Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa—either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Temporary worker visas are for persons who want to enter the United States for employment lasting a fixed period of time and are not considered permanent or indefinite. Each of these visas requires the prospective employer to first file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An approved petition is required to apply for a work visa.
A common way to work temporarily in the United States as a nonimmigrant is for a prospective employer to file a petition with USCIS on behalf of the worker. If a worker has the right combination of skills, education, and work experience, they may be able to live and work permanently in the United States by seeking an employment-based immigrant visa.
If a worker lives outside the United States and wants to work in the United States, they generally must apply for a visa from the U.S. Department of State (DOS)—unless a visa is not required for persons from their country.
In many cases, USCIS must approve a worker’s petition before they are eligible to apply to DOS for a visa or seek admission at a port of entry. Before entering the United States, a worker must appear before a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer and receive permission to enter the United States and engage in the proposed activity.
If a worker is in the United States in a lawful nonimmigrant status that does not provide employment authorization, they generally may apply for:
• A change of status to a nonimmigrant classification that provides employment authorization; or
• An adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident. This may be a concurrent filing with an immigrant visa petition or, depending on the circumstances, may require an applicant to obtain an approved immigrant visa before applying for an adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident.
Depending on the classification a worker seeks, their change or adjustment of status application might require a U.S. employer or other qualified requestor to file an application or petition on their behalf to establish their eligibility before USCIS approves their application. But if the worker applies based on certain classifications—for example, an alien with extraordinary ability or as a nonimmigrant E-1 or E-2 principal treaty trader or investor—the worker may be eligible to self-petition, which means filing an application on the worker’s own behalf.
And if a worker is in the United States—including as an applicant for permanent residence or a certain family member of an alien who has lawful nonimmigrant status—the worker may file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization to request employment authorization and an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). A worker may also apply for an EAD that shows such authorization if their immigration status authorizes them to work in the United States without restrictions.
The conditions a worker must meet and how long they can work in the United States depend on the type of immigration status the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants. A worker must comply with all conditions of their employment authorization and the terms of their admission to the United States. If the worker violates any of the conditions, they could be removed from or denied re-entry into the United States.