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The software developer's complete guide to US Visas

Works Hub 28 May, 2019 (6 min read)

Every day at Functional Works we speak to engineers all around the world looking to move abroad for work for a whole host of reasons.

As the centre of the tech world, with hubs in New York and San Francisco, the US is \ an attractive prospect to millions of developers. The US is notorious for its tough immigration processes, but software developers are lucky to work in a profession where there are options available.

The main difference in US visas is between Immigrant and Non-Immigrant visas (NIV). Immigrant visas allow for permanent residence in the United States. NIV are temporary, usually work-related visas that allow residence for a set period of time.

A further difference between some NIV is whether they allow 'dual intent'. Dual intent is a principal that allows for an individual to be seeking to live permanently in the United States. Visas without dual intent require holders to prove that they have ties to their country of origin and are not actively seeking to remain in the US permanently.

Common types of Visas:

  • E-2 Visa for specialist/management employees
  • E-3 Visa for Australian citizens
  • F-1 visa for students
  • Green Card (To apply for permanent residency)
  • H-1B visa for degree holders/temporary stays of 6 years
  • H-1B1 visa for nationals of Singapore and Chile
  • J-1 visa for internships
  • K-1 Visa for fiancés of US citizens
  • L-1 visas for inter-company transfers
  • O-1 visa for “aliens of extraordinary ability”
  • TN Visas for Canadian and Mexican nationals

E-2 Visa

If your company is owned and operated by citizens of your home country, the owners are entitled to employee certain specialists from their country of origin in the US. The roles have to be specialist or managerial in nature and there has to be some proof that it would be difficult to find an American to fill the role.

· Processing Time: 4-6 Weeks depending on the wait times at your local US Embassy.

· Duel Intent: No.

E-3 Visa

If you’re lucky enough to be an Australian citizen it can be easier for you to qualify for a US Visa than citizens of other countries. However there are certain conditions, the E-3 does require you to have a degree, to have an offer of employment in the US, and you must also be filling a role that qualifies as a “speciality occupation”.

· Processing Time: A matter of 3–4 weeks, meaning it is a far quicker process than most visa application processes for the US. Also it is renewable indefinitely.

· Duel Intent: No — Unfortunately the downside to the E-3 visa is that you cannot apply for a green card whilst on the visa.

· Spouses of E-3 visa holders can also work in the US without restrictions

F-1 visa

This visa is available to foreign students at US educational facilities. It can be quite a good starting point to eventually gaining a more permanent visa, as you can apply for an OPT (Optional Practice Training) after finishing your studies which will allow you to be able to work in an industry related to your degree for 1 year. Also if you gain a Bachelors in engineering you can extend this even further to include an extra 17 months!

· Processing Time: Can be a very quick process completed in a matter of weeks but you must schedule an interview at your US Embassy or Consulate in your home country before the visa will be granted

· Dual intent: No

F-2 Visa

· Visa for spouses of those holding an F-1 Visa

· Dual Intent: No

Green Card

A green card allows for permanent residency in the US and offers similar benefits as US citizenship with one exception, you will not be able to vote.

There are many different routes to go down for a Green Card as each individual case is different but for more information on whether you are eligible to apply for one check out this site for a handy breakdown.

H-1B

This is probably the most commonly known visa for engineers looking to move to the US, however there are still certain restrictions to this visa. It only lasts up to 6 years and can’t be renewed except if your Green Card application is still ongoing past the 6th year. If this is the case your H-1B can be annually renewed.

Currently the annual quota for H-1B’s given is 65,000, with another 20,000 reserved for those holding Master’s degrees. You can apply immediately on April 1st each year but speed is a necessity, often the cap is reached just within the first week of opening.

· Processing Time: 2–6 months but this figure can vary greatly

· Duel Intent: Yes

· Unlike other visas, on an H-1B you will not officially be able to start work until October 1st of the year it is accepted

H-1B1 Visa

This is a derivation of the H-1B visa exclusively for citizens of Singapore and Chile after it was established under the terms of agreement for free trade agreements with both countries. There are up to 6,800 visas available and if any remain unused they become automatically available for H-1B use for the upcoming year.

· Processing time: Can take up to 2 months

· Duel Intent: No

J-1 visa

This visa is designed for companies to be able to sponsor those wanting to complete internship programs. It is a temporary visa and it is quite a common one for engineers to use as it is easier to obtain than other visas available.

· Processing Time: 1 -2 months

· Dual intent: No

· Must meet one of 3 requirements. You can either be a student, a recent graduate or a person with 5 or more years’ worth of work experience

J-2 Visa

· Visa for spouses of those holding a J-1 Visa

· Can apply for a work permit

K-1 Visa

This visa is a non-immigrant visa for fiancés of US citizens. To be accepted on this visa you must marry your fiancé within 90 days of your arrival into the States and also meet certain requirements including having met in person at least once within the 2 years previous to filing for your petition for the visa!

L-1 Visa

This is a route we would suggest going down if it’s an option available to you. If you work for a US company in one of their offices abroad you can apply to transfer to their US office after one year of work. It’s a straightforward process if you are not in a hurry to move and can afford to wait a year.

· Processing Time: 30–90 days

· Dual Intent: Yes

L-2 Visa

· Spouse is in possession of an L-1 visa

· Can work in the States under an L-2 visa

O-1 Visa

This visa is for those who have demonstrated an extraordinary impact on their industry and have displayed great ability in their field. Unusually you do not need a degree to acquire this visa however you must prove your exceptional ability by meeting other specific criteria such as having proof of retaining a very high salary compared to others in your field or from having made a contribution of unique significance in your area.

· Processing Time: 1–2 months

· Dual Intent: Yes

· Indefinitely renewable

O-3 Visa

· Visa for spouses of those holding an O-1 visa

· Cannot work in the US

TN Visas

TN-1 Visa

This visa is especially for Canadian nationals. It will allow you to work in the States for a temporary period of 3 years but it can be renewed indefinitely every 3 years after the initial period is up. You can apply at either designated points of entry into the US or in advance from the US embassy or consulate. Also, either your occupation or the job offer you are accepting must be approved on the list of occupations of the US NAFTA agreement.

· Processing Time: Depending on the individual case, it can be a matter of weeks

· Dual Intent: No

· Spouse does not require a separate visa so long as they are a Canadian citizen themselves

TN-2 Visa

Although similar to the TN-1 this visa is instead for Mexican nationals. There are a few differences from the TN-1 though as the TN-2 requires an interview at the US Embassy or Consulate before being granted and spouses must apply for a separate TD visa.

· Processing Time: Depending on the individual case, it can be a matter of weeks

· Duel Intent: No

Being Available for Onsite Interviews

It can be tempting to think that in the age of Skype/Google Hangouts and easily accessible phone calls it doesn’t matter if you are unable to attend an onsite interview. However if it is possible for you to be present for an initial interview to be held onsite we really encourage doing so! In doing so companies will view you as more available and their hiring bar will not differ from interviews with more local candidates as sometimes if they are conducting interviews over Skype/phone their hiring bar will be set intentionally higher.

Also if you are able to stay around in the area after your initial interview it is far easier for a company to invite you back in either to meet a staff member who was previously absent, to get to know you further, or to negotiate an offer with you in person.

Taking It From Here…

There’s no denying that obtaining a visa for the US can be very difficult as even with the many options available there can be many hurdles to jump through for each visa. However if it’s something you really want to go for it is possible so long as you have the right information available to you so you can work towards a visa that would be easier for you to attain.

At Functional Works we have a number of roles that offer some visa sponsorship. Sign up today to see them as well as great insights from the world of programming.