If you want to work in the U.S. temporarily as a nonimmigrant, under U.S. immigration law, you need a specific visa based on the type of work you will be doing. Most temporary worker categories require that your prospective employer or agent file a petition, which must be approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the United States before you can apply for a work visa.
All applicants for H, L, O, P, Q, and R visas must have a petition approved on their behalf by USCIS. The petition, Form I-129, must be approved before you can apply for a work visa at the Embassy in Abuja or the Consulate in Lagos. When your petition is approved, your employer or agent will receive a Notice of Action, Form I-797, which serves as your petition’s approval notification. The consular officer will verify your petition approval through the Department of State’s Petition Information Management Service (PIMS) during your interview.
You must bring your I-129 petition receipt number to your interview at the Embassy or Consulate in order to verify your petition’s approval. Please note that approval of a petition does not guarantee issuance of a visa if you are found to be ineligible for a visa under U.S. immigration law.
Work Visa Descriptions and Qualifications
H-1B (speciality occupation)
An H-1B visa is required if you are coming to the United States to perform services in a pre-arranged professional job. To qualify, you must hold a bachelor’s or higher degree (or an equivalent degree) in the specific speciality for which you seek employment. USCIS will determine whether your employment constitutes a speciality occupation and whether you are qualified to perform the services. Your employer is required file a labour condition application with the Department of Labor concerning the terms and conditions of its contract of employment with you.
H-1B1 Treaty-based Temporary Work Visas
Free trade agreements signed with Chile and Singapore permit qualified Chilean and Singaporean citizens to temporarily work in the United States in certain circumstances. Only Chilean and Singaporean citizens are eligible as principal applicants, although their spouses and children may be nationals of other countries.
Applicants for H-1B1 visas should already have a job offer from an employer in their chosen work area in the United States, but the employer does not have to file Form I-129, Petition for Non-immigrant Worker, and the applicant does not need to obtain a Notice of Approval, Form I-797 form before submitting the visa application. However, the petitioner does need to file an Application for Foreign Labor Certification with the Department of Labor prior to applying for the visa.
H-2A (seasonal agricultural workers)
An H-2A visa allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs for which U.S. workers are not available. An H-2A nonimmigrant classification applies to you if you seek to perform agricultural labour or services of a temporary or seasonal nature in the United States on a temporary basis. A U.S. employer (or an association of U.S. agricultural producers named as a joint employer) must file a Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, on your behalf.
H-2B visa (skilled and unskilled workers)
This visa is required if you are coming to the United States to perform a job which is temporary or seasonal in nature and for which there is a shortage of U.S. workers. Your employer is required to obtain a Department of Labor certification confirming that there are no qualified U.S. workers eligible for the type of employment on which your petition is based.
An H-3 visa is required if you are coming to the United States to receive training from an employer in any field of endeavour, other than graduate education or training, for a period of up to two years. You can be paid for your training and “hands-on” work is authorized. Training cannot be used to provide productive employment and cannot be available in your home country.
If you are the principal holder of a valid H visa, your spouse or unmarried children (under age 21) may receive an H-4 visa to accompany you to the United States. However, your spouse/children are not permitted to work while in the United States.
L-1 (intra-company transferees)
An L-1 visa is required if you are the employee of an international company which is temporarily transferring you to a parent branch, affiliate, or subsidiary of the same company in the United States. The international company may be either a U.S. or foreign organization. To qualify for an L-1 visa, you must be at the managerial or executive level, or have specialized knowledge and be destined to a position within the U.S. company at either of these levels, although not necessarily in the same position as held previously. In addition, you must have been employed outside the United States with the international company continuously for one year within the three years preceding your application for admission into the United States. You may only apply for an L-1 visa after your U.S. company or affiliate has received an approved petition from USCIS, either on a “blanket” or individual basis.
If you are the principal holder of a valid L visa, your spouse or unmarried children (under age 21) may receive this derivative visa. Due to a recent change in the law, your spouse may seek employment authorization. Your spouse must enter the United States on his/her own L-2 visa and then submit a completed Form I-765 (obtainable from USCIS), along with an application fee. Your children are not authorized to work in the United States.
O (foreign nationals with extraordinary ability)
Type O visas are issued to people with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business and athletics, or extraordinary achievement in motion picture and television production, and their essential support personnel.
P (artists, entertainers)
Type P visas are issued to certain athletes, entertainers, artists and essential support personnel who are coming to perform in the United States.
Q (international cultural exchange participant)
A Q visa is required if you are traveling to the United States to participate in an international cultural exchange program for the purpose of providing practical training, employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of your home country. You must have a petition filed on your behalf by the program sponsor and the petition must be approved by USCIS. Please note that when you fill out your DS-160, the system will ask you to provide a SEVIS number. You should enter zeros into that field, as you do are not required to have a SEVIS registration.
R (religious worker)
The R visa is for individuals seeking to enter the United States to work in a religious capacity on a temporary basis with the support of a petition. Religious workers include persons authorized by a recognized entity to conduct religious worship and undertake other duties usually performed by authorized members of the clergy of that religion, and workers engaging in a religious vocation or occupation. For more information about petition-based R visas for religious workers, please click here.
When to Apply: The Embassy or Consulate may process your H, L, O, P, Q, or R visa application up to 90 days prior to the beginning of employment status as noted on your I-797. However, when making your travel plans, please note that due to Federal regulations, you can only use the visa to apply for entry to the United States starting ten days prior to the beginning of the approved status period noted on your I-797.
If you apply for an H, L, O, P, Q, or R visa, you must submit the following:
- A Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form. Visit the DS-160 webpage for more information about the DS-160.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person desiring a visa must submit an application.
- One (1) 2″x2″ (5cmx5cm) photograph. This page has information about the required photo format.
- A receipt showing payment of your US$190 non-refundable nonimmigrant visa application processing fee, paid in local currency. This page has more information about paying this fee. If a visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, depending on your nationality. The Department of State’s website can help you find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the fee amount is.
- If you are an L-1 applicant on a blanket petition, you must pay a fraud prevention and detection fee (more information about this fee is here).
- The receipt number printed on your approved I-129 petition. Paper copies of the I-797 are not required at the interview.
In addition to these items, you must present an interview appointment letter confirming that you booked an appointment through this service. You may also bring whatever supporting documents you believe support the information provided to the consular officer.
Caution: Do not present false documents. Fraud or misrepresentation can result in permanent visa ineligibility. If confidentiality is a concern, you should bring your documents to the Embassy or Consulate in a sealed envelope. The Embassy/Consulate will not make your information available to anyone and will respect the confidentiality of your information.
Consular officers look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors during adjudication. Consular officers may look at your specific intentions, family situation, and your long-range plans and prospects within your country of residence. Each case is examined individually and is accorded every consideration under the law.
If you are a first-time visa applicant, you may save time by bringing the following documents to your interview:
- Evidence that establishes your job qualifications, including any university diplomas.
- Original letters from current and previous employers detailing your position and projects you worked on and how long you worked with your employers.
- If you are currently working and holding an H-1B visa, please submit your pay slips for the current calendar year and your Federal tax returns (IRS Form 1040 and W-2) for all the years in which you have been employed in the United States. You should bring:
- pay slips from your current or most recent place of employment
- the names and current phone numbers of the personnel managers at your present and previous places of employment
- your resume or CV
Your dependents should bring all required documents for any nonimmigrant visa, plus:
- an original marriage (for your spouse) and/or birth certificate (for unmarried children under 21), as applicable
- a letter from your spouse’s employer confirming his/her continued employment
- if your spouse is currently working in the United States on an H1-B visa, his/her pay slips for the current calendar year and federal tax returns (IRS Form 1040 and W-2s) for all the years in which he/she has been employed in the United States on the H-1B visa.