How Do I Get A US Work Visa?

Employment Visa

Dear Essential Travel,
I'm planning an extended holiday to the United States and during my time there I would like to work, but I'm aware that requires a special visa. What are the requirements for an employment visa and how do I get one? Andrew Mason, Suffolk

Dear Andrew
We've collected all the questions you might have about getting an employment visa for the US below.

Do I need an employment visa?

Why do I need an employment visa?
An employment visa is legal authorisation to look for and engage in work while in the US as a temporary visitor. It is classified as a non-immigrant visa meaning that it applies only to individuals who will in time return to their home country.

Do I need a visa for casual employment?
The US government does not issue visas for casual employment.

But I have a Green Card, will that do?
Yes, that will do. A valid Green Card authorises you to live and work permanently in the United States.

Do I have to reapply every time I re-enter the US?
No, your visa allows you to leave and re-enter the US as many times as you please during its duration.

My visa has recently expired do I need to go through the entire process again?
In some cases concerning recently expired or current visas, you will not have to have an interview to reapply for the same type of visa. The Visa Reissuance Program streamlines the process for past applicants with a record of good behaviour.

How do I get an employment visa?

What types of employment visas are there?
There are three types of visas applicable to non-immigrants looking to work in the US. Make sure you are applying for the visa that is relevant to your situation.

  • H1-B1 Speciality visa is required for high skilled pre-arranged employment. In order to qualify for this you need to at least have a Bachelor's degree in your field of employment.
  • H2-B Seasonal visa is required for jobs that are non-agricultural and seasonal in nature. Additionally there must be a shortage in the US labour market that can only be met by foreign workers.
  • J1 Working Holiday visa is favoured by gap year travelers. As of 2011, all applicants for the J1 visa are required to have secured employment before the visa interview.

When should I apply for a visa?
It is advisable to apply for a visa as soon as you make plans to visit the US. Bureaucracy, as always, takes time and it's best to have your visa well ahead of your departure date. To gauge the amount of time it may take to get your visa visit the current wait time page here.

What is the application process?
The application process begins with the online application and then you are required to schedule an appointment for an interview at the US Embassy in London.

What documents do I need to apply?
You will require the following to make up your application:

  • Your passport and any previous US visas you have held.
  • Documentation relating to your travel plans.
  • Any documents relating to health issues that may make you medically ineligible, any documents relating to a past criminal conviction or arrest and any documents relating to a past deportation from the US or denial of entry to the US (this includes a failed application for ESTA).
  • Your curriculum vitae or resume.
  • A list of countries you've visited in the past five years.
  • An I-129 form filled out by your US-based future employer.
  • A well-taken digital headshot. Preferably a JPEG.

Where do I begin my application?
Begin the application process by completing the online DS-160 here. Read the FAQ before filling out the form. If you have filled out the form before you may expedite the process by calling up your old Application ID.

Good luck with your application.

Last Updated: February 2012

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

A timid traveller, but a traveller none the less; Gugulethu is in his element lost and without a map - preferably with a companion willing to listen to his tall tales. He's our resident expert on the best muffins in town.