Foreign workers contribute valuable skills, perspectives and ideas to companies across California and the rest of the country. However, before you can legally begin work in the U.S. as a foreign national, you must obtain a work visa.

The process to obtain a work visa can be long and confusing. Each type of temporary work visa has its own rules for eligibility, duration, employer requirements and more. Whether you have a current job offer or are interested in learning more about the requirements, read on for what to know about work visas in the U.S.:

Different types of work visas

To obtain an immigrant visa based on employment, your prospective employer must first acquire a labor certification approval from the Department of Labor. Then, they may file a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The four common categories for temporary work visas include:

  • H-1B visa. This is available to skilled, educated foreign professionals in specialty occupations, granted initially for a three-year period and possibly up to six years.
  • H-2A visa. Available to foreign agricultural workers, this is granted on a seasonal or temporary basis, provided there is a shortage of domestic workers.
  • H-2B visa. Also granted on a temporary basis, this applies to workers in non-agricultural fields, such as positions at hotels, ski or beach resorts and more.
  • L visa. The L-1A and L-1B visas are available to certain workers already employed at companies abroad who transfer to a U.S. location of the entity.

Your background, education, work experience and more all dictate which visa classification is right for you. An attorney can advise if you are unsure of which category to pursue or with other special circumstances.

An overview of the process to come

The U.S. grants a limited number of employment-based visas each year. Due to this, it is critical to submit a comprehensive application that strictly follows government requirements.

Generally, you must submit the appropriate fees, as well as your passport, two approved photographs, original civil documents, proof of financial support, medical examination and vaccination forms and more. After these materials are submitted, the National Visa Center (NVS) will schedule your interview, where you will learn of next steps.

Employment-based visas can take time to both process and grant. Work with an attorney for support and guidance throughout what can be a complex process.