Working in the United States
If you are in the United States in a lawful nonimmigrant status that does not provide employment authorization, you generally may apply for:
- A change of status to a nonimmigrant classification that provides employment authorization; or
- An adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident. This may be a concurrent filing with an immigrant visa petition or, depending on the circumstances, may require an applicant to obtain an approved immigrant visa before applying for an adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident.
Depending on the classification you seek, your change or adjustment of status application might require a U.S. employer or other qualified requestor to file an application or petition on your behalf to establish your eligibility before we approve your application. However, if you apply based on certain classifications (for example, an alien with extraordinary ability or as a nonimmigrant E-1 or E-2 principal treaty trader or investor), you may be eligible to self-petition, which means filing an application on your own behalf.
How Can I Become a US Citizen With a US Visa?
Eligibility for naturalization generally depends on a number of factors:
- How long you’ve had your Green Card
- How long you’ve physically lived in the United States
- Whether you’ve served in the U.S. military (and if so, whether your service was during “peacetime” or “wartime”)
Temporary (Nonimmigrant) Worker
If you're looking for a stepping stone to an employment-based green card, your best bet is a nonimmigrant visa or status that authorizes employment. One reason for this is obvious: you and your employer can check each other out through a temporary work arrangement before committing to the onerous green card application process.
Permanent (Immigrant) Worker
If you’re a green card holder with no special circumstances, you can apply for U.S. citizenship at least five years after obtaining your green card. You also must have physically lived in the United States for at least 30 months (two-and-a-half years) out of those five years.
Approximately 140,000 immigrant visas are available each fiscal year for noncitizens (and their spouses and children) who seek to immigrate based on their job skills. If you have the right combination of skills, education, and/or work experience and are otherwise eligible, you may be able to live permanently in the United States.
Students and Exchange Visitors
Many students who want to study in United States can go with a student's visa, which is classified as non-immigrant status. This visa does not allow a foreign student to become a permanent resident of the United States of America, however.
A foreign student is usually required to leave the U.S. as soon as the studies are complete, and one year of training is has been completed (if applicable). This visa for the US can be obtained in the home country of the student.
For master's students, a 3 years student visa is issued and for bachelor's students, a 5 years student visa is issued as adequate length of study. How foreign students can get U.S. citizenship usually starts with an F-1 visa and evolves from there.
The H-1B visa is considered as the next step towards securing a permanent settlement in the United States of America. The H-1B visa is normally issued for two or four years and can be renewed up to eight years in total, with subject changes due to the company through which a foreign student gets the H-1B for U.S. citizenship. The next step after the H-1B expires is to apply for a green card, which completes the process of getting a citizenship.
How to Apply for ESTA and Get Approval to Travel to the U.S.
ESTA is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Authorization via ESTA does not determine whether a traveler is admissible to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers determine admissibility upon travelers’ arrival.
The ESTA application collects biographic information and answers to VWP eligibility questions. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, though it is recommended that travelers apply as soon as they begin preparing travel plans or prior to purchasing airline tickets.
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Professional Visa
Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) created special economic and trade relationships for the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
The nonimmigrant NAFTA Professional (TN) visa allows citizens of Canada and Mexico, as NAFTA professionals, to work in the United States in prearranged business activities for U.S. or foreign employers. Permanent residents of Canada and Mexico are not able to apply for TN visas to work as NAFTA professionals.
How to Apply
To apply, you will first need to fill out the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160.
You must complete the online visa application and print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview
You will then upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. Your photo must be in the format explained in the photograph requirements. A photo is not required if you are applying in Mexico.
Schedule an Interview
Prepare for Your Interview
You should schedule an interview at your closest US Embassy or Consulate and gather all required documents to ensure you are prepared.
Getting a Job in the U.S. as a Foreign Worker
For foreign nationals interested in working in the United States, there are several different ways to obtain U.S. employment including employment-related green cards (permanent residency), exchange visitor work and study visas, and seasonal and temporary worker visas.
Get a Work Visa
To work in the United States temporarily as a lawful nonimmigrant, temporary workers must qualify for the available visa category based on the planned employment purpose.
Trade treaty: For executives, managers, and essential workers of qualified companies from treaty countries, who qualify to conduct treaty-based trade or investment in the United States.
Your Rights and Protections as a Temporary Foreign Worker
You will not be denied a visa or be punished by the U.S. government because you have exercised your rights under U.S. Laws. To the contrary, the U.S. government wants all temporary workers and employers to operate according to the laws of the United States, and encourages you to report any violations. If your recruiter, crew leader, supervisor, or employer tells you that you will be denied a visa for exercising your legal rights, it is not true.
If you are coming to the United States to work or study, we are confident that you will have a pleasant and rewarding stay. If you should encounter any problems, however, know that you have rights and can get help.
You can find out about your specific rights and freedoms on the US Department of State website.
Green Cards and Permanent Residence in the U.S.
To become a U.S. citizen, you must have had a Permanent Resident Green Card for at least five years, or for at least three years if you’re filing as the spouse of a US citizen.
Apply for, Renew, or Replace a Green Card
You must renew your Permanent Resident Card before applying for citizenship if your card will expire within six months of applying, or your card has already expired.
You can apply for naturalization before you receive your new Green Card. But, you’ll need to submit a photocopy of the receipt for your Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card when you receive it.
How to Apply for a Green Card
If you are eligible to apply for a Green Card, you then need to determine which process to use – adjustment of status or consular processing.
Where are you?
What application process to use
Your next steps
In the United States
Adjustment of status with USCIS
- If you already have an approved immigrant petition and an immigrant visa is available, file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status with USCIS, or
- If you do not currently have an approved immigrant petition, check the eligibility requirements for your Green Card category to see if you can file the petition and the Form I‑485 together at the same time (this is known as concurrent filing).
Outside the United States
Consular Processing with the U.S. Department of State
Go through Consular Processing, which you can learn more about on the USCIS website.