Which Visa Do You Need to Work in the United States?

Many dream of moving to the United States. Some want to be closer to family and loved-ones, while others need to go for work or wish to buy or start a business. While relocating to the United States can be exciting, it can also be an overwhelming experience.

One of the first administrative obstacles you will face when going to the United States for work will be immigration. Unless you are a US citizen moving back to your home country, you will most likely need a visa. You will need to wade through the alphabet soup which is the US immigration system to determine which visa is right for your situation. Here is a brief description of some circumstances you may be in and the visas you may be eligible for.

Working in the United States for a US employer

Those wishing to move to the United States to work in ‘specialty occupations’ may be able to apply for a H-1B visa. Specialty occupations are jobs that require theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and at least the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent to properly carry out the role. Further, someone wishing to use a H-1B visa must be paid at least the prevailing wage for the job position in the geographical location in which the person will work.

A major downside of the H-1B is that there is an annual limit on the number of visas issued. There are only 65,000 visas available per fiscal year. The first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of those with a US master’s degree or higher are exempt from this limit, as are those who work or wish to work at an institute of higher education or a non-profit research organization. Last year, there were almost a quarter of a million applications submitted before the government agency dealing with them stopped accepting new applications. Those on a H-1B may enter the United States for up to three years. The H-1B may usually only be extended up to a total of six years.

Transferring to the United States from the Netherlands

The L-1 visas allow people who have been working for a company outside of the United States for more than one year in the past three years to be transferred to an affiliated company in the United States. The transferee must be going to the United States to work in either an executive or managerial capacity (these may apply for an L-1A visa) or they must possess specialized knowledge related to their work or organization (these may apply for an L-1B visa). Those transferred on an L-1 visa may stay in the United States for an initial period of three years. At the end of this period, the visa may be renewed in increments of two years for a total of seven years for the L-1A and five years for the L-1B.

What happens if the company you work for abroad has no affiliate in the United States? Both the L-1A and L-1B allow for the transfer of executive or managerial and specialized knowledge employees respectively to be transferred to help establish a new office in the United States. New Office L visas have the same total time limits as mentioned above but the initial visa is only valid for one year.

Starting a new business or investing in an existing business in the United States

The Netherlands has a treaty with the United States which allows for its citizens to move to the United States to start a business (using an E-1 visa) or to invest a substantial sum in a US business (using an E-2 visa). Dutch citizens starting a business in the United States using an E-1 visa must also ensure that the business will carry on substantial trade between the United States and the Netherlands. This means that the business should conduct more than 50% of its trade with the Netherlands. This trade can be in anything: goods, services, insurance etc, the meaning of the word ‘trade’ is construed quite liberally in this context. However, the trade must be substantial, meaning there must be a continuous flow of sizeable international trade consisting of many transactions over time. A very simple example could be starting a business in the United States which imports Dutch cheese for sale in the United States. Those applying for an E-1 visa must be an employee of the business.

Dutch citizens investing in a business in the United States using an E-2 visa must have invested or be in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital in a business in the United States. When applying for the E-2 visa, the Dutch citizen must be seeking to enter the United States solely to develop and direct the investment enterprise, either through their managerial or executive role or because they are specially qualified to do so. This can be proved by showing that the applicant has at least 50% ownership of the business or that they have operational control of it. Further, the investment must have the present or future capacity to generate more than enough income to provide for the applicant and their family.

Those applying for an E-1 or E-2 visa may stay in the United States for two years but can potentially renew their visa as many times as they like if they still qualify.

What about family members?

All the visas mentioned in this article allow the main applicant to bring their spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 to the United States. This is not automatic and separate applications have to be made for each person wishing to accompany the main applicant. Spouses may apply for work authorization which, if approved, have no restriction on where the spouse may work.

Other US work visas

The visa options mentioned above are the options most often used for Dutch citizens to work in the United States. But what if you are not a Dutch citizen? The United States has treaties with many countries and the E-1 and E-2 may be available to you if you are a national of another country. What if these visas don’t seem like the right fit for the type of work you intend to do in the United States?  There are also several other visas not mentioned here which you may be eligible for, depending on your circumstances. While you are not required to use an attorney for your US immigration issues, it may be wise to consult one to find out the extent of your options as well as what option is the best fit for you.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this article is provided for general informational purposes and is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice.

George Lake is the founder and Managing Attorney at Blue Lake Law LLP, a US Immigration law firm based in Amsterdam. He has experience assisting those who want to move from Europe to the United States. George specialises in US immigration law and focuses particularly on business and corporate immigration.

Author: George W. Lake, Managing Attorney at Blue Lake Law LLP

Share this article: