There are numerous situations in which foreign nationals desire to come to the U.S. to visit, study, or work, but are not seeking to remain permanently or intend only to stay here temporarily. A nonimmigrant visa may also be needed for an individual who is awaiting availability of an immigrant visa in a classification for which visas are not immediately available.
A list of many of the temporary visa categories is below. For a complete list of nonimmigrant visas, please visit the USCIS website.
B-1 and B-2
The B-2 is the “tourist” visa with which the visitor can stay up to six months in the U.S. Legitimate activities of an alien classified as a B-2 nonimmigrant “visitor for pleasure” include visiting family, tourism, or medical treatment. An alien holding a B-2 visa is not permitted to work in the United States.
The B-1 visa for business enables the visitor to attend professional meetings, oversee contracts with U.S. companies, make investments in the U.S., and attend to other activities related to his/her company and his/her work outside the U.S. The number and duration of such visits is limited. The B-1 visitor must intend to leave the U.S. when his/her temporary stay expires, and cannot receive a salary or other remuneration from a U.S. employer.
Visa Waiver Program: The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables citizens of participating countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business for 90 days or less without obtaining a U.S. visa. For a complete list of participating countries, and an overview of the VWP, please go to www.state.gov.
E-1, E-2, and E-3
The E category is especially useful for business owners, managers, and employees who need to remain in the U.S. for extended periods of time in order to oversee or work in an enterprise engaged in trade between the U.S. and a foreign state or that represents a major investment in a U.S enterprise. The E nonimmigrant category is available, however, only if a “treaty of commerce and navigation” or a “bilateral investment treaty” providing for nonimmigrant entries is in existence between the United States and the foreign state. The E visa category can be used for purposes of conducting trade between the U.S. and the country of majority ownership of the company (E-1) or overseeing investment in the U.S enterprise. (E-2). The E visa category can be used by many different types of companies from one owned by a single investor to a large multinational corporation. The E visa category can be used by the company’s principals or by its employees, as long as they are performing functions approved by the applicable rules.
An E-3 visa is for Australian nationals who will work temporarily for a U.S. employer in a specialty occupation. The requirements are similar to those for H-1B visas.
Spouses of nonimmigrant E-3 visa holders are eligible to work in the U.S.
Foreign nationals desiring to come to the U.S. to study full-time in schools and colleges can obtain the F-1 student visa. This visa permits the student to work under certain limited circumstances. Under optional practical training, students are permitted to engage in employment related to their education. Optional practical training may be applied for prior to completion of the course of study. Usually, it is for work after graduation but may also be available during school vacations and for limited hours while school is in session. An application to USCIS for an employment authorization card (EAC) is required and upon receipt of the EAC the F-1 can begin employment. Curricular practical training allows for employment if authorized by the Designated School Official on the student’s SEVIS document. No USCIS endorsement is required. This is for an internship, cooperative training program or work-study program, which is part of an established curriculum. F-1 students can also work with an international organization through a program that requires an application to the Nebraska Service Center under special procedures.
Eligible F-1 nonimmigrant students with STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineering &Math) degrees from Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified and accredited U.S. colleges and universities may apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension. F-1 students must apply for and receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The H-1B visa is for persons with at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent who will be employed in a specialty occupation requiring related professional skills. Highly skilled professionals including, but not limited to, scientists, university teachers, lawyers, engineers, computer analysts, doctors, other health care professionals, economists, pharmacists, and translators fit into this category. Individuals may be granted H-1B visa status for up to six years and can only be employed by the petitioning employer. The principal alien’s total period of stay in H-1B status may not exceed six years except in certain circumstances. The “21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act,” enacted on November 2, 2002, contains a provision allowing H-1B visa holders at the end of the six-year limit to apply for visa extensions if they have had a labor certification or an immigrant petition pending for more than one year. In this situation, the foreign worker may apply for one to three year extensions as necessary and as allowed.
This visa is available to nationals of Chile and Singapore and are part of the U.S. Free Trade Agreements with both countries. The requirements are similar to the H-1B. However eligible applicants can apply directly to a U.S. consulate with the required documentation. The H-1B1 is granted in one year increments and can be extended indefinitely.
The J-1 visa category is for individuals who are coming to the United States as exchange visitors, including foreign students, scholars and medical residents, to participate in U.S. government approved Exchange Visitor Programs. Some individuals coming with J-1 visas, including all medical residents, are subject to a two year foreign residence requirement. If subject to this requirement the individual must return to his or her country for two years upon completion of the J-1 program – unless a waiver is obtained – before he or she may apply for a green card or for certain other nonimmigrant visas. J-1 visa holders can work only with authorization from the responsible officer of his/her program. The program must provide for academic training. J-2 spouses can work only with permission of USCIS and the issuance of work permission card. Please see the following link from the State Department for answers to many of your J-1 visa questions.
K-1, K-2, K-3, and K-4
An alien admitted as the fiancé/fiancée of a U.S. citizen holds a K-1 visa. A K-1 visa holder can work in the U.S. with an EAC. The K-2 visa is for minor children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of K-1 visa holders who enter the United States with their K-1 parent.
The K-3 visa is for the spouse of a U.S. citizen who wishes to enter the United States prior to completion of his or her immigrant visa process. A K-3 visa holder can work in the U.S. with an EAC. A K-4 visa is for a child (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of an alien entitled to K-3 classification.
The L-1 nonimmigrant visa is one of the most useful options for an international company to bring foreign workers to the United States. The L-1 intra-company transferee visa is used to transfer staff from an affiliated entity abroad to the U.S. organization. The individual must have been employed by the foreign affiliate, parent, subsidiary, or branch of the U.S. company for at least one year within the preceding three years in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge capacity. There are two classifications for L-1 visa holders: L-1A and L-1B. An employee qualified as an executive or manager may remain in the United States for up to seven years in L-1A status. Briefly, a manager is defined as an employee who primarily oversees the organization, or a department, subdivision, function or component of the organization and supervises the work of others. An executive primarily directs the organization’s management by establishing goals and policies, exercising decision-making authority and taking direction from the highest corporate levels. An employee classified in the specialized knowledge category may stay up to five years as an L-1B. A foreign employee is considered to hold specialized knowledge with respect to a company if an alien has particular knowledge of a company’s service or product or has an advanced understanding of the company’s processes or procedures. The employee who holds the L-1 visa is authorized to work only for the U.S. entity. Unlike the H-1B, there are no numerical limitations on the number of L-1 visa holders who enter the U.S. annually. An alien admitted as the spouse of an L-1 is eligible to work in the U.S.
The M visa is for aliens who have been accepted by a non-academic U.S. institution for a program of study or training.
This visa is for individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, or athletics. The alien must be coming to the United States to continue working in his/her area of extraordinary ability. The O visa is initially granted for the duration of the particular project or assignment up to three years. An alien must have a U.S. employer petitioning for O status.
The Q visa is for aliens engaged in certain international cultural exchange programs that give the alien practical training and employment.
TN (Trade NAFTA Status)
The U.S., Canada, and Mexico entered into the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”), which provides for expedited admission of businesspersons and professionals to be employed by U.S. companies. Canadian and Mexican citizens whose profession is on a designated list of occupations under NAFTA may enter the United States on a temporary basis to work for a U.S. employer. An alien may be admitted in TN status for a maximum initial stay of three years. TN professionals can receive extensions of stay, with no limit on the total period of stay. Limitations on H and L visa holders do not apply to TNs. TNs, however, must maintain a nonimmigrant or temporary intent during their U.S. stay. Unlike H-1Bs, there is no cap on the admission of Canadian or Mexican TN professionals.