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 (specialty 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 specialty for which you seek employment. USCIS will determine whether your employment constitutes a specialty occupation and whether you are qualified to perform the services. Your employer is required file a labor condition application with the Department of Labor concerning the terms and conditions of its contract of employment with you.
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 labor 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 endeavor, 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.