There are different types of work visas in the United States. You can chose your visa according to the nature of your profession.
In order to work in the United States, you need to get a work visa. The H-1B visa is the most commonly issued visa for a period of up to three years and renewable for a total duration of up to 6 years. This visa can lead to a green card without having to leave the American territory.
Work visa "H”, “L” and “Q” – Description
H1A – Designed for trained Nurses / temporary jobs
H1B – jobs requiring a higher education degree, artists, athletes or models etc.
H2A – Designed for temporary agricultural workers
H2B – Designed for people hired in temporary jobs that no U.S. nationals can undertake.
H3 – Designed for trainees
H4 – Designed for dependants of H1B visa holders. Working is not allowed in the framework of visa H4.
Visa “L” – Designed for directors or executives of multinational companies transferred to a subsidiary or parent company in the U.S. (minimum one year experience in the company).
Note about Visas "Blanket L": applicants have to:
• Submit 3 signed copies of Form I-129S during the interview with the immigration officer (non-immigrant petition form).
• Pay an anti-fraud fee of $ 500 in case of approval by the immigration officer.
L2 – Designed for dependants of “L” visa holders. Permission for work is granted in the framework of visa L2.
Q – Designed for international cultural exchange visitors,
(Source: United States Embassy in Paris)
How to apply for a work visa:
In order to get a work visa in the United States, you need first to get a valid job offer or a work contract from an employer in the country beforehand. Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker (Form I-129) must be filed for any prospective “H" Visa applicants by the employer; processing fees apply. Upon approval by the immigration authorities, the employer will receive an official work authorization for the foreign worker – Form I-797 - Notice of approval – that will be sent back by the employer to the applicant in order to achieve the work visa application in a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.
Even if the U.S. authorities approve the application for employment of a foreign national in the country, form I-797 – Notice of approval – does not guarantee the delivery of a work visa. The applicant must indeed go ahead with the work visa application by providing the local American embassy or consulate with: a valid passport, forms DS-156 and DS-157 completed, the original Form I-797 sent by the employer in the U.S., a passport-sized photo, payment of processing fees and a prepaid courier envelope with his/her physical address for passport return. An interview with an immigration officer will then be set up as well as a medical examination. If successful, the applicant will get a work visa.
The Green Card
The permanent resident permit in the United States, commonly known as green card, is an official identification document issued by the U.S. Department of State. It enables non-American citizens to legally settle and work in the United States indefinitely without needing any visa. Rights and obligations of green card holders are in all respects identical to those of American citizens except that they have no right to vote or serve as a juror. Green card holders must keep their card with them at all times.
To get a green card, hence to switch from a temporary visa to a permanent residence permit in the U.S., you must file an application to the U.S. immigration services (USCIS). If the application is approved by the USCIS, an "immigrant visa number" will be assigned to you. It takes a while to get an immigration visa number because of the quotas allocated to each nationality. Once the immigration visa number obtained, it approximately takes one year in procedure to switch from a temporary resident status to a permanent resident status. Finally, once the medical examination and compulsory HIV testing completed, your criminal background checked and your fingerprints impressed, you may obtain your green card. The whole procedure roughly takes 4 to 5 years.
Getting a green card the official way is difficult, time consuming and often very complex, that’s why the U.S. government holds an annual lottery with 50,000 green cards to win yearly. To participate, simply visit the U.S. Department of State website at http://travel.state.gov/ and follow the instructions. Important: some nationals are not allowed to participate in the lottery.
There are other types of work visa in the United States whether you are a journalist, a businessman or according to your civil status (if you’re married to a U.S. citizens for instance). For more information about these specific visas, please contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence.
Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs
U.S. Department of State – Visas in the U.S.
U.S. Department of State – The Green Card
Green Card Lottery – Official website