The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) distinguish between immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas. For immigrant visas, there are five preference categories for employment-based immigration, EB-1 through EB-5, along with the infamous Green Card, officially called the Diversity Visa Program. On the website of the Bureau of Consular Affairs, you can find more information on the Green Card Lottery.
Preference categories EB-2, EB-3 and EB-4 are for people with high qualifications and/or special skills required for a particular job in the US. The onus of proof, so to speak, lies with your prospective employer, in the sense that they must obtain an approved Labor Certification from the US Department of Labor.
This certification must provide evidence that, firstly, no equally suitable US candidate could be found to fill the vacant position. Secondly, it should prove that working conditions and wages of US citizens in similar jobs will not be adversely affected by hiring an overseas worker.
Employers will not need to acquire a Labor Certification for expats in academics, executives of multinational companies, outstanding artists, internationally renowned athletes, and foreign investors (EB-1 and EB-5). You can read more about immigrant visas and permanent workers on the USCIS’ website.
There are numerous categories of nonimmigrant visas, which are listed and explained in detail on the USCIS’ temporary workers page. Most of them are initially limited to a period of three years and cater to people in Specialty Occupations (H-1B) or Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement (O-1).
The most popular category is E-1, a visa for Treaty Traders and their employees. In most cases, it can be extended indefinitely, and it allows accompanying family members to apply for work authorization. To qualify for the E-1 visa, the applicant must be a national of a treaty country and carry out principal and substantial trade with the USA.
Temporary business visitors who qualify for entry into the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) do not need to apply for a visa, but have to register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to arrival. They need a valid, machine-readable passport, and their stay is limited to 90 days. If you do not qualify for the VWP, you need to apply for a B-1 Temporary Business Visitor visa, with which your stay is limited to six months.
Do you want to learn more about nonimmigrant visas for the United States? Our Extended Guide article on nonimmigrant US visas gives you an overview of the different visa categories and tells you all you need to know to apply.
While immigrant visa applications are processed at the National Visa Center, applications for nonimmigrant visas are usually handled by a US embassy or consulate in the applicant’s home country. Nonetheless, most categories require the applicant’s prospective or current employer to file a petition with the USCIS first.
As mentioned, an approved Labor Certification from the US Department of Labor might be required as well. As soon as you receive your approved Form I-129 petition, you should arrange a personal interview at your nearest US embassy or consulate, using the receipt number on the petition.
Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) must be completed before the interview and presented together with a valid passport, a passport photo, as well as any other required documents.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.