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June 9th 2023

The Different Type of U.S. Work Visas

This article provides an overview of the different types of U.S. work visas, including application requirements, intended uses, and links to additional resources, so that you can choose the best path for your circumstances.

Foreigners looking to move to the United States for work have a number of different visa options. This article provides an overview of the different types of U.S. work visas, including application requirements, intended uses, and links to additional resources, so that you can choose the best visa for your circumstances.

Temporary (non-immigrant) visas:

These employment visas are intended for people coming to work in the United States for a fixed period of time. Generally, an employer must file a petition on your behalf with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and, if approved, an employee must apply for a visa prior to moving.

Here’s a rundown of the most common types of non-immigrant employment visas, and who should consider applying for each:


H-1B visas are a very common path for skilled workers to work in the U.S. To be eligible, you must have a job offer from a U.S. employer for a role that requires speciality knowledge, as well as proof of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in the field. Additionally, employers must show that there is a lack of qualified U.S. applicants for the role. There is a quota on how many H1-B visas can be issued, which is done each year through the H1-B lottery process.

Duration: three years, with the possibility of an additional three-year extension

Who should consider: skilled workers, including international students graduating from U.S. universities

L-1 Visas

L-1 visas are for people temporarily transferring within a company to a U.S. office, subsidiary, or affiliate. This includes L-1A for executive/management level and L-1B for those with specialized expertise. There are no quota limits for these visas by the USCIS.

Duration: maximum of seven years (L-1A) and five years (L-1B)

Who should consider: employees working at multinational companies that have offices or affiliates in the U.S.

O-1 Visas

O-1 visas are for those with extraordinary abilities or achievements in the arts, athletics, education, or business. You will need to show evidence of these abilities, such as nationally recognized awards, association membership, outsized remuneration in your field, or other supporting documents. O-3 visas are also extended to people, including family members, who travel with the person of extraordinary ability.

Duration: maximum of three years

Who should consider: highly accomplished artists, academics, athletes, or entrepreneurs

TN Visas

TN visas are for qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens to seek temporary employment opportunities from an approved occupation list, established under NAFTA (self employment is not permitted). This is a great option for nationals of these countries because there are not any annual quota limits or company sponsorship requirements, unlike most of the other U.S. work visas.

Duration: up to 3 years, which may be extended indefinitely in three-year increments if the applicant still satisfies all requirements

Who should consider: Canadian and Mexican professionals

Note that spouses and family members need to file for their own related spousal visa separately (e.g. H-4 visa for spouses of H1-B visaholders).

Other non-immigrant work visas:

  • H-2A and H-2B visas are for seasonal temporary workers in an agriculture (H-2A) or non-agricultural (H-2B) setting. Generally, these do not extend beyond a year.

  • H-3 are for those who want training within the United States, but will be pursuing their careers outside of the U.S.

  • I Visas are for eligible members of the foreign press including reporters, film crews, editors, and more.

  • P Visas are for performance, athletic, or artistic endeavors, usually for a specific event.

  • R visas are extended to non-immigrant religious workers who are members of a religious denomination and coming to the U.S. temporarily to perform religious work

Permanent (immigrant) visas:

Workers with specific skills, along with their families, are eligible to apply for employment-based green cards to secure permanent residency in the United States. These typically require an offer of employment from an employer with a proper U.S. Department of Labor certification, verifying that this job does not take away a job from a U.S. citizen. There were approximately 280,00 employment-based green cards issued in 2022.

Here are the five types of permanent employment-based visas:

EB-1: Exceptional ability (first preference)

The EB-1 covers those with “extraordinary ability” such as business professionals, academics and researchers, scientists, artists, or athletes. The requirements for evidence are similar to that of the O-1 Visa. While it isn’t easy to qualify, it tends to be the most expedited path to a green card.

EB-2: Advanced Degree of Exceptional Ability (second preference)

The EB-2 is typically for graduates with an advanced degree or foreign nationals with exceptional ability in their area of specialization. While qualification criteria for “extraordinary ability” are less strict than the EB-1, there are often much longer wait times (depending on your country of origin) accordingly.

EB-3: Skilled, Professional, or Other Workers (third preference)

The EB-3 is even less strict than the EB-2 visa and does not require that a candidate has a graduate degree. This covers skilled workers, unskilled workers, and other professionals, making it a very popular (and highly competitive) category of permanent visa.

EB-4: Special Immigrants (fourth preference)

The EB-4 is a catch-all for immigrants whose situation does not fit the other categories. The EB-4 visa is often given to religious workers, but applies to other circumstances such as armed forces and physicians.

EB-5: Investors (fifth preference)

The EB-5 Visa is for the Immigrant Investor Program. These are available to people, and their family members, who make an investment of a certain amount ($800,000 in 2022) in a new commercial enterprise that employs at least 10 full-time U.S. workers.

Note: It is also possible to change status from a temporary non-immigrant visa to one of these employment-based green cards (read our guides on transitioning to a green card from an H1-B, an L-1, and a J-1 visa.)

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Student, exchange, and other business visas:

Lastly, there are a variety of non-immigrant visas for academic, exchange, and business purposes that grant a foreigner work authorization in the U.S.

F-1 visas:

F-1 Visas are for academic students enrolled in accredited U.S. colleges and universities. These students may work as long as they maintain their course of studies, but they are not allowed to work off-campus during their first year. 

After the first year, students can work off campus through curricular practical training (CPT), optional practical training (OPT), or STEM-specific OPT activities (each with their own subtle differences).

Duration: for duration of study, up to five years

Who should consider: academic students interested in interning or working on or off-campus

M-1 Visas:

M-1 visas are students enrolled in vocational or nonacademic programs in the U.S. M-1 visa students can work under certain conditions for no more than six months, and must file an Employment Authorization Document first.

Duration: for duration of study, up to one year

Who should consider: students enrolled in vocational programs, such as culinary programs

J-1 Visas

J-1 Visas are designed to let people travel to the U.S. for a variety of short-term exchange purposes. Most of these exchange visitors, such as corporate interns or physicians, have authorization for conducting specific work for a sponsoring organization. 

Duration: depends on J-1 visa category

Who should consider: physicians, trainees, interns, au pairs, and other short-term exchange visitors

B-1 visas:

B-1 Visas are intended for short-term business trips, such as negotiating business deals, attending conferences, or conducting important business meetings. They are not intended for longer-term stays and do not authorize work outside of the specific business purpose.

Duration: one to six months

Who should consider: Professionals employed abroad but traveling for business trips

The takeaway

There are several types of U.S. work visas for people with different educational levels, professional qualifications, and personal circumstances. Make sure to check out our additional resources about navigating visas to answer all of your questions as you decide which is right for you.

Once you have applied and been accepted for your visa, you’re well on your way to starting your life in the U.S. Once you move, Nova Credit lets you use your foreign credit history from certain countries to apply for several essential products and services from our partners. 

This means that you can apply for great credit cards, phone plans, and more using your hard-earned credit history from back home—rather than needing to start from scratch. If you are approved for these products and manage them responsibly, you will start to quickly build a U.S. credit history.

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Currently, Nova Credit serves individuals coming from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.K.

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More from Nova Credit:

The ultimate guide to the F-1 visa

The ultimate guide to the H-1B visa

The ultimate guide to the J-1 visa 

The ultimate guide to the L-1 visa

The ultimate guide to the O-1 visa

How to check your USCIS case status

How to read the Visa Bulletin

How to build credit after moving to the US

How to get a social security card

How to get an apartment with no credit history

No credit check cell phone plans

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