How to get a temporary work visa

If you wish to enter the United States and work, you first must obtain a visa. There are two kinds of visas: immigrant and nonimmigrant visas. An immigrant visa allows you to obtain a green card and live in the United States permanently (for more information, see here). A nonimmigrant visa, on the other hand, allows you — and often your spouse and children — to live in the United States for a fixed period of time.

If you wish to stay longer, you may be able to renew your visa or change your status to a different kind of visa. Under some circumstances, you may even be able to obtain a green card, which would allow you to stay in the United States permanently and ultimately become a citizen.  It is typically quicker to obtain a temporary work visa than an employment-based green card, so many foreign workers and U.S. employers prefer to start with temporary work visas.

To obtain a temporary work visa, there may be up to steps: (1) labor certification, (2) petition approval, and (3) the visa application itself. Depending on your situation, one or more of these steps may not apply.

Labor Certification

For some temporary work visas, you are required to obtain a labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor.  This is generally the first step in the temporary worker visa process, and it is the employer who applies for it, not the worker.  The labor certification requirement is designed to ensure that hiring foreign workers for a given position will not negatively affect the job opportunities, wages, and working conditions of U.S. workers.

Petition Approval

Once the employer obtains the labor certification, the employer will then file a nonimmigrant worker visa petition with USCIS (Form I-129).  It is a way of asking the government to approve the employer’s offer of employment.  Although the requirements for the I-129 petition depend on the type of visa requested, the employer must generally show an ability to pay the proposed worker’s salary, and that the worker satisfies the requirements for the type of visa sought.  Some temporary worker categories are subject to an annual cap.

The Visa Application

Once the petition is approved, USCIS will send your prospective employer a Notice of Action, Form I-797.  Your employer’s role in the process is now complete, and you must now perform your part in the visa application process.  For this process, you must file a written application (DS-160), upload a photo, pay a filing fee, and appear at an interview to establish that you qualify for the type of visa you are requesting.  The interview usually takes place at a U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country.

Types of work visas

Here is a list of the different work visas available:

B1 Temporary Business Visitor Visa:  Allows you to travel to the United States to conduct business for a temporary period of time.  You must be employed in your foreign country, and you may not accept a salary from an employer within the United States.  

E-1 Treaty Trader Visa:  Allows a national of a treaty country (a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation) to be admitted to the United States solely to engage in international trade on his or her own behalf. 

E-2 Treaty Traders Visa:  Allows a national of a treaty country to be admitted to invest a substantial amount of capital in a U.S. business. 

E-3 Visa for Certain Specialty Occupation Professionals from Australia:  You must be coming to the United States solely to perform services in a specialty occupation. The specialty occupation requires theoretical and practical application of a body of knowledge in professional fields and the attainment of a bachelor’s degree, or its equivalent.

F1 Student Visa:  This visa does not automatically allow you to work, but you may obtain authorization to work in a field that is directly related to your major area of study through the Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) program.  

H1B Specialty Occupation Visa:  Allows you to work in a specialty occupation and often requires an advanced degree.  It includes fashion models of distinguished merit and ability, and government-to-government research and development, or co-production projects administered by the Department of Defense.

H-1B1 Visa for Free Trade Agreement Professionals from Chile or Singapore:  This visa also relates to specialty occupations and requires a post-secondary degree involving at least four years of study in the field of specialization.

H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker Visa: For temporary or seasonal agricultural work and is limited to citizens of designated countries if determined to be in the United States’ interest.

H-2B Temporary Non-agricultural Worker Visa:  For temporary or seasonal non-agricultural work. Limited to citizens of designated countries if determined to be in the United States’ interest.

H3 Trainee or Special Education Visitor Visa:  Allows you to receive training, other than graduate medical or academic, that is not available in your home country.  It includes practical training programs in the education of children with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities.

L Intracompany Transferee Visa:  Allows you to work in the United States as long as you are being transferred by your existing employer.  It covers managerial or executive positions, or positions requiring specialized knowledge.  You must have been employed by your employer abroad for one year, continuously, within the last three years. 

O Extraordinary Ability or Achievement Visa:  For people with extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, or extraordinary recognized achievements in the motion picture and television fields.   

P-1 Individual or Team Athlete, or Member of an Entertainment Group Visa:  To perform at a specific athletic competition as an athlete or as a member of an entertainment group. Requires an internationally recognized level of sustained performance. 

P-2 Artist or Entertainer Visa:  For performance under a reciprocal exchange program between an organization in the United States and an organization in another country.

P-3 Artist or Entertainer Visa:  To perform, teach or coach under a program that is culturally unique or a traditional ethnic, folk, cultural, musical, theatrical, or artistic performance or presentation. 

Q-1 Participant in an International Cultural Exchange Program Visa: For practical training and employment and for sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of your home country through participation in an international cultural exchange program.

TN NAFTA Professional Visa:  Allows citizens of Canada and Mexico, as NAFTA professionals, to work in the United States in prearranged business activities for U.S. or foreign employers.


If you are interested in applying for a temporary worker visa or obtaining one for a prospective employee, contact me today.

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