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

Last Updated on January 9, 2024

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. Work visas are available for both temporary work and longer-term employment. 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.

Eight Most Common U.S. Work Visas


Among the various work visa types in the U.S., the H-1B visa is the most popular. The temporary work visa is available to foreign nationals who work in specialty occupations, such as science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) 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 65,000 are reserved for individuals with a bachelor’s degree, and the remaining 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 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 it 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.

H-2A Visa

The H-2 visa category is further broken down into ‘H-2A’ and ‘H-2B.’ Both visas allow employees to work in the U.S. temporarily. The H-2A visa is designed for temporary work authorization specifically in the agricultural sector. H-2A work visas allow employers to hire foreign workers for their employment needs if there are not enough U.S. workers available. H-2A visas permit seasonal employment only.

H-2B Visa

The H-2B visa is also a temporary work visa. However, it differs from the H-2A visa in that the H-2B visa authorizes temporary work for all other industries outside of the agricultural sector. Ski resorts, ice cream stands, and landscaping are some examples of temporary work needs that employers may hire workers on an H-2B visa for. While employees are technically hired for the broader category of ‘temporary’ employment, that category is further broken down into intermittent, seasonal and peak load.

Both the H-2A and H-2B visa have their own set of requirements and specific details. Check out our blog on H-2A and H-2B visas to learn more.

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. 

We also encourage you to contact us to learn more about how Envoy Global can help with all your visa and immigration needs!

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Envoy is pleased to provide you with this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Corporate Immigration Partners, P.C., a U.S. law firm who provides services through the Envoy Platform (the “U.S. Law Firm”).  

Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. Envoy is not a law firm, and does not provide legal advice. If you would like guidance on how this information may impact your particular situation and you are a client of the U.S. Law Firm, consult your attorney. If you are not a client of the U.S. Law Firm working with Envoy, consult another qualified professional. This website does not create an attorney-client relationship with the U.S. Law Firm.