Visa Classifications

There is no such thing as a generic visa or even a “work visa” or “work permit” for a nonimmigrant. The U.S. has defined a set of visa classifications in which one can enter temporarily. They have been assigned letters of the alphabet in the order they were created by Congress. Presently, they range from A-V. Almost all classifications in this “alphabet soup” contain sub-classifications designated by a number (i.e., A-1, A-2), and some classifications are even further sub-categorized (i.e., H-1B, H-1C, H-2A, H-2B, H-3, H-4). Each classification has different rules of eligibility, procedure, allowed activities, and limitations on duration of visas and stay.

Family Members

Spouses and unmarried children under age 21 of the “principal alien” normally can accompany or follow in a corresponding family classification (i.e., F-2, H-4, J-2, L-2), or they can obtain their own classifications independently in order to be allowed the activities they want to pursue (i.e., work). Importantly, spouses and children in some dependent classifications may obtain work authorization (A, E, G, J, K, L, V).

Preliminary Petitions

Five (and only five) classifications require that an employer first file a petition with the immigration service (“USCIS”) in the U.S. and gain approval before taking any other step: H, L, O, P, and Q. For all of them, a specific employer must petition for a specific alien worker for a specific job, often in a specific location in the U.S. The process should be pursued as far in advance of desired work as possible. USCIS papers can be filed as early as six months beforehand, and in some cases even further preliminary filings or arrangements with other agencies or entities are required. The USCIS usually takes a few months to issue approvals, but in most employment-based classifications, USCIS will process the petition within 15 calendar days for an extra $1,000 “premium processing fee.” The USCIS approval is then presented with the visa applications and/or in seeking entry.

How we can help

The art of an immigration lawyer is to evaluate the characteristics, credentials, and plans of an individual client, consider the various rules of the potentially applicable visa classifications, and devise a strategy for pursuing and obtaining the most advantageous arrangements for entry and stay. The craft of an immigration lawyer is to carry out that strategy by gathering, preparing and filing the information and papers necessary for visas, entry and extensions and shepherding clients through those processes. We practice this art and craft with devotion to our clients.

Consult with us for assistance with a case.


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