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If you want to work in the United States temporarily as a nonimmigrant, under U.S. immigration law, you need a specific visa based on the type of work you will be doing. Most temporary worker categories require that your prospective employer or agent file a petition, which must be approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the United States before you can apply for a work visa.
All applicants for H, L, O, P and Q visas must have a petition approved on their behalf by USCIS. The petition, Form I-129, must be approved before you can apply for a work visa at the Embassy. When your petition is approved, your employer or agent will receive a Notice of Action, Form I-797, which serves as your petition's approval notification. The consular officer will verify your petition approval through the Department of State's Petition Information Management Service (PIMS) during your interview.
You must bring your I-129 petition receipt number to your interview at the Embassy in order to verify your petition's approval. Please note that approval of a petition does not guarantee issuance of a visa if you are found to be ineligible for a visa under U.S. immigration law.
For petition information for blanket L visa application, please see here.
Visa Descriptions and Qualifications
H-1B (specialty occupation)
An H-1B visa is required if you are coming to the United States to perform services in a pre-arranged professional job. To qualify, you must hold a bachelor's or higher degree (or an equivalent degree) in the specific specialty for which you seek employment. USCIS will determine whether your employment constitutes a specialty occupation and whether you are qualified to perform the services. Your employer is required file a labor condition application with the Department of Labor concerning the terms and conditions of its contract of employment with you.
H-2A (seasonal agricultural workers)
An H-2A visa allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs for which U.S. workers are not available. An H-2A nonimmigrant classification applies to you if you seek to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature in the United States on a temporary basis. A U.S. employer (or an association of U.S. agricultural producers named as a joint employer) must file a Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, on your behalf.
H-2B visa (skilled and unskilled workers)
This visa is required if you are coming to the United States to perform a job which is temporary or seasonal in nature and for which there is a shortage of U.S. workers. Your employer is required to obtain a Department of Labor certification confirming that there are no qualified U.S. workers eligible for the type of employment on which your petition is based.
An H-3 visa is required if you are coming to the United States to receive training from an employer in any field of endeavor, other than graduate education or training, for a period of up to two years. You can be paid for your training and "hands-on" work is authorized. Training cannot be used to provide productive employment and cannot be available in your home country.
If you are the principal holder of a valid H visa, your spouse or unmarried children (under age 21) may receive an H-4 visa to accompany you to the United States. However, your spouse/children are not permitted to work while in the United States.
There is no requirement that the spouse and/or children of an H-1 visa holder apply for a student (F-1) visa if they wish to study in the U.S. They may study on an H-4 visa. However, if qualified, they may apply for an F-1 visa. If you have school-age children, you should refer to the regulations governing the issuance of F-1 visas.
The holder of an H-4 visa may not work on a derivative visa. If he/she is seeking employment, the appropriate work visa will be required.
L-1 (intra-company transferees)
An L-1 visa is required if you are the employee of an international company which is temporarily transferring you to a parent branch, affiliate, or subsidiary of the same company in the United States. The international company may be either a U.S. or foreign organization. To qualify for an L-1 visa, you must be at the managerial or executive level, or have specialized knowledge and be destined to a position within the U.S. company at either of these levels, although not necessarily in the same position as held previously. In addition, you must have been employed outside the United States with the international company continuously for one year within the three years preceding your application for admission into the United States. You may only apply for an L-1 visa after your U.S. company or affiliate has received an approved petition from USCIS, either on a "blanket" or individual basis.
Companies seeking the classification of multiple applicants as intra-company transferees may file a blanket petition with USCIS. The blanket petition (Form I-129S) provision is meant to serve only relatively large, established companies having multi-layered structures and numerous related business entities. The blanket petition provision is available only to managers, executives, and specialized knowledge. Note: Form I-129S has been revised. Date of the revised version has been specified as 06/12/13 on the lower right of the form. After September 9, 2013, old versions dated 04/01/12 and 11/3/10 cannot be accepted for blanket L visa applications.
If you are the principal holder of a valid L visa, your spouse or unmarried children (under age 21) may receive this derivative visa. Due to a recent change in the law, your spouse may seek employment authorization. Your spouse must enter the United States on his/her own L-2 visa and then submit a completed Form I-765 (obtainable from USCIS), along with an application fee. Your children are not authorized to work in the United States.
Type O visas are issued to people with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business and athletics, or extraordinary achievement in motion picture and television production, and their essential support personnel.
O-2 (persons accompanying an O-1)
The O-2 visa classification is for athletes and members of the entertainment industry who are an integral part of a performance possessing skills and experience not available in the United States. Such persons may apply for O-2 visas to accompany an O-1 visa holder.
P (artists, entertainers)
Type P visas are issued to certain athletes, entertainers, artists and essential support personnel who are coming to perform in the United States.
P-2 (artists or entertainers)
The P-2 visa classification provides for the admission into the United States of an artist or entertainer, either an individual or group, involved in a reciprocal exchange program between an organization or organizations in the United States and one or more foreign countries which provides for the temporary exchange of artists and entertainers.
P-3 (artists or entertainers)
The P-3 visa classification provides for the admission into the United States of an artist or entertainer, either an individual or group, to perform, teach, or coach under a program that is culturally unique.
A Q visa is required if you are traveling to the United States to participate in an international cultural exchange program for the purpose of providing practical training, employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of your home country. You must have a petition filed on your behalf by the program sponsor and the petition must be approved by USCIS.
When to Apply
The U.S. Embassy/Consulate may process your H, L, O, P or Q visa application up to 90 days prior to the beginning of employment status as noted on your I-797. However, when making your travel plans, please note that due to Federal regulations, you can only use the visa to apply for entry to the United States starting ten days prior to the beginning of the approved status period noted on your I-797.
If you apply for an H, L, O, P or Q visa, you must submit the following:
- A Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form. Visit the DS-160 webpage for more information about the DS-160.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person desiring a visa must submit an application.
- Your expired passports issued within the past 10 years
- One (1) 2"x2" (5cmx5cm) photograph taken within 6 month against white background (Please attach your photo upside down on the upper left corner of DS-160 confirmation page). This web page has information about the required photo format.
- An interview appointment letter confirming that you booked an appointment through this service.
- If you are an L-1 applicant on a blanket petition, you must pay a fraud prevention. The fee(s) can be paid in cash (either yen or dollars but yen is preferred), with a credit card, or by money order. Please be prepared to pay with cash if the credit card verification system is temporarily unavailable. Payment by credit card is billed in US dollars.
- If you are an L-1 applicant on a blanket petition, and your company already has blanket approval to send intra-company transferees, you will be required to submit the following items with your application documents:
- One original and two copies of form I-129S filled out with your position;
- Three copies of I-797;
- Three copies of the recommendation letter from your employer;
- Three copies of subsidiary and affiliated companies in the U.S. (if appropriate)
- For H, L (no blanket), O, P, Q visa applicants, submit also I-797 Petition Approval Notice (copy or original), I-129 petition (copy), and employment certificate from your employer.
Non-Japanese applicants must also include:
- Photocopy (both sides) of the Japanese Alien Registration Card or “Zairyu” card
- Family members' passports who reside in Japan, even if they are not traveling with you or applying for a visa
In addition to these items, please also bring whatever supporting documents you believe support the information provided to the consular officer. If a visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, depending on your nationality. The Department of State's website can help you find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the fee amount is.
How to Apply
Application procedures vary between consular posts. Click here for complete details.
Supporting documents are only one of many factors a consular officer will consider in your interview. Consular officers look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors during adjudication. Consular officers may look at your specific intentions, family situation, and your long-range plans and prospects within your country of residence. Each case is examined individually and is accorded every consideration under the law.
Caution: Do not present false documents. Fraud or misrepresentation can result in permanent visa ineligibility. If confidentiality is a concern, you should bring your documents to the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in a sealed envelope. The U.S. Embassy/Consulate will not make your information available to anyone and will respect the confidentiality of your information.
Consular officers look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors during adjudication. Consular officers may look at your specific intentions, family situation, and your long-range plans and prospects within your country of residence. Each case is examined individually and is accorded every consideration under the law. If you are a first time visa applicant, you may save time by bringing the following documents to your interview. English translations must be attached to all documents which are in a foreign language.
- Evidence that establishes your job qualifications, including any university diplomas.
- Original letters (and/or Russian employment book) from current and previous employers detailing your position and projects you worked on and how long you worked with your employers.
- If you are currently working and holding an H-1B visa, please submit your pay slips for the current calendar year and your Federal tax returns (IRS Form 1040 and W-2) for all the years in which you have been employed in the United States. You should bring:
- pay slips from your current or most recent place of employment
- the names and current phone numbers of the personnel managers at your present and previous places of employment
- your resume or CV
Your dependents should bring all required documents for any nonimmigrant visa, plus
- An original marriage (for your spouse) and/or birth certificate (for unmarried children under 21) that provide evidence of the dependent’s relationship to the principal applicant.
- A copy of the I-797
- A copy of the principal applicant's visa if dependents apply for their visas at a later date.
For more information about H, L, O, P and Q visas, visit the Department of State's Temporary Workers webpage