U.S. Visas

This guide is aimed at U.S.-owned firms with an established U.S. trading presence who wish to obtain a U.S. work visa for their employees or potential employees.

If you are not certain about what you need to do, or what type of U.S.A. visa to apply for, when bringing a non-U.S. national to work for you, don’t worry – this is entirely normal. There are almost sixty different types of temporary U.S. visas in addition to several routes to permanent residence (known as ‘the green card’). This guide limits itself to the most commonly used visas for professional staff. It will not make you an expert on U.S.A. visas, and is no substitute for professional advice, but it should make you familiar with the territory.

If you have not researched this area before, you may be thinking in terms of getting a ‘green card’ for your staff. Unfortunately, ‘green card’ applications usually take a long time, so even if this is the ultimate goal, you will probably need to begin by applying for a temporary work visa. Once the candidate arrives in the U.S. on the U.S.A. visa, you can begin working on the long term project of arranging ‘the green card’.

If you are going to need someone for less than six months, a sensible first question is: Can the work be done by someone on a visitor’s visa (or visa-waiver), or will I need to get a ‘proper’ work visa? Visit visas in the U.S. are called B1 or B2 visas.

The other ‘easy way out’ is if the candidate you want to hire is a Canadian. Treaties between the U.S. and Canada mean that it is far easier to get a work visa if the candidate is Canadian. Unfortunately, Canada suffers from many of the same skills shortages as the U.S., so you will probably need to look at the ‘mainstream’ visa types for non-Canadian citizens.

There are three main categories of U.S. work visa for professionals. The H1B visa is probably the most famous – or rather infamous, given the constant battles in Congress over the controversial issue of how large the H1B quota should be. If not for the fact that these quotas can be filled rather early in the fiscal year, the H1B visa would probably be the most useful type of U.S. work visa, as virtually any U.S. enterprise can use it either for hiring or for intra-group transfers.

The problem of H1B quotas means that you will probably want to familiarize yourself with the other main type of visa used to bring alien workers into the U.S. This is the L1 U.S. work visa.  These visas can be used to transfer staff who have been employed for at least one year out of the last three by your parent, subsidiary, or affiliated companies outside the U.S.

Here is an ‘at a glance’ summary.  Click the links for more information about each type of visa:

Visa Designation Uses Max. Stay
B1 Business Visitor For business people making sales, conducting negotiations, attending meetings, and seeking investments. 6 months
H1B Speciality Occupation Worker For individuals having the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor degree (Foreign degrees and/or work experience may be found to be equivalent to a U.S. bachelor degree). 6 Years
L1A Intra Company Transferee For executives or managers who have worked for at least one year in the past three for a foreign parent, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch office of the U.S. company that will employ them. 7 Years
L1B Intra-CompanyTransferee For specialized knowledge employees who have worked for at least one year in the past three for a foreign parent, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch office of the proposed U.S. employer. 5 Years
E1 Treaty Trader For staff to direct and develop import / export trade between the U.S. and the treaty country. Indefinite (2 – year increments)
E2 Treaty Investor For staff to direct and develop investments made in the U.S. by a treaty country national/company. Indefinite (2 – year increments)
Permanent residence First Preference Priority Worker For international managers and executives. Also for aliens with extraordinary ability and outstanding Professors/Researchers. Permanent
Permanent residence Second Preference Priority Worker Professionals with advanced degrees, or those with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business. Permanent
Permanent Residence Third Preference Worker Professionals with basic degrees, and skilled workers. Also “other workers” who have less than two years of relevant experience. Permanent
‘TN1’ Canadian Professional For Canadian professionals and managers. Indefinite (1 year increments)

There are dozens of other visa categories that may be used by those in particular circumstances. Unfortunately, we cannot cover them all in this guide.  Otherwise it would end up as large as the standard reference guide to U.S. Immigration, which takes up more than two feet of bookshelf space.