Is your passport from one of these countries?: Nationality-specific visas for working and living in the U.S.

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At the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, we welcome many international students to our programs. But what happens after graduation? Our thanks to SCET mentor Nadia Yakoob for contributing the article below to help students understand options for staying in the U.S. after graduation to build a startup, work, or study. Also, please read her other articles in the series to understand how Optional Practical Training (OPT) works, what the requirements for the H-1B Visa are, how to obtain an O-1 Visa, and more.


This article is the last in my series of articles describing the various visa options available to international students for living and working in the United States after they graduate. The visa options discussed below are for individuals from certain countries with which the United States has agreements – specifically Australia, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, and Chile. If you are a national of one of these countries and want to understand more about your prospects for remaining in the US after you finish your studies, continue reading!

 

E-3 Visa for Australians

The E-3 visa is exclusively for Australian citizens who will work in “specialty occupations” in the U.S. A “specialty occupation” is defined as a job that typically requires a bachelor’s (or higher) degree. The requirements for the E-3 visa are very similar to the H-1B visa for high-skilled workers. Specifically, in order to qualify, the Australian must show 1) a job offer from an employer in the U.S. 2) the position requires a bachelor’s degree; 3) the Australian has a university degree that fits with the position; and 4) the employer will pay the “prevailing wage” for the position. The “prevailing wage” is the higher of either the actual salary paid by the employer to individuals in the same position or the wage set by the Department of Labor for the occupation in the area of intended employment. (Check out www.flcdatacenter.com for such wage information).

Australian entrepreneurs who want to start their own company in the U.S. cannot obtain the E-3 visa because having an ownership interest in the company sponsoring the E-3 visa is not allowed.

Every year, 10,500 E-3 visas are made available. The annual limit has never been reached.  Unlike the H-1B visa, which also has an annual limit, there is no lottery for the E-3 visa and there are visas available year-round.

 E-3 status is granted in two-year increments and can be extended indefinitely. Spouses and children are allowed to accompany the E-3 worker as dependents and the spouse (not children) is entitled to work authorization.

 

TN Visa for Canadians and Mexicans

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”), Canadian and Mexican citizens may come to the U.S. to work in certain professions and are given TN status. The schedule of TN professions are available here.

An offer of employment by a U.S. employer is required and the Canadian or Mexican national generally must have a degree in the field of the profession. Unlike the H-1B and E-3 visas, the TN visa does not impose any salary requirements and there is no annual limit to the number of TN visas available each year.

The TN visa is not for entrepreneurs who want to start their own company and have their company sponsor their TN visa. Any significant ownership interest in the sponsoring company is not permitted.

TN status is given in three-year increments and can be extended indefinitely. Spouses and children are entitled to accompany the TN worker, but no work authorization is given to the dependents.

 

H-1B1 Visa for Chileans and Singaporeans

The H-1B1 visa is a subcategory of the H-1B visa, and is for citizens of Chile and Singapore. Of the 65,000 H-1B visas made available each year, 6,800 are reserved for nationals of Chile and Singapore. The annual limit of 6,800 visas is usually not an issue.

The substantive requirements are the same as for the H-1B visa: 1) job offer by an employer in the US; 2) the job must require a bachelor’s degree or higher; 3) the Chilean or Singaporean has a degree that fits with the position; and 4) the employer must pay the “prevailing wage” for the position.

As with most other employment-based visas, an ownership interest in the entity sponsoring the H-1B1 visa is not permitted.

H-1B1 status is granted in one-year increments and can be renewed indefinitely. Spouses and children are entitled to join the H-1B1 worker, but work authorization is not given.

 

The Upshot

If you are a national of Australia (E-3), Canada (TN), Chile (H-1B1), Mexico (TN), or Singapore (TN), you have a distinct advantage because you have a visa option that is available year-round.

The access to a visa at any time of the year helps take the pressure off both you and your prospective employer during the job search. In contrast, nationals of all other countries usually are trying to get an H-1B visa to work in the U.S., but due to the limited number of H-1B visas available each year and the high demand, the government runs a lottery every April to allocate the visas with about a 30% chance of being selected. A lot of companies, especially small to mid-size firms, are reluctant to take a chance on a visa lottery and many are not ready to make hiring decisions in the months running up to the H-1B visa lottery in April. The lottery can be a real obstacle for international students trying to find an employer to sponsor him or her for a visa.

The major drawback of the nationality-specific visas described above is that they do not allow for immigrant intent, which means your employer cannot sponsor you for permanent residence if you hold one of these visas. If permanent residence in the U.S. is an end goal, then you will need to eventually get an H-1B visa under which you can be sponsored for permanent residence. In the meantime, these visas offer a relatively straightforward path to living and working in the U.S.

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