Foreign nationals who wish to work legally in the United States must first obtain the correct visa. The applicant can apply for a temporary visa once the employment is fixed.


    There are several worker visa categories, including immigrant and non-immigrant. Most applicants applying for the temporary worker visa must have an approved petition.

    The potential employer must file the petition on behalf of the applicant while United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S.C.I.S.) reviews the petition. Stay glued to your screen as we take you through how to work legally in the United States and the various employment-based visas.

    Work Legally in the United States

    Understanding Work Permits in the U.S.

    The United States has thousands of foreign employees working in various labor sectors yearly. The legal license you obtain to work in a country where one does not have citizenship is referred to as a work visa or work permit.

    In most cases, a foreign national who intends to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, which could be temporary or permanent, depending on the individual’s situation.

    Meanwhile, if you desire to relocate and continue to work legally in the country for a certain amount of time, you’ll be eligible for temporary worker visas.

    Who is Eligible to Work in the U.S.?

    All U.S. citizens and permanent residents are qualified to work in the country without applying for a work authorization document. However, foreign citizens must obtain a proper work visa to enter the U.S. for employment.

    Before acquiring many work visas in the U.S., you must have a valid job offer from a US-based employer who will sponsor the visa. Some individuals are also on non-employment-based statuses and are permitted to work, but they must obtain a work permit first.

    Examples of this category include 

    • K1 visa holders
    • Individuals with temporary protected statuses,
    • People with asylum seeker status
    • F1 students experiencing financial hardship

    Each U.S. work visa category has its requirements that applicants must meet. These requirements are usually set up by legislation and sometimes change. Therefore, you must be familiar with the visa criteria before applying.


    Also, it would be best if you took note of the series of documentation and processes involved for employers and employees. Ensure you follow the guidelines to improve your chances of getting approved for a U.S. visa and begin paid employment.

    Employment-based Green Card Categories

    Work Legally in the United States

    EB1: Priority workers and persons of extraordinary ability

    This green card category is designed for professionals who can demonstrate special abilities in specific fields. It is sometimes regarded as the most prestigious U.S. permanent work visa due to its high standards and requirements.

    Applicants must present a track record of substantial awards or achievements. EB-1 green card has three subcategories, which are for:

    • Persons with extraordinary ability (EB-1A)
    • Outstanding professors and researchers (EB-1B)
    • Certain multinational executives and managers (EB-1C)

    Applicants who qualify for the EB-1A sub-group can file their petition directly with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This means they don’t need a job offer or an employer to sponsor their green card application.

    The EB-1B and EB-1C require an employment offer, and a US-based employer must sponsor their petition.

    EB2: Professionals with advanced degrees and persons of exceptional ability

    This is for applicants who hold an advanced degree or exceptional ability. Generally, they must have a labor certification approved by the U.S. Department of Labor (D.O.L.).

    This category also requires a job offer; a U.S. employer must sponsor the petition. The EB-2 green card also has three subcategories, which include:

    • Advanced degree
    • Exceptional Ability
    • National interest waiver (N.I.W.)

    Applicants seeking N.I.W. don’t need labor certification or a job offer; they can also file their petition with the U.S.C.I.S.

    EB3: Skilled workers, professionals, and other workers

    Skilled workers are individuals whose jobs require a minimum of two years of experience or training, not of a seasonal or temporary nature. These applicants must meet the training, experience, or requirements of the job opportunity.

    U.S.C.I.S. may also consider relevant education as training. Professionals are those whose jobs require a minimum of U.S. baccalaureate of its foreign equivalent qualification and are members of the professions.

    The other workers refer to the unskilled labor requiring less than two years of education, training, or experience. All three subcategories need labor certification approved by the D.O.L. and a job offer from a U.S. employer. The employer must also file the petition.

    EB4: Certain special immigrants

    This visa category covers religious workers, broadcasters, NATO-6 employees and family members, special immigrant juveniles, G-4 international organizations, and armed forces members.

    Other eligible candidates are U.S. government international employees and some other eligible candidates. It does not require labor certification, and applicants can file the petition themselves.

    EB5: Immigrant investors

    This is a capital investment visa for foreign investors in new enterprises in the United States. The investment must provide a certain number of jobs for U.S. workers, with a minimum of $900,000 or $1.8 million, depending on the category an applicant seeks.

    You will receive a two-year conditional permanent resident status if you qualify for the visa. Within that period, you must demonstrate the fulfillment of specific EB-5 investment requirements. This will lead to unconditional permanent resident status with a green card valid for ten years.

    How to Apply for an Employment-based Green Card

    The application route will depend on the category you are applying for. In most cases, your prospective employer must complete Form I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.

    They will submit the form to U.S.C.I.S. They may also need to obtain a labor certification from the D.O.L. It is necessary to seek approval to employ foreign employees permanently.

    If the I-140 petition is approved, the employee can apply for a green card by filing Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust status.

    Temporary Work Visas

    If you desire to work legally in the United States on a short-term basis, there are different categories of temporary visas from which you can choose. Also known as non-immigrant work visas, they are issued for a limited period and are also renewable.

    H-1B Visa: Person in Specialty Occupation: This visa is for individuals with a higher education degree and distinguished ability or merit in certain occupations.

    H-1B: Free Trade Agreement for Professionals for Nationals of Chile and Singapore: This is designed for Chilean and Singaporean professionals with four years of study in their area of specialization.

    H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker: This is for applicants who wish to engage in temporary or seasonal agricultural work in the U.S. It is limited to nationals from certain countries.

    H-2B: Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker: This is also temporary or seasonal but in non-agricultural fields. It is also limited to certain countries.

    How to Apply for Temporary Work Visas

    There is no single application route for temporary work visas, as each has its procedures. Usually, your employer will file Form I-129 Petition for a non-immigrant Worker with U.S.C.I.S.

    If approved, you can proceed with your visa application with a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. Some work visas, such as H-1B H2, require that your employer obtains a certification from the D.O.L.

    This certification shows an authentic need to employ a foreign worker and that the recruitment will not negatively affect U.S. workers. Your visa application must be submitted with all required documents.

    Though each visa has its relevant documents, they usually include the following.

    • Valid passport (valid for at least six months following the end of your stay)
    • Passport photographs
    • Receipt number from your Form I-129 petition
    • Receipt to prove that you have paid the application fee ($190)
    • Evidence showing that you intend to depart the U.S. following the end of your stay

    You will likely need to attend an immigration interview at the last stage of your application process. This is when an immigration officer will make the final decision on your case.

    How Do Work Permits Differ from Visas and Green Cards?

    Work permits grant the holder permission to work in the United States, whereas green cards grant permanent residency there. This is the most significant difference between work visas and green cards.

    However, once in the United States, a work visa holder can apply for a green card. While a U.S. work visa enables you to look for and take employment, a U.S. visa grants you the authority to enter, transit through, and leave the U.S.

    What Happens if I Work Without a Work Permit?

    Working in the United States without a work permit/employment authorization card is very dangerous. If you work without authorization, the government may deport you.

    They may also ban you from entering the U.S. for 3–10 years, and you may have a more challenging time trying to get temporary or permanent status. For instance, suppose you don’t have a work permit and work while in the U.S. on a visitor visa and later apply for a student visa.


    In that case, the State Department will reject your student visa application. It would be best to have a work permit for short-term or “under the table” employment. Even if you only get paid for working a few hours, working without authorization can cause serious immigration problems for you down the road.