Boasting of an open work culture that richly rewards skills and hard work, the US attracts the best and brightest minds from the world over. It’s natural that Indians’ education and a strong work ethic are appreciated there such that they form a sizable chunk of the US’s skilled immigrant workforce, particularly in IT and healthcare. Despite the challenges and restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, the fact that a staggering 30,337 work visas and 11,941 green cards were issued to Indians in 2020 stands testament to this symbiotic relationship.
If you intend to work in the US, read on to know more about US work visas, what they require, and what they allow you to do!
Types of Visas
First off, employment visas can be immigrant or non-immigrant ones. The latter are temporary visas which are valid for a specific job contract for a finite period of time. Examples of these include the H1-B, L1 and O1 visas. Immigrant visas, better known as Green Cards, grant people with permanent resident status in the US which means that they can permanently live and work in the US with no restrictions. All work visas, immigrant and non-immigrant alike, require you to be sponsored by a US employer. In fact, your sponsoring employer will be responsible for applying for you.
Categories of Non-Immigrant Visas
Non-immigrant visas are sub-divided into various categories such as A-3, B-1, H-1B, H-1B1, H-2A, H-2B, G-5, L1, O, P1, P2, P3, Q1 and NATO-7
The visa category that you apply for is based on the type of work you will be doing. Here’s a quick overview of whom each non-immigrant visa category is intended for. We’ll explore the ones Indians most commonly avail of in greater detail further along in this article, specifically H-1B, L1 and O visas.
Rights Of Immigrant and Non-immigrant Workers
Unscrupulous employers might occasionally try to take advantage of foreign workers so it’s important to know your rights. Employees, regardless of country of origin or visa status, have the right to be paid fairly, and on time. There can be no sexual harassment, sexual exploitation or discrimination on the basis of origin, race, age, gender, disability, or . Your workplace has to be safe, sanitary and healthy. Your employer cannot confiscate your passport or any other important documentation. Regardless of the contract you’ve signed, you always have the right to leave an abusive job. At any point, if you suspect your rights are being violated, it’s important to speak to HR, a union representative, a labor- or immigrant-rights group, an Indian Consulate officer or immigration attorney or call 911 for emergencies where you need urgent, critical help.
Know Your Visa
Indian professionals most often migrate on the basis of four visas: H-1B, L1, O1 and a green card. Of these, the former three are non-immigrant visas while the last is an immigrant visa.
H-1B: Person in Specialty Occupation
Professionals such as engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers and architects often arrive at US shores with this visa. Those with at least a 4-year bachelor's degree are eligible for this visa when they have a job offer in hand for the field of their speciality. Your employer will apply for this visa and the USCIS will confirm that your is a speciality occupation and that you are qualified to perform the services. The H-1B is a dual-intent visa, so you can apply to become a permanent resident or citizen while you are in the USA.
Just 85,000 H-1B visas are issued each year, so your employer needs to apply for your visa on time. It’s a multiple-entry visa that is issued for a maximum of three years at first, and can be extended for another three years. Your spouse and children can join you on an H4 dependent visa, but cannot get a work permit unless you’ve started the procedure to become a permanent resident. They can, however, study, get a driver's license or open a bank account.
The visa is issued to you for a particular job. Neither you nor the job is replaceable. If, however, you want to switch jobs, your new employer will need to apply to transfer your visa. At that point, they will be the ones sponsoring your visa. You can only start working at your new job once your H1 transfer case comes through. If your employer gets acquired or merges, your visa still stays active provided you retain your job and your job profile is the same. The H-1B allows you to apply for vacation, sick leave, maternity or paternity leave or go on strike without affecting your visa status.
L-1: Intracompany Transfers
This visa is intended for international companies’ work assignments and internal employee transfers to the United States for managers, executives, or specialists, who are eligible for an L-1, L-1A or L-1B respectively. The company needs to have physical offices in the states and there needs to be proof that the foreign location where the employees are currently employed and the U.S. location are part of the same organization. There is an exception to this rule in the case of off-site employment, wherein you can work for your company’s clients in a particular role.
To qualify, the manager, executive or specialist needs to have been working with the company outside the United States for at least 1 year. Issued for a maximum of three years initially, it can be extended in 2-year increments. A maximum stay of five years is allowed for specialists, while managers and executives can extend their stay upto seven years.
Spouses and children can apply for an L2 visa to accompany you, and are allowed to study full-time or part-time, get a driver's license and open a bank account. If your spouse wishes to work full-time or part-time, they need to get an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). If they don’t already have a social security number, they should get one after their EAD comes through.
O1: Extraordinary Abilities
Also known as the Einstein Visa, this visa is only issued to those whose work has made an international impact within the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, movies and TV. This visa enables US organizations to hire particularly talented foreigners who are at the very top of their field such as Nobel, Pulitzer, Oscar, and Olympic winners, respected academic researchers and multinational executives. Employers can be changed with filing a bit of paperwork.
Initially issued for three years, the visa may get extended incrementally to a fourth year if your work needs more time for completion. O2 visas are issued to those whose presence and contribution are integral to an O1 visa holder’s success. Spouses of O1 and O2 visa holders are issued an O3 visa, and are not allowed to work on this visa. They may, however, study full-time or part-time.
Permanent Residentship (Green Card)
If you’re emigrating to the US permanently, ie, not on a limited-period contract, your employer will apply for an employment-based Permanent Residentship for you. Also known as the green card, the PR guarantees you many of the same privileges as citizens (since you aren’t a US Citizen, you can't vote, run for office or hold a US passport). For instance, you can enter and exit the country at will without needing a visa, apply for government-sponsored financial aid to study, and receive medicaid and Social Security benefits.
Employment-based Eligibility For Green Cards
To be eligible, you must either be a highly skilled worker, a medical doctor, or an immigrant investor. There are five sub-categories of employment-based green cards. Each of these categories has a maximum quota of green cards that may be issued annually, and each has different eligibility criteria.
Green cards are also preferentially issued to doctors who undertake to work full-time in an area where there is a shortage of medical professionals. To get a green card as an investor, you need to have invested (or be in the process of investing) at least $1 million in a new commercial enterprise in the US which will create full-time jobs for at least 10 people. This stipulated amount can be relaxed to $500,000 for certain targeted employment areas.
As a green card holder, your spouse and children also become eligible for derivative green cards. After about 5 years of permanent residentship, you become eligible for citizenship, after which you can sponsor your parents’ and certain other relatives’ green cards too.
There are several types of work visas, each of which is a path to pursuing your dream of working in the US. That is certainly an attractive option for scores of hopefuls who leave their homeland to work there in search of a rewarding career, golden opportunities, and better quality of life and we hope this guide has demystified these visas. Zolve is always glad to help you get one step closer to your dream by empowering you with all that you need to hit the ground running, be it information like this, about the US financial system, or a US bank account and credit card!