Understanding Employment-Based Visas

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Work Visa Application Law Legal Concept

There are about 140,000 people who enter the U.S. each year on what are called “employment-based visas”. These visas are made available to ensure that qualified applicants, who have the skills to work in jobs in the U.S. for which skilled workers are needed, will be able to live and work here without concerns about their legal status. Whether you are planning to come to the U.S. or you are already here and want to obtain legal status with these employment visas, it’s important that you understand what they are, how they work, and who is eligible.

Employment Visa Basics

The U.S. makes employment-based visas available each year on October 1, and there are a limited number that are offered from that day through the following September 30. These visas are divided into five categories, including:

  • Priority Workers
  • Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability
  • Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers (Other Workers)
  • Certain Special Immigrants
  • Immigrant Investors

The first step to getting an immigrant visa is understanding which of these categories is the right fit for you and working with an employer or prospective employer to file a petition with the Department of Labor—there is an exception for those filing under the preference category “persons of exceptional abilities”, who do not require an employer to file for them.

Filing and Fees

Once you understand who needs to file the application, and which category you are applying to enter under, the next step is to pay the required fees to the National Visa Center (NVC) and submit any required documentation or forms.

Who Else Can Come Under Employment Visas

In some cases, the spouse and children (under the age of 21) of someone who successfully applies for and receives an employment-based visa will be able to join you in the U.S. However, it will require that you file the appropriate paperwork, go through required medical checks, and pay any additional fees, so make sure you consult with your immigration attorney to avoid missing anything that might delay the process for your family members.

Important Information to Know

The number of people who can successfully enter the U.S. on employment-based visas in each of the five categories is limited, and the visas are issued in chronological order from the filing date until the total available visas have all been issued. In some categories there are a significantly higher number of applicants than available visas, so there could be a waiting period of months or even years.

Once you’ve submitted your documentation and paid the fees, you will also need to undergo an interview with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You are allowed to bring an attorney to this interview. You will also be instructed on how to obtain the required medical examinations and get any necessary vaccinations.

It’s also important to note that some activities make you ineligible for employment visas, so if you’re hoping to get one, avoid activities such as:

  • Drug trafficking or other criminal activity
  • Overstaying a previously issued visa
  • Submitting fraudulent documents

The process of getting into the U.S. with an employment visa can be confusing and difficult, but having an attorney on your side that knows the laws can help you get through the process as quickly as possible.