work (even temporary work) within the United States.
Note that the purpose of any visa is to indicate that you are eligible to enter the country for the reason given by the visa.
H1B vs. H2B Visas
The two most common types of work visas are H1B and H2B visas. The type of visa that you will need will depend on your background and the type of work that you will be doing in the United States.
H1B visas are reserved for workers who have completed some form of college degree or who are otherwise highly skilled. Additionally, H1B visa applicants must have already secured employment within the United States. If you are eligible for an H1B visa, then your sponsoring employer must petition for the visa on your behalf. You cannot begin the process on your own.
H2B visas, on the other hand, are for temporary workers that will not be employed in highly skilled or agricultural occupations. As with an H1B visa, you must first secure employment in the US before you are eligible for a visa and you must be able to show that your stay in the US will only be for the duration of your employment. Your employer will then begin the petition process to secure an H2B visa so that you can begin work.
Other Types of Work Visas
There are a large variety of visas available to foreign nationals wishing to travel to the United States, but many workers will be covered by either H1B or H2B visas. If these visas do not cover your particular situation, you may be eligible for one of the other work visas offered by the United States:
- H2A visas are reserved for temporary or seasonal agricultural workers
- L1 visas are appropriate if you are employed outside of the United States and your current employer wishes to transfer you to a US location
- If you are opening a business in the United States, you may be eligible for an E2 visa
Work Visa Limitations
Although specific eligibility requirements and limitations vary between visa types, all work visas issued by the United States are temporary work visas. This means that you are not permitted to remain in the country indefinitely and often requires that your visa be periodically renewed. Depending on the type of visa, extensions may be available, but you will be required to apply for permanent residency if you wish to continue working for a US employer indefinitely.