Visa Information

There are many different categories of visas for foreign-national workers, each with their own requirements. Qualifying for a work visa category is the first step for a foreign-national worker coming to the US to start a job or extending his or her stay in the US to keep working, temporarily or permanently.

Permanent resident visas for workers of all skill levels


EB1 Persons with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics • Outstanding professors and researchers • Managers or executives of multinational companies

EB2 Persons with an advanced degree • Persons with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business

EB3 Professionals, skilled workers, and unskilled workers

Temporary visas for workers


H-1B Persons in specialty occupations

L Intracompany transferees

O Persons with extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, or motion picture or TV production

P Internationally recognized athletes and entertainers

TN Professionals from Mexico or Canada (NAFTA)


There are three visa types for persons who want to study in the United States: F, M, and J.

F visas are for students enrolled in academic education programs at approved schools. A student can get an F visa for:

  • Postgraduate study or postdoctoral study at a college or university, or undergraduate or postgraduate study at a conservatory or religious seminary
  • Undergraduate study at a college or university, including study in a postsecondary language, liberal arts, fine arts, or other nonvocational program at a junior college or community college
  • Study in any other language, liberal arts, fine arts, or other nonvocational training program that requires a certain minimum number of hours of attendance
  • Study at a private elementary or middle school or public or private high school

A student wishing to obtain an F visa must be proficient in English, or be enrolled in an English-language course. The student also must prove that he or she will have sufficient funds for tuition and living expenses. Full-time attendance is requred, except for some Canadian and Mexican commuter students.

M visas are for students enrolled in approved nonacademic or vocational schools, including certain community colleges, junior colleges, postsecondary vocational or business schools, and high schools. English is not required, but proof of funds is. Full-time attendance is requred, except for some Canadian and Mexican commuter students.

J visas are for exchange students at the high school level or above. Exchange programs provide foreign nationals with opportunities to participate in educational and cultural programs in the United States and return home to share their experiences, while encouraging Americans to participate in educational and cultural programs in other countries. Exchange students are selected by a sponsor for participation in the exchange program. English proficency, or the sponsor's willingness to waive the English requirement, is required, as is proof of sufficient funds. Medical school exchange students must speak English, and are subject to additional requirements.

Student visas do not give the student permission to stay in the United States permanently. The student must have a foreign residence to which he or she intends to return.

The first step for F and M students is to be accepted for enrollment by an approved school, which will issue an I-20 form as evidence of acceptance. J exchange students must be accepted by a sponsor, which will issue a DS-2019 form.

Students apply for a visa at a consulate by submitting the usual nonimmigrant visa application form online, along with a fee for the visa. (Canadians, who do not require a visa, can apply directly at the border.) Students must submit the I-20 or DS-2019 form along with documentation showing eligibility for the visa, such as proof of funds. A separate fee that pays for entry of the student's information into a database known as SEVIS must be paid before the visa interview.

Persons already in the United States who wish to change to student status submit their documents to USCIS.

A student on a F (academic) or M (vocational) visa can enter the United States up to 30 days before classes start. The student is maintaining legal status as long as he or she is pursuing a full course of study at an approved school, or engaging in authorized practical training following completion of studies. After that, there is a grace period of 60 days for F visa students, and 30 days for M visa students, to prepare for departure. Normal progress toward completing a course of study is required at all times. The I-20 will forecast a completion date, but the student's time in lawful status can be extended if more time is needed to complete studies. Students may stay in the US during normal break periods between quarters or semesters, and between academic years.

An exchange student on a J visa can enter the United States up to 30 days before classes start and can stay for the period specified by the program sponsor on the DS-2019 form, plus 30 days for travel. Extensions of time to complete the exchange program are possible.

Under some circumstances, students on F or J visas who apply for an H-1B visa after graduation can remain in the US until the H-1B job starts.

Students with an F visa can work on campus. "On campus" work includes work performed on the school's premises or at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school. If the on-campus employer is not the school itself but rather a commercial firm, it must provide services for students on campus. During school sessions, on-campus employment is limited to 20 hours per week. Full-time employment is authorized during breaks.

F visa students can work off campus for employers not educationally affiliated with the school under certain conditions only. They are prohibited from doing so until after their first academic year (nine months) is over. After that, they can only work off campus if they are facing severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond their control, and no on-campus work is available. The school must approve and recommend the off-campus employment. Like with on-campus employment, the job cannot be more than part-time during school sessions.

F visa students can apply to USCIS for unrestricted employment authorization if they have been offered an internship by a recognized international organization and the school approves.

F visa students can accept a practical training job that is part of their curriculum. The school must authorize it, and as a general rule the student cannot start the job until his or her first academic year is complete. Employment can be full-time (anything more than 20 hours per week) or part-time, but is limited to a year (or two years at half time). Students who work in these curricular training jobs before graduation generally cannot accept an additional training job after they graduate.

F visa students also may apply to USCIS for authorization for a year (or two years part-time) of employment for "optional" practical training directly related to their major area of study. School approval is necessary, and the job cannot start during the student's first academic year. While school is in session, the job is limited to 20 hours a week. On breaks, full-time hours are OK.

Students on M visas cannot work until after their course of study is over, and only then under certain circumstances.

College and university students on J visas can work if the program sponsor approves. Like F visa students, they can only work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session. They can accept any employment offered pursuant to the terms of a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship. Otherwise, a job must be on campus, unless off-campus employment is necessary because of serious, urgent, and unforeseen economic circumstances that arise after coming to the US.

J visa college or university students can accept paid training jobs directly related to their major field of study, if the school approves. Generally, the amount of time for academic training is limited to 18 months for undergraduate and predoctoral training.

High school students on J visas may not be employed on either a full or part-time basis, but may accept occasional employment such as babysitting or yard work.

Students who have received F, M, or J visas can bring their spouse and children to the United States for the duration of the student's stay.

Spouses and children of F or M visa students cannot work in the United States without qualifying for a separate visa or status. Spouses and children of J visa students can apply for work authorization, but not if the income is needed to support the student.

The spouse on an F or M visa student cannot study without getting his or her own student visa. Avocational or recreational study, however, is permitted.

Children of F, M, or J visa students can attend kindergarten through high school without getting any additional visa. Children of F or M visa students must get their own student visa if they want to attend college or university in the US.

After an F visa student's completion of the course of study, or, for a student in the bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree program, after completion of all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or the equivalent), the student can apply to USCIS for authorization for a year (or two years part-time) of employment for "optional" practical training directly related to their major area of study. The school must approve. Students who have completed a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree and accept employment with employers enrolled in the E-Verify program can get a further 24 months of employment authorization. Time spent in a curricular training job or other optional training job before graduation may eliminate or limit the student's time in optional practical training after graduation.

Generally, the job must be finished within 14 months of graduation (38 if receiving the STEM extension). This period is extended for students who timely file to change status to H-1B so as to cover any “gap” between the date the training period would otherwise end and the start date for the job on the H-1B petition (usually October 1) that results from the numerical limitation on H-1B petitions in a fiscal year.

With school approval, an M visa student can apply to USCIS for authorization for practical training after completion of his or her course of study. The employment must be related to the student's course of study, and comparable employment must not be available to the student in the country of the student's foreign residence. One month of employment authorization is possible for each four months of full-time study that the M student has completed, up to a maximum of six months in the aggregate.

J visa college or university students can accept paid training jobs directly related to their major field of study, if the school approves and the job starts within 30 days of graduation. Generally, the amount of time for academic training is limited to 18 months after undergraduate and predoctoral training and 36 months for postdoctoral training.

Of course, students on F, M or J visas may apply for other types of visas to continue or resume their stay in the US after graduation, if they are so qualified. There is a limitation applicable to some J visa students, however. If not exempt or waived, they may not apply for an immigrant visa, permanent residence, or for a nonimmigrant H or L visa until they have resided and been physically present in the country of their nationality or last residence for an aggregate of at least two years following departure from the US.

If you are a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States, your spouse is potentially eligible for lawful permanent residence (an "immigrant visa" and a "green card").

If you are a U.S. citizen and your spouse is still living outside the United States, you will first need to prove to the U.S. government that you're a U.S. citizen and that your spouse is actually your spouse. This is done by submitting to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) a form called an I-130, along with your proof of citizenship (birth certificate or passport) and proof of the marriage (marriage certificate). If you were married previously, you'll have to prove that marriage is over (divorce decree or death certificate). The filing fee for the I-130 is $535.

If USCIS approves the I-130, your spouse can then go online and apply for an immigrant visa. The application is made on a DS-260 form, which costs $325 to file. Along with the application, your spouse will need to file an "affidavit of support" by someone (usually you) who promises to support your spouse if he or she were to lose all income. If you filed the I-130 in the U.S., the fee for processing the affidavit of support is $120. As part of the application process, your spouse will have to go to a specified doctor to get a medical examination and possibly some vaccinations. Then he or she goes to an interview at a U.S. consulate in his or her country. If the consulate determines that your spouse is "admissible" to the U.S., it will issue an immigrant visa, and your spouse can join you in the United States. To get the actual green card, your spouse will need to pay a $220 fee for immigrant visa processing to USCIS online.

If you are a U.S. citizen and your spouse is living in the United States, it may be possible to have USCIS approve a green card for your spouse without the need to go back to the foreign country to get the visa. This process is referred to as "adjustment of status." Your spouse can apply for adjustment of status only if he or she was inspected and lawfully admitted the last time he or she crossed the border. The process requires you to file the I-130 form to prove your citizenship and the existence of the marriage, but instead of waiting for USCIS to approve it before proceeding, your spouse can file an I-485 form to adjust status at the same time, as part of the same application. The fees are $535 for the I-130 and $1140 for the I-485 (plus $85 for USCIS to take your spouse's "biometric" information (fingerprints)). Your spouse will need to file an affidavit of support (no fee) and submit the results of a medical examination. If your spouse needs permission to work in the U.S. or permission to travel outside the U.S. while the application is pending, he or she can apply for those benefits at no charge. There will be an interview at a USCIS office, and if the application is approved, USCIS will send your spouse a green card.

If you are a U.S. permanent resident and your spouse is still living outside the United States, the process is similar to the process described above for U.S. citizens, except there might be wait for your spouse to get the visa. This is because there is a visa quota system that applies to spouses of lawful permanent residents which doesn't apply to spouses of U.S. citizens. If there's a waiting list, you can file the I-130 and get it approved, but your spouse will have to wait for his or her visa to become available, then apply for an immigrant visa at a consulate outside the United States or file an I-485 to adjust status. If your spouse is in the U.S., adjusting his or her status won't be possible if there's a waiting list, because a visa must be currently available in order to do so.

If you are a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States, your children are potentially eligible for lawful permanent residence (an "immigrant visa" and/or a "green card"). A "child" is someone under 21 and unmarried. It's easier and quicker for a "child" to get a green card than it is for your adult sons and daughters to get one, but they are eligible as well. If you're a green card holder, your adult sons and daughters lose their eligibility to get a green card through you if they are married. If you're a U.S. citizen, your adult son or daughter can be married, but the unmarried ones are given preference in the allotment of visas.

A stepchild is your "child" if he or she was under 18 when the marriage creating the status of stepchild occurred. An adopted child is your "child" under certain circumstances as well. If your child reaches age 21 while the process of getting him or her a green card is still going on, there are some circumstances under which he or she will still be considered a "child."

First, you should be sure that your child (or adult son or daughter) actually needs a green card, and is not a U.S. citizen by operation of law. This will depend on the year of birth, the place of birth, and the citizenship or immigration status of the parents.

Assuming your child did not automatically become a U.S. citizen, if you are a U.S. citizen and your child is still living outside the United States, you will first need to prove to the U.S. government that you're a U.S. citizen and that your child is actually yours. This is done by submitting to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) a form called an I-130, along with your proof of citizenship (birth certificate or passport) and proof of the parent-child relationship (sometimes as simple as a birth certificate). The filing fee for the I-130 is $535.

If USCIS approves the I-130, your child (or you, if your child is too young) can then apply online for an immigrant visa. The application is made online on the DS-260 form, which costs $325 to file. Along with the application, you might need to file an "affidavit of support" signed by someone (usually you) who promises to support your child if he or she needs it. If you filed the I-130 in the U.S., the fee for processing the affidavit of support is $120. If your child will become a U.S. citizen by operation of law as soon as he or she enters the U.S., you don't need to file an affidavit of support. Instead you file a form letting the government know the affidavit of support requirement is waived. As part of the application process, your child will have to go to a specified doctor to get a medical examination and possibly some vaccinations. Your child, if old enough, will have an interview at a U.S. consulate in his or her country. If the consulate determines that your child is "admissible" to the U.S., it will issue an immigrant visa, and your child can join you in the United States. To get the actual green card, your child will need to pay a $220 fee for immigrant visa processing to USCIS online.

If you are a U.S. citizen and your child is living in the United States, it may be possible to have USCIS approve a green card for your child without the need to go back to the foreign country to get the visa. This process is referred to as "adjustment of status." Your child (or you, on your child's behalf) can apply for adjustment of status only if he or she was inspected and lawfully admitted the last time he or she crossed the border. The process requires you to file the I-130 form to prove your citizenship and the existence of the parent-child relationship, but instead of waiting for USCIS to approve it before proceeding, your child (or you on your child's behalf) can file an I-485 form to adjust status at the same time, as part of the same application. The fees are $535 for the I-130 and $1140 for the I-485 ($750 if adjusting at the same time as a parent). If your child is over 14, there will be a $85 fee for USCIS to take your child's "biometric" information (fingerprints)). You will need to file an affidavit of support (no fee) and submit the results of a medical examination. If your child needs permission to work in the U.S. or permission to travel outside the U.S. while the application is pending, he or she can apply for those benefits at no charge. There will be an interview at a USCIS office, and if the application is approved, USCIS will send your child a green card.

If you are a U.S. permanent resident, or if you are a U.S. citizen who is petitioning for an adult son or daughter, the process is similar to the process described above, except there might be a wait for your child to get the visa. This is because there is a visa quota system that applies to all children (including adult sons and daughters) of lawful permanent residents, and to all adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. (There is no quota system for a "child" of a U.S. citizen.) If there's a waiting list, you can file the I-130 and get it approved, but your child or adult son or daughter will have to wait for his or her visa to become available, then apply for an immigrant visa at a consulate outside the United States or file an I-485 to adjust status. Filing an I-130 and I-485 together won't be possible if there's a waiting list, because a visa must be currently available in order to do so.

If you are a U.S. citizen, your parents are potentially eligible for permanent residence in the United States (a "green card"). If you're not a U.S. citizen (for example, you have a green card but not citizenship), your parents can't get a green card through you.

The parents of U.S. citizens are considered "immediate relatives," and no visa quota applies to them.

Before your parents can get a green card, you have to file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to prove that they are your parents and you are their U.S. citizen son or daughter. USCIS will not accept this petition, known by its form number, I-130, unless you are over age 21.

The proof you have to submit with your I-130 depends on how the parent-child relationship was formed. In the simplest case, your parents are your biological parents and they were married at the time of your birth. The proof you submit would be your birth certificate, passport, or certificate of naturalization or citizenship to show your age and that you are a U.S. citizen. If your mother's name is on the birth certificate, that is evidence of the mother-child relationship. If you are petitioning for your father, you'll need to provide your parents' marriage certificate, and your father's name must be on your birth certificate. Some additional evidence is required if your parents weren't married when you were born, or if you were adopted. You can petition for a step-parent if you were under 18 when your step-parent married your biological parent.

If your parents are living outside the United States, you will first need to file the I-130 with USCIS. The filing fee for the I-130 is $535. If USCIS approves the I-130, your parents can then go online and apply for an immigrant visa. The application is made on the DS-260 form, which costs $325 to file. Each parent must apply separately and pay a separate fee. Along with the application, you will need to file an "affidavit of support" by someone (usually you) who promises to support your parents if they need it. If you filed the I-130 in the U.S., the fee for processing the affidavit of support is $120. As part of the application process, your parents will have to go to a specified doctor to get a medical examination and possibly some vaccinations. Then they go to a U.S. consulate for an interview. If the consulate determines that your parents are "admissible" to the U.S., it will issue an immigrant visa, and your parents can join you in the United States. To get the actual green card, your parents will need to pay a $220 fee for immigrant visa processing to USCIS online.

If your parents are living in the United States, it may be possible to have USCIS approve a green card for them without the need to go back to the foreign country to get the visa. This process is referred to as "adjustment of status." Your parent can apply for adjustment of status only if he or she was inspected and lawfully admitted the last time he or she crossed the border. The process requires you to file the I-130 form to prove your citizenship and the existence of the parent-child relationship, but instead of waiting for USCIS to approve it before proceeding, your parent can file an I-485 form to adjust status at the same time, as part of the same application. The fees are $535 for the I-130 and $1140 for the I-485. If your parent is under age 79, there will be a $85 fee for USCIS to take your parent's "biometric" information (fingerprints)). Your parent will need to file an affidavit of support (no fee) and submit the results of a medical examination. If your parent needs permission to work in the U.S. or permission to travel outside the U.S. while the application is pending, he or she can apply for those benefits at no charge. There will be an interview at a USCIS office, and if the application is approved, USCIS will send your parent a green card.

If you are a U.S. citizen, your brothers and sisters are potentially eligible for permanent residence in the United States (a "green card"). If you're not a U.S. citizen (for example, you have a green card but not citizenship), your brothers and sisters can't get a green card through you.

Before your brother or sister can get a green card, you have to file a petition (called an "I-130") with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to prove that you are related as brother or sister. It's best if you have everyone's birth certificate, showing the same parent or parents.

The filing fee for the I-130 is $535. Unfortunately, even if USCIS approves the I-130, your brother or sister will have to wait many years before he or she can go to a U.S. consulate in his or her country and apply for an immigrant visa. This is because of the visa quota system and the very long waiting list that currently exists for brother and sister visas.

When a visa finally becomes available, your brother or sister will apply for it online on a DS-260 form, which costs $325 to file. Along with the application, you will need to file an "affidavit of support" by someone (usually you) who promises to support your brother or sister if support becomes necessary. If you filed the I-130 in the U.S., the fee for processing the affidavit of support is $120. As part of the application process, your brother or sister will have to go to a specified doctor to get a medical examination and possibly some vaccinations. He or she will have to go an interview at a U.S. consulate. If the consulate determines that your brother or sister is "admissible" to the U.S., it will issue an immigrant visa, and your brother or sister can join you in the United States. To get the actual green card, your brother or sister will need to pay a $220 fee for immigrant visa processing to USCIS online.

One way to obtain a visa to live in the United States is by starting or investing in a business that will create jobs for US workers. There are several different ways for investors and entrepreneurs to obtain a visa.

I want a permanent resident visa ("green card"). I don't want to direct the operations of my own US business, but I can invest at least US$500,000 in an approved project.
I want a permanent resident visa ("green card"). I want to direct the operations of a US business that I own, and I can fund the business with at least US$500,000 and create at least 10 US jobs.
I want to be in the United States for an indefinite period of time to direct the operations of a US business I own. I either don't want US permanent residency, I don't have US$500,000 to invest, or I can't create 10 US jobs, but I can fund the business with substantial capital and create some jobs for US workers.