Temporary Visas for Foreign Workers

Non-immigrant visas allow visa holders to enter the U.S. for a temporary period of time. This is a relatively quick way of entering the U.S. for specific purposes. Thus, the requirements and duration of time that the foreign national is allowed to stay may vary.

As a general rule, the holder of a non-immigrant visa is required to maintain a residence abroad and must return to the country of origin before the visa expires or within the period of time that the law permits. However, certain types of visas allow dual intent, which enable the visa holder to apply for permanent residency at the same time.

Some of these visas do require approval of a petition (E-3, H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, L-1, O, P temporary workers and K-1 fianceés), the existence of a program sponsor (J-1 exchange visitors), or admission to a program (F-1 and M-1 students) while other types simply require the foreign national to apply for the visa at the U.S. consulate (E-1 treaty traders or E-2 treaty investors) or at the port of entry (TN visas for Canadians).

In most situations, the visa holder (also known as principal beneficiary) may be accompanied by his or her spouse and children who are unmarried and below 21 years of age (also known as derivative beneficiaries). Generally, the spouse who accompanies as a derivative beneficiary cannot work; but in limited instances, the spouse of an E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, and L-1 visa

The H-1B visa allows employers in the United States to employ foreign nationals in a specialty occupation on a temporary basis. Professional and specialty occupations may include but are not limited to: computer systems analysts and programmers, physicians, professors, engineers, and accountants. The H-1B requires a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, lasts 3 to 6 years, and does not affect any other applications toward citizenship.

The H-2 visa allows non-immigrants to enter the United States for temporary or seasonal work.

The petitioner must prove that:

  1. A United States company is offering employment;
  2. The period of employment must have a specific ending date; and
  3. The petitioner must obtain a temporary labor certification certifying that no U.S. workers will be adversely affected by the employment of the H-2 visa holder.

L-1 is a visa designed to help foreign companies establish or expand their business and services to the United States. This visa allows individuals with specialized knowledge of the company’s product, services, techniques, equipment, or management as executive or managerial employees to come to the U.S. with the purpose of setting up a new branch that has goals and objectives similar to main office overseas. Usually, multi-national companies who are frequent users of L-1 visas apply for only one approval from the USCIS made possible by the “L-1 Blanket Petition Program”.

There are two L-1 visa classifications:

  • L-1A (Intracompany Transferee Executive/Manager) Visa
  • L-1B (Intracompany Transferee Specialized Knowledge) Visa

O, and P visas are granted to beneficiaries who possess an extraordinary ability in their profession.  To qualify for these visas, the petitioner must:

  • have an extraordinary ability,
  • possess critical skills,
  • is internationally recognized for those skills,
  • must be part of a reciprocal exchange program, and
  • their skill must be culturally unique.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to a student’s major area of study. Under the prior rules, an F-1 student could be authorized to receive up to a total of 12 months of practical training either before (pre-) and/or after (post-) completion of studies. M-1 students may engage in practical training only after they have completed their studies.

What is the application process to participate in pre- or post-completion OPT?

  • Students must initiate the process by requesting the Designated School Official (DSO) at their academic institution to recommend the OPT. The DSO makes such recommendation by endorsing the student’s Form I-20 and by making appropriate notation in SEVIS, the system used to track F-1 students.
  • Students then file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization Document (EAD), with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If approved, USCIS will issue an EAD to the student.
  • The student may begin engaging in pre- or post-completion OPT only after an application has been approved and an EAD has been issued.

The religious worker R-1 visa is for persons seeking to enter the United States to be employed by a non-profit religious organization as a religious worker or in a religious vocation or occupation.


The I visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows representatives of a foreign media function to enter the United States to solely engage in activities associated with news gathering and reporting of actual current events. The following are examples of activities qualified for this visa:

  • Filming a news event or documentary
  • Publicizing films used to gather information or news
  • Gathering factual tourist information
  • Journalists under contract or those working for an overseas branch, office, or, subsidiary of a US network
  • Representatives of tourist bureaus

Applicants must meet specific requirements to qualify for a diplomatic A visa. The consular officer will determine whether you qualify for the visa. For an A-1 or A-2 visa, you must be traveling to the United States on behalf of your national government to engage solely in official activities for that government. The fact that there may be government interest or control in a given organization is not in itself the defining factor in determining if you qualify for an A visa; the particular duties or services that will be performed must be governmental in character or nature, as determined by the United States Department of State, in accordance with U.S. immigration laws. Government officials traveling to the United States to perform non-governmental functions of a commercial nature, or traveling as tourists, require the appropriate visa, and do not qualify for A visas.

Qualified A visa applicants traveling to the United States for assignments of less than 90 days will be issued visas annotated “TDY” (temporary duty).