The Easy Guide to live and work in the United States (Even if you don’t have American relatives)

There are numerous opportunities to live and work in the United States. The question is whether you want to work temporarily (i.e., a non-immigrant visa) or permanently (i.e., an immigrant visa) in the United States.

Most guides in the web are complex and redacted with terminology hard to understand. The purpose of this guide is to help anyone interested in live and work on the United States on what VISA they need to apply, and the steps they need to follow.

This guide is going to be separated in three parts:

1. Temporary work-related visas include the

  • B1/B2 (business visa), Business people and visitors are permitted to enter the US for a short period of time (typically 6 months, see your Form I-94 for the exact date).  The visa permits these travelers to meet with prospective clients, sign contracts, negotiate deals, etc.  Essentially, the visa permits the visa holder to set the framework for starting or continuing business.  However, it does not permit the visa holder to work in the US on a salary-basis.
  • E-1 (Treaty Trader), This is a trade-based visa between the US and the country of citizenship of the passport holder.  The applicant must be exporting products or services from their country of citizenship (e.g., Mexico) into the United States or importing products/services into their home country (e.g., Canada).   The visa holder is permitted to live and work in the US as long as the trade is in existence and is sufficient.  The visa holder is not required to maintain a substantial number of employees within the business.
  • E-2 (Treaty Investor), This is an investment-based visa between the US and the country of citizenship of the passport holder.  The applicant must be irrevocably investing capital (i.e., money) into a US business. The business can either be a start-up or an established enterprise (e.g., a franchise).  The visa holder is expected to have employees employed within several years of the business existing.  The visa holder is permitted to live and work in the US as long as the investment and business remain operational.
  • TN-TD (NAFTA Professional Worker Visa), This is a NAFTA-treaty based visa that is only available to Mexican Nationals, Canadian Nationals, and Americans.  In order to come to the US, the applicant must (a) have a job offer from an existing American business, and (b) have a university degree (with some exceptions).  The application requirements are fairly low compared to the other non-immigrant visas.  Most interested applicants can start and finish the process in less than two weeks.  Applicants can work in the US for several years before being required to find another visa.
  • I Visa (Foreign Media, Press, and Radio), The I-visa is for foreign nationals involved in the print or online media, press, or radio to work in the US for one year.  Individuals are permitted to be paid by their original employer but are not permitted to be paid by other businesses.  The advantage of this visa over the B1/B2 visa is the extended period of time for which the individual can stay in the US.
  • J-1 (Exchange Visitor), This educational and cultural exchange visa allows a foreign national to work for an approved US Department of State sponsor.  The visa allows applicants to visit, work, research, or train under a variety of programs including agricultural training programs, teacher programs, camp counselors, or other specialist programs.  Depending on the program, the visa holder can be in the Us from 12 months to 7 years.
  • H-1B (Person in Speciality Occupation), This university-required visa becomes available only once a year on April 01 and is limited to the first 65,000 applicants. Applicants must find a US sponsor who needs to fill a part-time or full-time position that would normally require a university degree. The sponsor must demonstrate the ability to pay the individual hourly wage rates as determined by the Department of Labor.  This visa is dual-intent and allows the applicant to apply for permanent residency (i.e., a Green Card) after the applicant has successfully obtained the H-1B visa.  The visa can only be held for six years (with some exceptions).
  • H-1B1 (Free Trade Agreement Professional), Similar to the H-1B, this is university-required visa is intended for professionals from Singapore and Chile to temporarily work and live in the United States.  The primary difference is that applicants cannot apply for permanent residency thru this visa.  The visa is valid for one year and can be extended several times thereafter.
  • H-2A (Temporary Agricultural Worker), This agricultural visa allows US employers to hire foreign nationals to work in the US for ten months or less.  To qualify, the employer must demonstrate to the Department of Labor that (a) there is a seasonal or temporary need, and (b) there are not enough US workers who are able and willing to perform the required job for offered pay.
  • H-2B (Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker)
  • H-3 (Trainee / Special Education Visitor)
  • L-1A/B (Intracompany Transfer)
  • O-1 (Individual with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement)
  • P-1 (Individual/Team Athlete or Member of an Entertainment Group)
  • P-2 (Artist of Entertainer – Individual or Group)
  • P-3 (Artist or Entertainer – Individual or Group)
  • Q-1 (Participant in an International Cultural Exchange Program)
  • F-1 CPT and OPT (Curricular Practical Training / Optional Practical Training)
  • M-1 (vocational and technical school training)

2. Permanent work-related status can be based on marriage to a US Citizen or sponsorship by an employer. Sponsorship by employers includes:

  • EB-1 (Employment First Preference: Priority Workers)
  • EB-2 (Employment Second Preference: Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees, Persons of Exception Ability)
  • EB-3 (Employment Third Preference: Skill Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers)
  • EB-4 (Employment Fourth Preference: Certain Special Immigrants), and
  • EB-5 (Employment Fifth Preference: Immigrant Investors)

3. Best practices, tips and different factors that affect your application.