When Immigration Matters

US Immigration | Non-Immigrant Visas

Posted by Karen Pollak on Jun 13, 2011 11:14:00 PM

This is the second part of a four part series on immigrating to the United States that will be appearing in BusinessBrief Magazine. BusinessBrief is a South African business management Magazine that provides the decision makers in business with the information they need to make better business decisions.


immigration lawyer dallasA nonimmigrant visa (US Visa) is issued to persons with permanent residence outside the U.S. who wish to be in the U.S. on a temporary basis.  This article will focus on the most common nonimmigrant work visas available to South African Citizens. 

The L-1 Intra-company Transferee Visa

The L-1 visa facilitates the transfer of employees from a foreign corporation to a U.S. branch, parent, subsidiary, or affiliated entity.  This visa allows a U.S. company to bring in managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge employees for a temporary period.  The employee must have worked for the foreign company for at least one of the past three years and must work for the U.S. company in a similar position. 

The foreign entity may pay the employee his or her salary but the U.S. company must control the employee’s performance of his or her work.  There are no numerical limits on the L visa and the spouse of an L visa holder may apply for work authorization.  The L visa is initially valid for up to three years in the case of an existing business and up to one year where a new business is established in the United States.  There is a five-year limit on L-1B employees with specialized knowledge staying in the United States and a seven-year limit for L-1A managers and executives.

The H-1B Visa

The H-1B visa program enables U.S. employers to hire professional workers.  Generally, the job must require a bachelor's degree or higher. In some instances, a combination of studies and relevant experience may substitute for the degree if it is determined by a credentials expert to qualify the foreign professional.  Holders of these visas can stay in the United States for up to six years.  Unfortunately, unlike the L visa, the spouse of an H-1B visa holder cannot obtain work authorization. 

There are numerical limits on the number of H-1B visas issued each year.  On April 1, 2011, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) begins accepting H-1B visa applications for the 2012 fiscal year (which starts on October 1, 2011).  This means that you may apply for this visa in April 2011 but can only start working for the U.S. employer on October 1, 2011.

The O Visa

Foreign nationals with extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, athletics, education or business, may apply for an O visa.  The O visa is usually granted for three years and is renewed in one-year increments.  The O visa may be renewed indefinitely.  A spouse of an O visa holder cannot apply for work authorization.

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa

This visa is available to foreign nationals to enter the United States as exchange visitors to participate in government approved exchange programs.  First, the prospective employer must establish an approved exchange program.  Such program may be sponsored by government agencies, private businesses or educational agencies.  Depending on the foreign national’s qualifications and the type of exchange program, the J-1 visa is available anywhere from eighteen months for most trainees to forty two months for professors and research scholars.  Certain foreign nationals may be subject to a two-year home residency requirement at the end of their stay.

R-1 Religious Visa

The R visa allows religious workers to come to the U.S temporarily to work in religious occupations. The religious worker must have been a member of a religious denomination for at least 2 years immediately preceding the filing of the R-1 visa application and the religious denomination must have an affiliation in the United States.  The petitioning U.S. organization must be a non-profit religious organization that is tax exempt.  The R-1 visa is usually issued for 3 years with an option of one 2 year extension. Dependents such as spouse and children (under 21 years old) of R visa religious worker are also entitled to R-2 visa. While dependents may become students in the U.S, they may not be employed.

The H-2 Visa

Allows workers to come to the U.S. temporarily to perform agricultural work or to perform temporary or seasonal work.  The H-2 visa category is divided into 2 subcategories. Both subcategories require your employer to show that your services are needed on a temporary basis. The H-2A visa allows you to come to the U.S. temporarily to perform agricultural-related work. With H-2A status, you are allowed to remain in the U.S. for a maximum of 3 years, including any extensions.

The H-2B visa allows you to come to the U.S. to perform temporary or seasonal work such as at a hotel in peak season. The work may be either skilled or unskilled, but it must be temporary in nature.

Application Procedures

Generally, the U.S. employer makes application for the visa with the USCIS in the United States.  This process usually takes several months. However, the USCIS offers an option for premium processing. For an additional $1,225 fee, the USCIS will process the petition in 15 days or less.  Once the visa application is approved, you will go for an interview at the U.S. Consulate in South Africa where the actual visa will be placed in your passport. 

Tags: Non Immigrant Visas, Nonimmigrant Visas, US Immigration

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