Visa Types for the USA

Expats moving to the USA must know what types of visas are available before applying to the USA. Here is a list of visas that you may require:

Temporary work visa

If you are an expat moving to the USA to work, there is a specific type of visa that is required when jobs are involved.

H-1B Persons in Speciality Occupations: This visa is required for workers which have specific skills and knowledge who have also completed higher education. The application for this visa is usually for up to three years but can be extended to a maximum of six years.

H-3 Trainees: Expats require this visa if they are undergoing practical training, excluding fields in medicine or academia

L-1 Intra-company Transferees: This visa applies to expat employees who have been transferred to an office within the USA from an international company

Expats who have come to the country to work temporarily must work for the employer that petitioned for them and they will have a limited ability to change jobs. If employment has been completed or their visa has expired then expats will be required to leave the US.

Visitor Visas

If you are an expat travelling to the US, you should check if your home country is listed on the Visa Waiver program before applying for the tourist visa. This will allow you to travel to the US for 90 days for business purposes or for a holiday without having a visa.

If you are not eligible or your country is not listed on the Visa Waiver Program you must apply for a visitor visa. The visitor visa will allow international expats to enter the country for business, tourist or medical treatment purposes for a temporary stay.

All expats who apply for this visa must prove that they only intend to stay in the United States for a short amount of time by showing evidence of funds to cover expenses, economic and social ties abroad, and they must show they have residence outside of the USA.

To apply for the visitor visa, expats must:

  • Complete the online application form
  • Pay the Visa application fee
  • Schedule a visa interview with the U.S Embassy or Consulate

Visa Extension

Before expats apply for the extension visa, they must ensure that their current visa is still valid. This is an offence and you could be deported. Expats should start their extension visa application at least 45 days before the current one expires. A request for extension must be filed within the US citizenship and Immigration services.

Expats who are filing for an extension visa must have entered America lawfully on a non-immigrant visa which is still valid using the correct form. If you are in the country on an employment visa, your employer will need to file an I-29 application form on your behalf. There are some visas which will not allow foreigners to apply for an extension.

To apply for an extension visa:

  • You must prove that you have financial support for the length of your stay in the US
  • Return tickets to prove you have plans to return home and not stay in the US indefinitely

Permanent Residency

Expats who want to work and live in the United States are required to get a ‘United States Lawful Permanent Residency’ status. To get this, expats should also get a Green Card which is also known as the United States Permanent Resident Card. Once expats have obtained this, they must follow the rules and maintain the permanent residency and if conditions are not met they can be removed from the country.

Permanent residency may also be applied for when expats have lived in the country for 5 or more years. If married to a US citizen this will be three years and for asylum seekers it is four years. To be a permanent resident expats must go through a three step process which sometimes can take 3-4 years.

Once a green card has been obtained expats will have the right to live and work in America, but they are not able to vote or run in a state or federal election.

To ensure that there have been no changes in regards to permanent residency, it is advised that expats contact the embassy or consulate for the latest details of any changes.

Work Permits

A work permit is only available to limited groups of immigrants, mainly those who are applying for the green card or for individuals who have a temporary right to be in the United States. However, expats must make sure that they are eligible to apply for a work permit.

To apply for a work permit expats must:

  • Fill out a one page application form
  • Attach the fee, photos and documents providing you’re eligible
  • Submit the application to the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services)

An EAD (Employment Authorisation Document) is a document/ work permit which is a card issued by the United States Citizen and Immigration Services that will prove the card holder is allowed to work in the country. This is valid for only one year and can renewed and replaceable.

Permanent residents and citizens will not need an EAD or any other work permit, other than the green card if they are a permanent resident. The EAD will prove to employers that you are legally allowed to work in the United States.

US citizens and permanent residents do not need an Employment Authorization Document or any other working permit to work in the US, other than their Green Card if they are a permanent resident. Expats who are permanent residents also don’t need to prove eligibility to work in the US.

To apply for an Employment Authorisation Document you must be one of the following:

  • Refugees
  • Student who is seeking a particular type of employment
  • Asylum seekers
  • A Foreign national in the United States who is in the final stage of becoming a permanent resident
  • Fiancé’s or Spouse of a US citizen
  • Nationals of certain countries which is given Temporary Protected Status
  • Dependants of foreign government officials
  • J-2 spouses or minor children of exchange visitors

Green Card

The Green card also known as United States Citizen and Immigration Services is an official document given to nationals who have permanent residency in the U.S, The green card allows expats to live and work in America.

There are three steps to obtain a green card when applying through employment

  • Labour certification
  • Filing an Immigrant Petition (I-140 or I-526)
  • The Adjustment/Permanent Residence Application

Whilst the green card application is being processed expats can live in the country under a non-immigrant visa or they can wait in their home country until it has been approved. The waiting period always varies and depends on the skill level of each individual. It is necessary that a US company files the application who is petitioning an expat employee.

If expats have family members who are citizens in the country or are Legal Permanent Residents a green card can be obtained. This includes a parent, son, child or daughter who are over the age of 21, sibling, spouse or fiancé. Applying through them to get a green card may be easier and faster than getting it through employment based green cards.

To stay in the country whilst the green card application is being processed, expats are able to get an employment based non-immigrant visa, these visas include:

EB-5 Visa: This visa is one of the quickest ways to get residency in the country; however it does require expats to have financial investment in a new or an existing business. The investment amount required is USD 500,000 or USD 1million depending on where the expat wants to open their business. The new company can then sponsor the Green card application.

E-2 Visa: This visa allows service and trading companies to qualify for the E-2 treaty trader status, for those who trade in goods and services. Companies who may qualify include financial services, software companies, attorneys, accountants and companies with trading goods. If an expat is applying for the E-2 Visa they must buy or start up a company in the USA with their own personal funds owning at least 50 per cent of the company and a considerable investment is required. Expats must cover 50 percent of the finances which are required to purchase or start a business.

Expats must check if they are eligible for an E-Visa before starting the application as some nationals are not. Many US companies also may not sponsor expats for the green card if on an E-2 Visa, so expats may need to find another country to do so.

 E-3 Visa:  This non-immigrant visa will only apply to Australian citizens, their children under the age of 21 and their spouses. Applications must be in the United States to simply work in a speciality occupation.

L-1 Visa: This type of visa is one of the most popular visas which is applied for and is only available for companies who want to open a branch, warehouse or an office in the USA. The L-1 Visa can lead to permanent residency and if expats have the right documents then could be easily obtained.  Expats will need to be transferred from their home country company into a new office in the US and both offices should still be open during the length of stay.

Companies in the USA are able to sponsor expats for a green card, which results in expats being able to skip the first step (Labour Certification) of the three step process and the waiting period will also be shortened from 8-15 months.

H-1 Visa: This type of visa is for skilled professionals who wish to work and live in the US on a long term basis. These are non-immigrant type visas so is quicker to obtain then a green card, so expats may apply for this if they are looking to work in the country for a long time but not permanently. US companies should sponsor expats application or petition on their behalf to meet the requirements for this visa.

Other Visas include:

  • TN-1 Visa
  • J-1 Visa
  • E-1 Visa

Various Study Visas

Becoming a US Citizen

Expats are able to become a citizen of the United States of America if they have a valid residency card and have stayed in the country for a certain number of years. If marrying a US Citizen this is also possible. An expat who wishes to become a citizen must pass a citizenship test and if children are born in the country they will automatically be a US Citizen.