Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Temporary worker visas are for persons who want to enter the United States for employment lasting a fixed period of time, and are not considered permanent or indefinite. Each of these visas requires the prospective employer to first file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An approved petition is required to apply for a work visa.
Temporary worker visa categories
|Visa category||General description – About an individual in this category:|
|H-1B: Person in Specialty Occupation||To work in a specialty occupation. Requires a higher education degree or its equivalent. 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: Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Professional - Chile, Singapore||To work in a specialty occupation. Requires a post-secondary degree involving at least four years of study in the field of specialization. (Note: This is not a petition-based visa. For application procedures, please refer to the website for the U.S. Embassy in Chile or the U.S. Embassy in Singapore.)|
|H-2A: Temporary Agricultural Worker||For temporary or seasonal agricultural work. Limited to citizens or nationals of designated countries, with limited exceptions, if determined to be in the United States interest.|
|H-2B: Temporary Non-agricultural Worker||For temporary or seasonal non- agricultural work. Limited to citizens or nationals of designated countries, with limited exceptions, if determined to be in the United States interest.|
|H-3: Trainee or Special Education visitor||To receive training, other than graduate medical or academic, that is not available in the trainee’s home country or practical training programs in the education of children with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities.|
|L: Intracompany Transferee||To work at a branch, parent, affiliate, or subsidiary of the current employer in a managerial or executive capacity, or in a position requiring specialized knowledge. Individual must have been employed by the same employer abroad continuously for 1 year within the three preceding years.|
|O: Individual with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement||For persons with extraordinary ability or achievement in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, or extraordinary recognized achievements in the motion picture and television fields, demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim, to work in their field of expertise. Includes persons providing essential services in support of the above individual.|
|P-1: Individual or Team Athlete, or Member of an Entertainment Group||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. Includes persons providing essential services in support of the above individual.|
|P-2: Artist or Entertainer (Individual or Group)||For performance under a reciprocal exchange program between an organization in the United States and an organization in another country. Includes persons providing essential services in support of the above individual.|
|P-3: Artist or Entertainer (Individual or Group)||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. Includes persons providing essential services in support of the above individual.|
|Q-1: Participant in an International Cultural Exchange Program||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.|
Some temporary worker visa categories require your prospective employer to obtain a labor certification or other approval from the Department of Labor on your behalf before filing the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129, with USCIS. Your prospective employer should review the Instructions for Form I-129 on the USCIS website to determine whether labor certification is required for you.
Some temporary worker categories are limited in total number of petitions which can be approved on a yearly basis. Before you can apply for a temporary worker visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129, must be filed on your behalf by a prospective employer and be approved by USCIS. For more information about the petition process, eligibility requirements by visa category, and numerical limits, if applicable, see Working in the U.S. and Temporary (Nonimmigrant) Workers on the USCIS website. Once the petition is approved, USCIS will send your prospective employer a Notice of Action, Form I-797.
How to Apply
After USCIS approves the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129), you may apply for a visa. There are several steps in the visa application process. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply. Please consult the instructions available on the embassy or consulate website where you will apply.
Complete The Online Visa Application
- Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 – Learn more about completing the DS-160. You must: 1) complete the online visa application and 2) print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview.
- Photo –You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. Your photo must be in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.
Schedule an Interview
While interviews are generally not required for applicants of certain ages outlined below, consular officers have the discretion to require an interview of any applicant, regardless of age.
|If you are age:||Then an interview is:|
13 and younger
Generally not required
14 - 79
Required (some exceptions for renewals)
80 and older
Generally not required
You must schedule an appointment for your visa interview, generally, at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live. You may schedule your interview at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate, but be aware that it may be difficult to qualify for a visa outside of your place of permanent residence.
Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category, so you should apply for your visa early. Review the interview wait time for the location where you will apply:
Appointment Wait Time
Check the estimated wait time for a nonimmigrant visa interview appointment as a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
You will need to provide the receipt number that is printed on your approved Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129, or Notice of Action, Form I-797, to schedule an interview.
Prepare for your Interview
- Fees - Pay the non-refundable visa application fee, if you are required to pay it before your interview. When your visa is approved, you may also pay a visa issuance fee, if applicable to your nationality. Fee information is provided here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/fees/fees-visa-services.html
- Review the instructions available on the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply to learn more about fee payment.
- L visa applicants included in a L blanket petition: You must also pay the Fraud Prevention and Detection fee and may need to pay the Border Security Act fee. Select All Fees to learn more.
Gather Required Documentation
Gather and prepare the following required documents before your visa interview:
- Passport valid for travel to the United States - Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person who needs a visa must submit a separate application.
- Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page.
- Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview.
- Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.
- Receipt Number for your approved petition as it appears on your Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129, or Notice of Action, Form I-797, from USCIS.
- L Visa Applicants – If you are included in an L blanket petition, you must bring Form I-129S, Nonimmigrant Petition Based on Blanket L Petition, to your interview.
Legal Rights and Protections
H-1B, H-2A, and H-2B visa applicants should read the Legal Rights and Protections pamphlet to learn about your rights in the United States and protection available to you. Review this important pamphlet before applying for your visa.
Additional Documentation May Be Required
Review the instructions on how to apply for a visa on the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply. Additional documents may be requested to establish if you are qualified.
All visa applicants, except H-1B and L, will generally need to show proof of compelling ties to your home country to demonstrate your intent to return after your temporary stay in the United States. Examples of compelling ties include:
- A residence abroad which you do not intend to abandon
- Your family relationships
- Your economic situation
- Your long term plans
Attend your Visa Interview
During your visa interview, a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive a visa, and if so, which visa category is appropriate based on your purpose of travel. You will need to establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive the category of visa for which you are applying.
Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken as part of your application process. They are usually taken during your interview, but this varies based on location.
After your visa interview, your application may require further administrative processing. You will be informed by the consular officer if further processing is necessary for your application.
When the visa is approved, you may pay a visa issuance fee if applicable to your nationality, and will be informed how your passport with visa will be returned to you. Review the visa processing time, to learn how soon your passport with visa will generally be ready for pick-up or delivery by the courier.
Entering the United States
A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport) and request permission to enter the United States. A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port-of-entry have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. If you are allowed to enter the United States, the CBP official will provide an admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record. Learn more about admissions and entry requirements, restrictions about bringing food, agricultural products, and other restricted/prohibited goods, and more by reviewing the CBP website.
Extending Your Stay
See Extend Your Stay on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website to learn about requesting to extend your stay beyond the date indicated on your admission stamp or paper Form I-94.
You must depart the United States on or before the date indicated on your admission stamp or paper Form I-94, unless your request to extend your stay is approved by USCIS.
Failure to depart the United States on time will result in you being out of status. Under U.S. law, visas of travelers who are out of status are automatically voided (Section 222(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act). If you had a multiple-entry visa and it was voided due to you being out of status, it will not be valid for future entries into the United States.
Failure to depart the United States on time may also result in you being ineligible for visas you may apply for in the future. Review Visa Denials and Ineligibilities and Waivers: Laws to learn more.
Change of Status
While in the United States, you may be able to request that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) change your nonimmigrant status to another nonimmigrant category. See Change My Nonimmigrant Status on the USCIS website to learn more.
Requesting a change of status from USCIS while you are in the United States and before your authorized stay expires does not require that you apply for a new visa. However, if you cannot remain in the United States while USCIS processes your change of status request, you must apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
- The approval of a petition does not guarantee that you will be issued a visa. Do not make final travel plans or buy tickets until you have a visa.
Spouse and Children –
- With the exception of Cultural Exchange Visitor Q-1 visa applicants, your spouse and unmarried, minor children may also apply for the same visa category as you to accompany or join you. You must be able to show that you will be able to financially support your family in the United States.
- For information about employment and study, review Temporary Workers information and Employment Authorization on the USCIS website.
- Unless canceled or revoked, a visa is valid until its expiration date. Therefore, a valid U.S. visa in an expired passport is still valid. If you have a valid visa in your expired passport, do not remove it from your expired passport. You may use your valid visa in your expired passport along with a new valid passport for travel and admission to the United States.
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NOTE: The above information does not address the specific requirements for any given case and is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.
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