Dreaming of a transatlantic move and career change? There are a number of different visas that allow you to live and work in the US with various conditions attached. The right visa for you will depend on key factors such as your profession, proposed employment, education and training and how long you intend to stay.
US work visa
Work visas can be divided into three groups: non-immigrant visas, immigrant visas and temporary business visitor visas. There are a number of subclasses that fall within these categories and here, we look at some of the more common options.
If you’re planning on working in America for a limited time and have no plans to settle permanently, you’ll likely fall under the non-immigrant category. This is divided into sub-groups, which include:
Specialty occupations (H-1B)
If you work in a specialised area or wish to become a Department of Defence researcher or development project worker, you can apply under the specialty occupations subclass. You will need a bachelor’s degree or international equivalent as a minimum level of education. Fashion models of ‘distinguished merit and ability’ can also apply under this sub-class but do not require a degree. H-1B visas allow you to stay for an initial period of three years, which can be extended to six years. There are a maximum of 65,000 H-1B visas issued each year.
Intra-company transfers (L-1A)
A US employer can transfer a manager or executive from one of its foreign offices to an office in the US for up to three years. A foreign company can also use this subclass to send a manager or executive to set up an office in the US if one does not already exist, but this visa will only initially last for one year. All L-1A visas can be extended for up to seven years.
Extraordinary ability or achievement (O-1)
You may apply under this sub-category if you have achieved national or international recognition for your ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, motion picture or television industries. You must be travelling to the US to continue your work in your field of expertise. This visa lasts for an initial period of up to three years but may be extended.
Treaty traders (E-1)
As the UK has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the US, this visa allows you and certain employees to enter the US to engage in international trade on your own behalf. Trade could include goods, services, banking, insurance, transport, tourism, technology and news-gathering. These visas last for two years initially, but can be extended by up to two years at a time. There is no limit on the number of extensions that can be granted.
Exchange visitors (J-1)
While there is no working holiday visa for America, the J-1 subclass allows you to work or participate in an approved program for teaching, researching or training. Exchange visitors could include professors, research assistants, students, teachers, nannies and camp counsellors.
If you want to live and work in the US permanently, you’ll need an immigrant visa. There are two types:
This sought-after visa is also known as a Permanent Resident Card. Generally, someone must sponsor you for a Green Card, but in some cases you can apply yourself. There are a number of categories you can apply under, such as family, employment, refugee and victims of crime or abuse. The US also runs a Diversity Immigrant Visa Program which makes up to 50,000 Green Cards available through a lottery every year.
If you have a prospective job lined up with a US employer you can apply for an employment-based visa. There are 140,000 made available each year, but your prospective employer may have to prove they could not hire a suitable US national for the role, and that your employment will not impact on US workers in similar roles.
There are five preference categories in this subclass:
- E1 – Priority workers
- E2 – Professionals holding advanced degrees and persons of exceptional ability
- E3 – Skilled workers, professionals and unskilled workers
- E4 – Certain special immigrants
- E5 – Immigrant investors
Temporary visitors for business visas
If you plan to work in the US for no more than six months, you may only need a temporary visa.
Temporary Business Visitor under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
This allows British citizens (and people from 34 other participating countries) to travel to the US for work or pleasure for up to 90 days without a visa.
Temporary Business Visitor (B-1)
This visa grants permission to carry out certain activities in the US, such as consulting with business associates, attending conferences, negotiating a contract and undertaking short-term training for up to six months.
Move with confidence
Moving to the US, or any other foreign country, is a big commitment and you’ll need to make sure you have enough money to support yourself while you settle in.
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*Information correct at date of publication