As an immigration attorney, clients often ask what visas are available in order to live and work in the United States. The answer, in its simplest form, is that there are only two ways to live and work in the US, through family or through work.
Through family, you would need to have a United States Citizen (“USC”) spouse, parent (of USC 21 years of age or older), or child (unmarried and under 21 years of age) who can file a petition on your behalf. These types of petitions are called immediate relative petitions and are usually processed quicker than other family petitions. In addition to immediate relative petitions, there are family petitions that may be filed by a USC or Lawful Permanent Resident (“LPR”) which are subject to preference categories and normally take several years to be processed. Under the preference categories, and USC may file a petition on behalf of their unmarried sons and daughters over 21 years of age, married sons and daughters, and for their brother and sisters. LPR’s may file a petition for their spouses and children (under 21 years of age) and unmarried sons and daughters (over 21 years of age). Family petitions filed under the preference categories are subject to yearly numerical limitation per category and are issued to eligible immigrants in the order in which the petition has been filed.
In order to come live and work in the United States through work, generally, you need to have an employer sponsor you and file a petition on your behalf. Keep in mind that the majority of work visas are non-immigrant visas, meaning that they only allow a foreign national to work and reside in the United States on a temporary basis, depending on the type of visa. For example, the holder of an H1B visa, available to individuals in specialty occupations, may reside and work in the US for a maximum of 6 years in H1B status. Furthermore, the L1A visa, available to Multi-National Managers and Executives, is usually approved for an initial period of stay of 3 years and may be extended in increments of 2 years, until the employee has reached a maximum stay of 7 years.
There is also the option of obtaining permanent residence in the United States through work, via a labor certification. An employer would need to apply and receive a certification from the US Department of Labor (“DOL”) certifying that the foreign employee’s skills are in short supply in the area of intended employment and that said employment will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of other US workers similarly employed. The DOL requires employers to take affirmative steps to recruit US workers for the position a foreign national seeks to fill. If the employer is unable to recruit a suitable US worker and receives DOL certification, the employer may then file an immigrant visa on behalf of the foreign worker, which should ultimately lead to permanent residency.