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Excerpted from the United States Career Guide

A foreign national who seeks to enter the United States (US) generally must first obtain a US visa, which is placed in the traveler's passport. Certain international travelers may be eligible to travel to the US without visas (see Visa Exemptions) if they meet the requirements for visa-free travel.

Permission to work in or visit the United States must be obtained through the United States Department of State and embassies or consulates abroad issue immigrant and non-immigrant visas. Permission to work must be obtained in the United States by the employer who wishes to hire an individual. Once the prospective employer obtains the work permit, the individual can apply for a temporary work visa at the US embassy or consulate in his/her home country.

Visa Types

Student Visas

F-1 and M-1 Visa

People who will be studying in the United States need to apply for a student visa. There are two types of student visas:

  • F-1 for academic or language studies
  • M-1 for non-academic or vocational studies

The first step for a prospective non-immigrant student is being accepted for enrollment in an established school that is SEVP certified. In general, for academic students attending a university, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory or other academic institutions, including a language-training program, an F Visa is the appropriate category. For students attending vocational or other recognized non-academic institutions, other than a language training program, an M Visa is generally the appropriate category.

Business/Employment Visa

The United States Department of Homeland Security outlined a series of policy, operational and outreach efforts to stimulate the nation's economy and create American jobs through immigration/non-immigrant visa programs. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) initiated 'Entrepreneurs in Residence' for employment-based and high-skilled visa categories, including H-1B.

Labor CertificationsIn order to be considered for a non-immigrant visa under the above classifications, some temporary worker categories require an applicant's prospective employer to obtain a labor certification or other approval from the Department of Labor for the prospective employee (visa applicant).

Trainee/Exchange Program Visas

Every individual who intends to do an internship, practical training or what Europeans call a ‘stage’ in the United States must have the appropriate visa before he/she travels to the United States. Individuals may not travel on the Visa Waiver or with a B-1/B-2 Tourist Visa for such practical training. A visa is required even if the individual will not receive a salary from a US source. In general, such individuals need to apply for an H-3 Trainee Visa (which is a temporary working visa for a ‘Non-immigrant Trainee’ or ‘Special Education Exchange Visitor’) or a J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa.

Work Permits

An Employment Authorization Document (EAD), or EAD card, known as a 'work permit,' is a document issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) that provides its holder a legal right to work in the US.

Certain non-residents who are temporarily in the US may file a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to request an EAD. The Employment Authorization Document is issued for a specific period of time based on the alien's immigration situation. If an alien possesses a valid EAD, he or she is authorized to freely work in the US without his or her employer having to file a non-immigrant worker petition. Currently, the EAD is issued in the form of a standard credit card-sized plastic card enhanced with multiple security features. The EAD card contains some basic information about the individual: name, birth date, sex, immigrant category, country of birth, photo, alien registration number (also called 'A-number'), card number, restrictive terms and conditions, and dates of validity. In most cases, EADs are granted for a one-year period.

Acronyms and Definitions and Important Visa Terms

USCIS - United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
DHS - Department of Homeland Security
EAD - Employment Authorization Document
POE – Point of Entry
SEVIS - Student and Exchange Visitor Information System
VWP – Visa Waiver Program

This is just a short sample of what you’ll find in over 100 pages of information in the complete United States Guide.

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