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Temporary Visa Categories

Foreign nationals who wish to come to the U.S. temporarily generally must seek a visa from a U.S. Consulate. A visa is a document stamped into a passport that allows a person to seek admission to the U.S. It does not give the holder the right to enter the U.S., only the right to request permission to enter. Temporary visas are categorized as either employment or non-employment.

Employment Visas

Someone who wants to come to the U.S. for employment must obtain an employment-authorized visa. The most common types of these visas are H, L, E and R.

H Visas

An H visa allows an employer with a business in the U.S. to sponsor a foreign national to come to the country to work. An H-1B visa allows someone with at least a bachelor’s degree in a specific field to obtain employment in the U.S. in a specialty occupation. A specialty occupation is one that requires at least a bachelor’s degree in a specific field. For example, for someone to obtain an H-1B visa for a chemical engineer position, the person must have a bachelor’s in chemical engineering.

An H-2 visa is for non-professional labor positions that are seasonal in nature. Common examples are fruit harvesters and construction workers. H-2 visas require a labor-market test to ensure there are no available U.S. workers for the position.

H visas are subject to annual limits that create a hurdle to obtaining these visas. The demand far exceeds the annual limits.

L Visas

An L visa allows a multinational company to transfer employees, managers and executives to a U.S. office. The U.S. office must be affiliated with the foreign office, and the person seeking the visa must have been employed in the foreign office for 12 consecutive months within the past the years to be eligible. L visas impose no annual limits.

L-1A visas allow managers and executives to come to the U.S. to assume managerial or executive duties for a U.S. affiliate. The law permits L visas to be given for traditional personnel management or for management of a critical company function. The manager or executive also could come to the U.S. to open the affiliate without having to show the need for an executive or manager in the affiliate office at the time of filing. However, the person will be allowed only one year in the U.S. to develop the U.S. office sufficiently to justify the need for a manager or executive.

L-1B visas allow employees who have specialized knowledge about company offerings to come to the U.S. Examples are knowledge relating to proprietary software, sales strategies or trade secrets. The employee can come to the U.S. to use that knowledge for the benefit of the U.S. office.

E Visas

Some countries have signed treaties with the U.S. to facilitate foreign investment or international trade through a U.S.-based company. A company that does a substantial amount of trade with the U.S. may qualify for an E-1 trade visa to operate that company in the U.S. More than half of the trade, whether it is to import or export goods, must be between the U.S. and the applicant’s country of nationality.

E-2 visas allow someone who invests a substantial amount of money in a U.S. business venture to visit for the purpose of managing that investment. The investment cannot be purely passive, such as a mutual fund or stock market investment. It must be one that requires management, generally a business operation or an income-producing real estate investment.

R Visas

An R visa allows religious workers — ordained ministers, priests, monks, imams, nuns, missionaries and religious educators — to work for their religious organization in the U.S.

Non-Employment Visas

B Visas

Those who wish to visit the U.S. for tourism or for business may receive a B visa.

F and M Visas

Those who wish to attend school in the U.S. may apply for an F or M visa. An F visa is generally for traditional college or university studies. An M visa is for trade schools.

J Visas

Foreign-exchange participants come to the U.S. on a J visa.

Last update: Sept. 24, 2008

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