Employment & Business Visas
In order to work in the United States, a foreign national must have an immigration status that permits employment. The petition process and requirements depend on a variety of factors, including the foreign national’s citizenship, the type of work to be performed, the individual’s educational background and work experience, and whether the individual is inside or outside the U.S.
With limited exceptions, foreign nationals who want to work in the U.S. must be sponsored by an employer to work in a specific position. Similarly, employers who want to hire a foreign national must petition for the employee, seeking the appropriate immigration status based on myriad factors. Each immigration status that confers employment authorization is tied to a specific employer and carries specific limitations as to time in the U.S., work location, responsibilities, and benefits for spouses.
How to Apply for a Business Visa
Regardless of the specific type of status, known as non-immigrant status, the process to apply is similar.
Applying for a Business Visa Outside the U.S.
If the newly hired individual is outside the U.S. in most cases the employer will file a petition for the appropriate non-immigrant status with USCIS. When the petition is approved, the approval notice is sent to the foreign national who then uses it to apply for a corresponding visa at a U.S. consulate abroad. The foreign national then uses the visa to travel to the U.S.
What is a Visa?
The term “visa” is confusing because it is frequently used incorrectly. A visa is a stamp in a passport that functions as a travel document. Foreign nationals apply for a visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad, presenting documentation to demonstrate that they are eligible for the specific visa type. Upon receiving a visa, it allows a foreign national to travel to the U.S. and seek permission from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) to enter the U.S. in the corresponding non-immigrant status.
As an example, a foreign national who is the beneficiary of an approved H-1B petition would apply for an H-1B visa at the U.S. Consular Office abroad. Upon receiving the visa in her or his passport, the foreign national could then travel to the U.S. and be allowed to enter the U.S. in H-1B status. Once in the U.S. the document that controls the foreign national’s H-1B status is the electronic I-94 form which can be retrieved from the USCBP I-94 website.
Applying to Change Status, Change an Employer in the U.S., or Extend Status
A foreign national who is lawfully present in a non-immigrant status can often apply to extend that status or change to another status without having to leave the U.S. and obtain a new visa abroad.
If the newly hired individual is inside the U.S. in a valid non-immigrant status (i.e. F-1 student status), the employer will file a petition with USCIS to change the individual’s status to the appropriate status. If the individual happens to be in the U.S. in the same status as that needed (i.e. H-1B status) but will be working for a different employer, then the new employer can file to change employers. For those in H-1B status, this is commonly referred to as an H-1B transfer petition.
When USCIS approves the petition, an approval notice will be issued. The approval notice will list the individual’s new immigration status and the status validity dates. Often, a new I-94 document can be found at the bottom of the approval notice. The next time the individual travels outside the U.S., they likely will need to obtain a new visa stamp in their passport before returning to the U.S.