A Guide to US Work Visas

Business owners who are interested in growing their talent pool, may consider hiring international talent. It is important to understand the immigration process and the employment visas available to potential candidates. A US work visa is issued to foreign nationals with an interest in living and working within the country.

While a relative or employer will often sponsor the individual by filing an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), certain applicants can petition themselves. The application is then forwarded to the relevant American Consulate or Embassy for processing and issuing the visa to the intending immigrant if they are approved. Intending immigrants must present this visa at an American point of entry before expiration.

The Five Categories

Every fiscal year, the US issues around 140k employment-based immigrant visas. While these visas are divided into five different categories of preference, spouses, and children of an applicant are allowed to accompany or follow to join the applicant.

Employment First Preference (EB-1): Priority Worker/Person of Extraordinary Ability

EB-1 visas are for priority workers entering the US. Each application is carefully reviewed and must be in compliance. The following persons may qualify for an EB-1 visas:

  1. Someone with a notable ability within science, art, education, business, or athletics. You must have a robust level of documentation showing sustained acclaim and recognition in any of these fields. You do not need to have a specific job offer, so long as you enter the country to keep working within that field.
  2. An internationally recognized, outstanding professor or researcher with at least 3 years of experience in teaching/research. You must come to the country for tenure, tenured teaching, or a comparable research role within an institution of higher learning.
  3. Multinational manager/executive employed for at least one of the last three years by an American employer overseas in some capacity. You must be coming to work within the country to continue your managerial or executive position.

Employment Second Preference (EB-2): Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability

Applicants for this category should have certification by the Department of Labor, they must have a job offer and their U.S. employer must file Form I-140 on the applicant’s behalf. Exemptions exist, known as National Interest Waivers, and may be honored should the exemption benefit the nation. Should this exemption be granted, the applicant must file Form I-140 themselves and provide evidence of national interests. EB-2s account for 28.6% of the yearly global limit of employment-based immigrant visas plus any unused E1 visas.

This category has two subgroups.

  1. Professionals with a master’s or doctorate plus 5+ years of progressive experience in their field.
  2. Exceptional persons within the arts, sciences, or business. “Exceptional” here means that they are significantly more experienced in the field than others.

Employment Third Preference (EB-3): Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers (Other Workers)

E3 applicants must have Form I-140 filled out by their prospective employer. EB-3 visas concern workers certified by the Department of Labor. EB-3s account for 28.6% of the annual global limit on employment-based immigrant visas plus any remaining EB-1 and EB-2 visas.

This category has three subgroups.

  1. Skilled workers have at least 2 years of training/work experience not related to temporary or seasonal work.
  2. Professionals whose jobs require at least a baccalaureate from an American university, college, or a foreign equivalent of such a degree.
  3. Workers capable of filling positions shorter than the two years for skilled work.

Employment Fourth Preference (EB-4): Certain Special Immigrants

E4 applicants must be the beneficiary of Form I-360, which covers Amerasians, the widowed, and special immigrants, unless the other party worked for the U.S. Government. E4 visas account for 7.1% of the annual global limit on employment-based immigrant visas.

There are many subgroups within this category. Rather than list every one of them, the general assessment is that E4s are valid for:

  • Broadcasters
  • Religious ministers and certain religious workers
  • Current or former government employees serving abroad
  • Former employees involved with the Panama Canal or Canal Zone
  • Iraqi/Afghan interpreters/translators who directly aided the US with those services for at least a year (max 50 visas)
  • Iraqi/Afghan nationals who aided the US government for at least one year during certain periods of time in the 21st Century
  • Certain foreign medical graduates, retired employees of international groups, and family members of employees of international groups
  • Certain juvenile immigrants
  • Certain foreign recruits of the US Armed Forces who served
  • Certain retired NATO-6 civilians and their family
  • Widowed spouses of deceased NATO-6 civilian employees

Employment Fifth Preference (EB-5): Immigrant Investors

E5 visas are for any foreign individual who is looking to invest capital within the United States in a manner that will create jobs.

A Guide to US Work Visas was last updated December 15th, 2023 by Maxine Carter