What Are the Most Common U.S. Work Visa Types?

August 30, 2017 Chelsea Iversen

Employers seeking to sponsor foreign national employees have several visa options to consider

For employers seeking skilled labor from the global marketplace, the U.S. immigration system offers various work visa options to fit different needs. Understanding the nuances and requirements of each before getting started is a key first step in the process. Doing so can help organizations confidently secure the appropriate work authorization for their foreign national employees and fill roles effectively.

Six of the most common U.S. work visas

H-1B Specialty Occupation

Among the various work visa types in the U.S., the H-1B specialty occupation visa is the most popular. The temporary work visa is available to foreign nationals who work in specialty occupations, such as engineering and computer science. Because of the high demand, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) applies a yearly cap of 85,000 petitions to the H-1B, of which 20,000 are reserved for individuals with a master’s degree. The high number of petitions and the low number of available H-1B visas has brought more attention to other visa types in recent years.

L-1 Intracompany Transferee

The L-1 visa category is reserved for employers who need to transfer managers, executives or employees with specialized knowledge from a foreign entity to a U.S. entity. The worker must be with the organization for at least one year and the employer must establish a relationship between the foreign and U.S. entity. L-1A visas are available to high-level company executives or managerial employees with supervisory duties. The L-1B visa shares many of the same benefits as the L-1A, but is intended for foreign employees with specialized knowledge that benefits the sponsoring employer. To qualify, the employee must possess essential qualifications that others in the company or industry do not.

O-1 “Extraordinary Ability” 

The O-1 visa is a special classification for foreign nationals who possess “extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, education, business or athletics”. Extraordinary ability means the person has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor and is known internationally or nationally for his or her achievements.

TN Visa

Originally established as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the TN visa is a special classification for citizens of Mexico and Canada. The agreement itself has since been replaced with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, but the provisions of the TN visa remain in place. Citizens from Mexico or Canada eligible to seek admission to TN status include accountants, engineers, lawyers, and other specifically designated professionals. This visa type is highly valued because there is no annual cap and can be renewed indefinitely in three-year increments.

E-1 And E-2 Treaty Visas

The E visa category includes treaty traders and investors who come to the U.S. under a treaty of commerce and navigation between the U.S., and the country of which the treaty trader or investor is a citizen or national. An E-1 visa is used for companies or individuals who are involved in or want to develop substantial trade between the U.S. and a country that the U.S. maintains an appropriate treaty. Substantial trade refers to the flow of sizable international items of trade that involves many transactions over time. An E-2 visa is used for applicants who want to enter the U.S. solely to develop and direct an enterprise in which they have invested a substantial amount of capital.

E-3 Australian Specialty Occupation

This category also includes the E-3 visa, which is available to workers in specialty occupations or professional occupations who are nationals of Australia.An E-3 visa can also be granted to the primary visa holder’s spouse and minor children. There are a maximum of 10,500 E-3 visas issued annually. Spouses and children of primary petitioners do not count against the numerical limitations. To qualify, the primary visa petitioner must possess a bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent, receive a legitimate job offer in the U.S., and fill a specialty occupation that requires a specific skill set.

To learn even more about the eligibility criteria, validity periods and the petition process for these visa types and others, download our free ebook, The ABCs of Immigration: The HR Guide to Employment-Based U.S. Nonimmigrant Visas and Green Cards.

Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Sara Herbek, who is a Managing Partner at Global Immigration Associates, P.C. (www.giafirm.com), Envoy's affiliated law firm.

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an Envoy-retained attorney or another qualified professional.

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