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Working in the U.S.

Individuals coming from a foreign country to work in the United States must first obtain permission from the U.S. government. Those who want to work and live in the U.S. permanently should apply for permanent resident status (most commonly referred to as a "green card"), which allows non-citizens to work at any job, anywhere in the country. Those working in the U.S. temporarily, or who don't qualify for a green card, can apply for a temporary work visa.

Certain individuals lacking a green card or temporary work visa may still be allowed to work in the U.S. if they apply for an employment authorization document

See "Visiting the U.S." for introductory information about visiting the country temporarily as a tourist or business professional, to seek medical treatment, to attend conventions or social organization events, and other purposes not related to employment.

Foreign visitors who are working in the U.S. or would like to should consider the following information, with respect to U.S. immigration laws and procedures:

  1. Employment-based Non-Immigrant Visas - These are organized into categories of workers, such as those with extraordinary ability in a given field (professional athletes, for example); those with outstanding research credentials; investors and those with the potential to create additional jobs; and so on.
  2. Employment-based Immigrant Visas - Roughly 140,000 of these are made available each year in the U.S., divided into five preference-based categories. The U.S. employer usually files the paperwork on behalf of the employee. See FindLaw's "How to Apply for Immigrant Status Based on Employment" for a general overview, or the more extensive "Employment-Based Immigrant Visas" section maintained by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The five categories are listed below:
    • EB-1: Priority Workers - Reserved for professionals working in the U.S. who are widely recognized for their extraordinary ability in a given field (i.e., Pulitzer Prize winning author).
    • EB-2: Professionals with Advanced Degrees or with Exceptional Ability - For professionals with an advanced degree, or its equivalent, and at least five years work experience (i.e., Ph.D. working in the field for five years).
    • EB-3: Skilled/Professional Workers - This category covers skilled workers, professionals and capable unskilled workers (labor certification and a permanent, full-time job offer are required).
    • EB-4: Special Immigrants - Includes religious workers, broadcasters, Iraqis who have assisted the U.S., physicians, and others (follow link for a complete list).
    • EB-5: Immigrant Investors - Individuals investing in a new commercial enterprise, which creates or preserves at least 10 full-time jobs.
  3. Adjustment of Status - Foreign workers with a valid temporary visa may apply for permanent resident status, more commonly known as a "green card," in accordance with the five priority categories listed above. 
  4. Work Authorization for a Spouse or Dependent - Foreign workers with a valid temporary work visa or green card may file an Application for Employment Authorization (Form I-765) on behalf of their spouse and/or dependents. 
  5. Employers of Foreign Workers - Foreign workers typically must be sponsored by their employer in order to obtain an employment-based visa or green card.
  6. Starting a Business in the U.S. - Investors and entrepreneurs from abroad are encouraged to invest capital in existing U.S. businesses; start and operate new businesses in the U.S.; and and create new jobs in the process.  
    • See "E-2 Treaty Investors" on the USCIS website for information about E-2 visas for foreign investors in U.S. businesses (available to individuals from U.S. treaty countries).
    • See "EB-5 Immigrant Investor" on the USCIS website for information about EB-5 visas for foreign investors in new businesses that create at least 10 full-time jobs.  

If you have additional questions about working the U.S., consider speaking with an immigration law attorney.

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