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Work visas: What you need to know

If you are not a U.S. citizen, you will need a work visa to work legally in the United States. However, the process of getting a work visa can be lengthy and confusing. Here's what you can expect when applying for a work visa.

Who is eligible for a work visa?

There are many different types of work visas, each with their own rules. The first step is to determine your eligibility and the appropriate type of work visa.

H1B and H1B1 visas: To be eligible for H1B or H1B1 work visas, you must work in a specialty occupation or have a post-secondary degree in a specialized field.

H2 visa: If you want to work in the U.S. but do not have specialized education, you may wish to apply for an H2 visa. These are divided into agricultural and non-agricultural categories, and are limited to applicants from designated countries.

L visa: If you already work for a U.S. company overseas, and want to relocate to an American branch of that company, you must file an L visa.

If you are unsure which category of visa you can apply for, or how you would demonstrate that you possess the right qualifications, speak with an immigration attorney.

Applying for a visa

Once you know which type of work visa you need, the first step is to complete the application.

If you are applying for the H1B visa, you'll need proof of an employment offer and wage information to finish your visa application. The sponsoring employer must pay the higher of the prevailing and actual wages for the position. Your prospective employer must complete a form, the Labor Certification Application, and file it with the U.S. Department of Labor. Once you have the completed form, pay the appropriate filing fee and send off the application.

The U.S. grants a limited number of work visas every year. Thus, competition for a visa can be fierce. If your application is incomplete, you risk having your application denied - even if you have a valid job offer.

Most visa applicants will need to have an in-person interview at the U.S. consulate in their country. To avoid a delay, schedule the interview when you file your visa paperwork.

If your application is approved, you will receive notification in writing. At this point, you can then get a visa processed and make plans to move to the U.S. to begin work.

Completing your application appropriately is key. Consulting with a U.S. immigration lawyer will help ensure the process goes smoothly and make you more likely to obtain the visa you need to live and work in the U.S.

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