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.
Applying to Change Visa Status or to Change an Employer in the U.S.
If the i 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 for a different employer then the employer can file to change the employer and extend the individual’s same non-immigrant status.
Upon approval the individual will have the new or extended status and the approval notice will contain a new I-94 status document conferring the new or extended status. The individual is not required to travel abroad to obtain new visa at a U.S. consulate in order to remain in the U.S. in lawful non-immigrant status.
The variations in the process to apply for different non-immigrant statuses are addressed in the discussions of the different non-immigrant status categories. The non-immigrant categories included are the most common for employment.
A WORD ABOUT VISAS AND IMMIGRATION STATUS
The term “visa” often confuses employers and foreign nationals because it is frequently used incorrectly. Sadly, even immigration attorneys sometimes use “visa” when talking about something other than a visa. A visa is only 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 take the approval notice to the U.S. Consulate, apply for an H-1B visa, and upon receiving the visa in her or his passport, could then travel to the U.S. Assuming USCBP allowed the individual to enter the U.S., he or she would do so and thereby have H-1B status. The document that controls the H-1B status is the I-94 entry document which the USCBP enters into its computer when the foreign national enters the U.S. and which the foreign national can retrieve from the USCBP website at www.uscbp.gov
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.