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Land of Opportunity: Top 7 Visas for Foreign Professionals

Shilpa Malik

Employers based in the United States often turn to oversees professionals to fill their highly qualified positions.

Similarly, foreign workers abroad often seek an employment based position in the U.S. to conduct business affairs and or gain access to the U.S. for a temporary period.

Either way, these individuals will need to be approved for a temporary, non-immigrant visa for the duration of their stay.

This article will take a look at seven of the best visas for foreign professionals to enter the U.S.

You may have heard about a few of these options last year as part of the President Obama's Immigration Reform Plan.

Others, you may not be as familiar with but nonetheless, they are viable options assuming your conditions call for it.

It’s always advised to consult an immigration lawyer for a more in-depth analysis of your employment options as a foreign professional within the United States.

Related Article: Is Your Job On the Line? What the H1-B Visa Means to American Workers

1. H-1B Visas for Specialty Workers

Having exceptional skills, experience or education often gives you a leg up when applying for a temporary visa.

The H-1B Visa is reserved for individuals in specialty occupations. To qualify as such, you must hold at minimum bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) in a field related to the position.

On H-1B status, you are permitted to remain in the country for a maximum of six years, which a possible extension thereafter.

In order to obtain an H-1B Visa, the employer who plans on sponsoring you must first receive a Labor Condition Application (LCA).

An H-1B Visa Lawyer can help you draft and/or review your LCA to ensure it meets the necessary standards.

Each year an H-1B fiscal cap is imposed. As it stands the current quotas are as follows:

  • Regular: 65,000
  • Masters’ Quota: 20,000
  • Citizens of Singapore and Chile: 6,800

This year, USCIS will begin accepting petitions on April 1st 2016. Check out this complete H-1B 2016-2017 Guide to explore more H-1B visa options.

2. E-1 Investor Visa 

Foreign professionals can apply for E-1 and E-2 investor visas in order to stay in the U.S. for business. The E-1 visa requires the investor to be a national of a treaty country.

A full list of visa countries can be found here. In order for the visa to be approved the volume of the firm trades managed in the U.S. must be sufficient.

While there is no exact minimum, the firm must demonstrate a necessity for the treaty trader visa.

3. An E-2 Treaty Investor Visa

As with the E-1 visa, E-2 visas require the investor be a national of a treaty country. E-2 visias are also reserved for those who have made a sizeable investment in the U.S.

Again, there is no exact minimum established but it must be sufficient to warrant to the visa. Also, the aforementioned investment has to be categorized within the operations of the business.

Items of trade, as deemed by (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) USCIS, may consist of goods, services, insurance, transportation, international banking and more.

These are common examples but not by any means the only ones.  

The initial period of stay for qualified treaty traders/employees is two years although extensions past that time may be granted. One huge advantage of E-visas is that there’s no limit on the number of extensions an E-1 or E-2 non-immigrant may receive.

4. The EB-5 Investor Visa

This visa was really created to attract foreign capital and likewise spawn job opportunities that would benefit the domestic economy.

There are upwards of 10,000 of these visas available annually and a number of those are set aside for investors in regional centers designated by USCIS.

In order to qualify you must fulfill a number of conditions including:

  • Investing $1 million in either a new or existing business/commercial enterprise that will create at least 10 full-time U.S. jobs
  • Invest $500,000 in a new or existing enterprise that is in a rural area or one with a high unemployment rate.

There are additional requirements which must be met as well should you be interested in an EB-5 visa.

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5. L-1 Visa: Intracompany Transferee

An L-1 Visa permits multi-national firms to send qualified employees from their offices overseas to those in the U.S. for the purpose of work.

In order to qualify, the foreign worker must have been in an executive or in a position of management overseas for at least one year out of the last three.

Of all the employment-based visas, the L-1 is popular because it has distinct advantages. First off, spouses (and dependents) of L-1 holders can receive an L-2 visa which allows them to work while in the country.

The second benefit is that there are no numeric limits or quotas imposed on this visa.

The third advantage is the fact that companies can apply for blanket petitions (a process which allows pre-qualifications for transfers).

This circumvents having to file separate petitions for each individual, which can often be time consuming.

6. O-1 : Individual with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

Looking to bring in some extraordinary talent from abroad? An O-1 Visa is exclusively for foreigners who are at the height of their careers in industries like the sciences, television, art, sports, etc.

They must have some distinguishing achievements and be able to provide proof of their national or international notoriety within that field.

The initial period of stay on an O-1 Visa is up to three years but may request an extension to stay in the country.

7. B-1 Visitor Visa

B-1 Visitor Visas permit entry to foreign workers needing to conduct business in the U.S.

Some activities that are permitted under a B-1 visa include conducting negotiations, planning investments/purchases, engaging in company meetings, research, gathering materials/goods, etc.

It’s crucial that you demonstrate your intent to maintain a residence in your home country. One disadvantage is that spouses and dependents of B-1 holders are not eligible for a dependent visa and must file separately.

All ­of these visa options have advantages and disadvantages, which vary according to the applicant situation.

It’s highly recommended that you speak with an immigration attorney before taking any formal action. 

Related Article: 5 Tech Tips for Business Travelers: Essential Steps to a Productive Trip

*Please note that the above information presented in this post in not intended to serve as legal advice and it is strongly recommended to seek legal consult before taking any formal action.


Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Shilpa Malik Member
Shilpa is an experienced immigration lawyer specializing in employment based immigration, L-1 & H-1B work visa, family and marriage based immigration. She is the Founder and Managing Attorney of SGM Law Group, PLLC, an immigration firm committed to providing professional service and legal expertise.