The ABC’s of NIV’s and Possible Alternatives to an H-1B

Non-immigrant (temporary) visas are designated by letters.  Most people have heard of an H-1B visa, for example, but most don’t know there are many others.  Here’s a fun visa vocabulary for common types of business-related status.

NIV:  Non-immigrant (temporary) visa.  Depending on the category and the specific case, it may be valid for weeks or many years.  It is not, however, permanent residence (the so-called Green Card).

H-1B: For a “specialty worker.”  The job must require a minimum of a 4-year university degree in a specialized area as a minimum qualification.

H-2B:  For seasonal, peak load, or one-time need.  Must be approved by the U.S. Dept. of Labor prior to filing a petition with USCIS.  The employer must show payroll and income data for the prior two years to prove the work is in fact seasonal.

TN:  Treaty NAFTA.  Although the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been replaced with the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), the visa provisions didn’t substantially change, so it’s still called a TN visa.  Available for a Canadian or Mexican (slightly different rules)   for a professional in a specific occupation.  The applicant must meet the degree requirement and both the applicant’s credentials and the job must be in one of the 63 approved occupations.

L-1A:  Intra-company transferee.  A U.S. company with a foreign parent/subsidiary, branch, or affiliate company; or a foreign company that either has or is coming to open a related company in the U.S.  The company needs to transfer either an executive or a manager from the foreign company to the related U.S. company.

L-1B:  Specialized knowledge.  Similar to an L-1A transfer but for an employee who has highly specialized knowledge such that the U.S. company couldn’t hire someone locally, and so needs to transfer them from their foreign office.

E-1/2:  E-1 is a Treaty Trader; an E-2 is a Treaty Investor.  These are pursuant to trade agreements that the U.S. has with 83 countries.  A national of any one of those countries who is opening or acquiring a business in the U.S. that either:  for an E-1 engages in substantial trade with the foreign country, or for an E-2 is investing a “substantial amount” in an active at-risk investment in the U.S. (with other requirements) may qualify.  The U.S. has only an E-1 qualifying treaty or only an E-2 qualifying treaty with some countries, whereas many qualify for both.  The E-2 is not the EB-5 Investor visa that is for permanent residence and requires a set amount of money.  The E-2 is a temporary nonimmigrant visa that may be renewed indefinitely but is not permanent residence.  The amount of money invested can be markedly less than required for an EB-5.

E-3:   Similar to an H-1B but specifically for Australians.

I:    Journalists, members of the media.

R:    An R visa is for a religious worker.  The work must be in a “religious function.”  A music teacher, math teacher, secretary, custodian, etc., can do their job either at a religious institution or not, and therefore those positions do not qualify.  A Director of Musical Liturgy, however, is considered a religious function, as are such positions as religious studies (e.g. bible studies) teacher, Director of Children’s Ministry, and many more.

O:  Is for someone of “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, arts, business, education, or athletics.  Extraordinary ability is a high standard meaning someone who has “sustained national or international acclaim,” or for an artist “distinction.”

This list is not exhaustive.  We don’t get to Q, P, or F/J/M (different types of students) or others.  Each type of status has detailed requirements, so be careful never to assume; ask your experienced immigration lawyer.  The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, but you can see from this list that there are many different situations that qualify for business/professional visas.  Take heart, there are alternatives to the H-1B that you may want to check into.

We love getting into the weeds, but because we know the weeds, we can also keep it simple for you if you prefer the road.