- Download our Moving to the USA Guide (PDF)
Regardless of whether foreigners are travelling to the US on holiday or making a more permanent move to take up a new job, it is essential to be aware of the different types of visas available for the US. Here are the main visa categories that expats are likely to make use of.
Visitor and business visas for the USA
Nationals of certain countries may be in the US for up to 90 days without a visa. Those not eligible for the visa waiver programme will require a visitor visa. This visa is designed for temporary stays by international visitors and allows entry for doing short-term business (a B-1 visa), visiting as a tourist (a B-2 visa), or a combination (B-1/B-2 visa).
All applicants must show evidence of funds to cover their expenses, proof of economic and social ties abroad and evidence that they are permanently living outside of the US.
Temporary work visas for the USA
There are several visa categories available for those wanting to work in the US, with each category being specific to a particular kind of work. Most expats will apply for either the H-1B or the L visa.
The H-1B visa is for people taking up positions in speciality occupations – in other words, workers with specific skills and knowledge who have completed higher education.
The L visa (divided into L-1A or L-1B) is for employees of international companies who have been transferred to a branch in the US. L1-A is for executive and managerial employees, while L-1B is for employees with specialised knowledge.
Permanent residence in the USA
To stay permanently in the US, expats will need to acquire a Permanent Resident Card, otherwise known as a Green Card. Expats moving to the US permanently for work or investment purposes will fall into one of the following tiers:
- Employment First Preference (E-B1): Priority workers such as executives, managers and persons of exceptional ability
- Employment Second Preference (E-B2): Professionals holding advanced degrees and persons of exceptional ability
- Employment Third Preference (E-B3): Skilled workers, professionals, and other workers
- Employment Fourth Preference (E-B4): Certain special immigrants
- Employment Fifth Preference (E-B5): Foreign investors
In order to be eligible for an application for permanent residence, expats will generally need someone to petition for or sponsor them. Most often, this is an employer in the US who must fill out the relevant forms to confirm their sponsorship. If the petition is approved, expats can apply for permanent residence.
For more information on these categories and the process of obtaining a Green Card, see Work Permits in the USA.
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice, and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.
►Work Permits for the USA is essential reading for those looking to take up employment in America
"The first time we moved to Houston in 2009 I got a work permit – it took time, but I got one. I then rejoined the previous company that I worked for in Canada. We had an opportunity to get Green Cards a couple of years later, so we did."
Read more about Janice's expat experiences in the US in her interview with Expat Arrivals.
Are you an expat living in The USA?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to The USA. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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