A guide to the common types of visas that allow foreign workers into the U.S.

In Texas, immigrants comprise 17% of the population, but 22% of the state’s workforce, the latest data says.

Immigrants who do come to the U.S. to work have a number of different visa options. This guide will explain the most common types of work visas and eligibility criteria for each.

The four most common types of work visas are: Temporary Non-Immigrant Visa, Permanent Workers, Student and Exchange Visitors and Temporary Visit for Business.

Temporary Non-Immigrant Visa

These visas are for foreigners looking to work in the U.S. for a fixed period of time. A prospective employer files a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, then the employee applies for a visa prior to coming to the U.S., according to Boundless Immigration. Spouses and family need to file for their own visas prior to coming to the U.S. These visas take 5 to 7 months to process, according to VisaPlace.

These are the most common types of temporary non-immigrant visas, per Boundless Immigration:

  • H visas: H-1B visas, with a residency cap of three years, are for people who want to work in a specialty occupation and have a college degree or equivalent work experience. To be eligible, you would need a job offer from a U.S. employer for a role that requires specialty knowledge, proof of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in that field and your employer must show a lack of qualified U.S. applicants for the role. The cap is at 65,000 H-1B visas per fiscal year. It can be extended for a maximum of six years. H-1B visa holders can apply for a green card, but there may be lengthy delays. H-2A and H-2B visas lasting up to a year are for temporary or seasonal workers in an agricultural or non-agricultural setting. H-3 is for those seeking training within the United States.

  • I visas: These indefinite visas are for members of the press including reporters, film crews and editors from a foreign media outlet.

  • L visas: These are for people who are temporarily transferring within a company they work at, either at the executive/management level (L-1A, 3 years) or through specialized expertise (L-1B, 1 year). The L-1 visa is granted for an initial period of three years that can be extended up to seven years. L-1A visa holders can file for a green card in the EB-1 category, which speeds up the process so you can get it within a year. L-1B visa holders must complete the Permanent Labor Certification under the EB-2 category, which can take years.

  • O visas: This visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement. The three-year visa can be extended in one-year increments.

  • P visas: These visas are for those who excel in entertainment, athletics or the arts and last for the entirety of an event.

  • R visas: Religious workers who are members of a religious denomination that holds nonprofit status in the U.S. use this visa. They work either directly for that denomination or an associated nonprofit.

  • TN NAFTA: Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens can seek temporary entry into the U.S. for business. Professionals are granted an initial stay of three years with an extension of three years.

Permanent Workers

Every year, people can apply for the 140,000 employment-based green cards available. These usually require an existing offer of employment from an employer who has U.S. Department of Labor certification. Through ETA Form 9089 (Application for Permanent Employment Certification), the employer needs to verify that there are both insufficient workers with this skill set in the U.S. and that hiring does not take a job away from a citizen, per Boundless Immigration. Your employer then files a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Employment-based green cards can take 6 to 33 months for processing, per VisaPlace.

Here are the key types of employment-based green cards:

  • EB-1: This covers those with “extraordinary ability,” outstanding professors and researchers and multinational executives and managers.

  • EB-2: These are available to professionals holding an advanced degree, have at least ten years experience in a field, or whose employment is in the national interest of the U.S.

  • EB-3: EB-3 green cards are for professionals holding a bachelor’s degree as well as workers who have a non-temporary offer of employment from a U.S. employer.

  • EB-4: This is a specialized category. It encompasses certain religious workers, employees of U.S. foreign service posts, retired employees of international organizations and noncitizen minors who are wards of courts in the U.S.

  • EB-5: For the Immigrant Investor Program, green cards are available to people who make either an investment of $1.8 million in a new commercial enterprise that employs at least 10 full-time U.S. workers, or $900,000 in a new commercial venture in a targeted employment area that employs at least 10 full-time U.S. workers. Investors and their families are eligible to apply for green cards.

After USCIS approves the petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center, which will assign a case number for the petition. After the application form is completed and fees are paid, you submit the necessary immigrant visa documents, including application forms and civil documents.

Your spouse and children may apply for immigrant visas with you. They must also fill out required application forms, obtain required civil documents, pay the required fees and undergo medical examinations.

Student and Exchange Visitors

Academic students, vocational students and exchange students can apply for this visa. Many of those who obtain a student visa have the chance to adjust their status to a green card.

  • F visas: These are for students enrolled at accredited academic institutions. Students can work as long as they’re studying. They cannot work off-campus during the first year. F-2 visas are for the family of the student, including their spouse and children. F-3 visas are for Canadian or Mexican students who commute.

  • M visas: These are available for students at vocational or other recognized nonacademic institutions. M-2 visas are available for the family of the student, including their spouse and children. M-3 visas are for Canadian or Mexican students who commute.

  • J visas: J visas are for exchange visitors involved in work- and study-based programs, like au pairs, camp counselors, trainees and interns. Programs must promote cultural exchange and applicants must meet eligibility criteria, including English language proficiency. J-2 visas are for dependents.

Temporary Visit for Business

For short-term business trips, this visa is utilized. They may be negotiating a contract, attending a convention or settling an estate.

B-1 visas are for those doing limited, short-term business in the U.S. They’re usually given for a one- to six-month period, with possible extension of six months. They rarely last longer than a year.

The WB Temporary Business Visitor under Visa Waiver Program allows nationals of 39 countries specified by the State Department to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism without a visa for a period of 90 days or less.

How to adjust temporary status to green card

If you don’t qualify for permanent residency, you can adjust your status in the future. Here’s how to do so, according to VisaPlace:

  1. Determine if you are eligible for a U.S. green card.

  2. File your immigrant petition.

  3. Check visa availability.

  4. File Form I-485.

  5. Attend your biometrics appointment.

  6. Go to your immigration interview, if needed.

  7. Submit additional supporting documents, if needed.