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Types of US Business Visas

As an attractive location to establish a subsidiary for a foreign company, the US has a well developed business visa system for non-resident employees.  While there are some challenges associated with obtaining visas of any type, a multinational company should be able to comply with the requirements for their foreign workers.

There are both immigrant and non-immigrant types of visas available depending on the length of the employee’s assignment, education, position and the area of work being performed.  Several visa types require verification of the employment contract, educational background and technical expertise.

The Form I-9

A first requirement for any employee in the US is the completion of Form I-9. This form must be completed by both the employer and employee and is a verification of identity and employment.  The key requirement is the review of acceptable identification by the employer, and there is a fairly complex list of acceptable types of documents that will qualify.

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There is no filing fee for the Form I-9, but employees cannot begin work until the form and identification have been submitted to the employer. The employer must submit the form within three days of the employee starting work.

The initial I-9 form is valid for as long as the work validation period noted on the form, or until the employee’s work visa expires.  After that date, re-verification is required to maintain compliance.

Form I-9 has the purpose of preventing unauthorized or illegal work by aliens in the US, and is a crucial part of the immigration and homeland security programs.

Types of Non-Immigrant Business Visas

Short-Term Work Assignments

For shorter business and work assignments of less than six months, the B-1 or B-2 visitor visa may be sufficient.  This non-immigrant business visa can be used for business purposes that include:

  • Sales
  • Contract negotiations
  • Business meetings and conferences
  • Consulting with business associates
  • Research projects
  • Attending meetings of a Board of Directors
  • Installation and repair of equipment purchased outside the US
  • Other non-revenue activity

In addition, the employee must be paid by the non-US employer/entity.  As in many jurisdictions, US immigration reviews the visa application to make sure that the B-1 is not being used multiple times simply to avoid obtaining a long term work visa.  The B-1 visa is typically issued for six months with an additional six month extension available.

Another option for employees from certain countries is the Visa Waiver Program which allows a 90 day entry without a B visa.

Long Term Work Visas

The application fee for all work visas is $190, and in some cases an interview may be required.  Visas can be applied for at most US consulates around the world.

H-1B Visa:  Specialty Occupation

The long term visa category is more complex, and the H-1B visa is the most common for specialty or technical work categories.  It has several requirements that must be met by the applicant including a proof of a Bachelors degree, or demonstration that the work performed has technical components that would normally require a degree.  Examples of specialty occupations include architecture, mathematics, law, accounting and medicine.

There is an annual quota on H-1B visas, to limit the number of foreign workers entering the US.

H-2B Visa:  Temporary or Seasonal Work

If an assignment is short term, but falls outside of the work parameters for B-1 visitor visa, the H-2B may be an alternative.  However, this visa is typically used for the hospitality or tourist industry with a seasonal business, but may be granted for a one year period.

L-1 Visa:  Intra-company Transfer

The L-1 visa is available to managers or executives on assignment in a US subsidiary or branch of their current employer abroad.   The main requirement is to be employed by the same company for at least one continuous year, within the past three years.  The L-1 visa is initially granted for a maximum of three years, and may be renewed for two years at a time.  The maximum stay permitted is 5-7 years depending on the type of position held.  Unlike the H1-B, there is no quota or limit for L-1 visas, but not all applications meet the position requirements for approval.

There are other non-immigrant visas available for students, performing artists and exchange visitors, but these are not typically used for business travel or employment.

Types of Immigrant Visas or “Green Card” Residency

Obtaining US permanent resident status, or a ‘green card’, is possible through employment immigrant visas.  This may be an attractive option for employees that plan to stay in the US indefinitely, but depending on the position and number of applications there can be delays.

The employment-based green card can be obtained in four primary ways:

  • Job Offer
  • Investment
  • Self-Petition
  • Special Categories of Jobs

Due to recent legislation, the application timing for a green card has changed.  Since October 2015, early filing is available for green cards which allow pre-processing of the application.  This should relieve some employees of the need to obtain frequent extensions to both H-1B and L-1 visas.

Immigration and Visa Processing with Shield GEO

For companies just entering the US market, obtaining the business visas needed for foreign employees can be time consuming and complex.  There are many forms and requirements to verify, which can delay entry to the US for work purposes.  By using Shield GEO, a company is assured that the visa process is being handled by local experts who understand in detail the specific rules and standards.

Shield GEO can also act as the sponsor/employer for both visas and Form I-9, saving a company the time and expense of a DIY approach.  Please contact us for more information on obtaining visas for employees entering the US.

Get in touch to find out more about how an Employer of Record solution can help your company

The information in this article is subject to changes in local legislation.

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