Visa sponsorship is one way for international individuals to gain authorization to legally live and work in the United States. However, the process of obtaining a visa through employer sponsorship can seem complex.
What is Visa Sponsorship?
Visa sponsorship refers to the process where a US employer petitions for and sponsors a foreign national’s employment-based nonimmigrant or immigrant visa application. Under federal immigration law, employers can sponsor individuals for work-authorized visas in specialty occupations (H-1B), trades (H-2B), agriculture (H-2A), or as multinational intracompany transferees (L-1).
The employer acts as the petitioner and must prove to the US government that there are no qualified US workers able to fill the position and that the employment of the sponsored worker will not adversely affect US workers’ wages or working conditions. Once approved, the sponsored worker is authorized to enter the US, live, and work only for the petitioning employer.
Nonimmigrant Visa Options
Nonimmigrant visas allow temporary stays in the US for a specific purpose, such as work or study. The most common employment-based nonimmigrant visa categories that offer sponsorship opportunities are:
H-1B Specialty Occupation Visa
The H-1B visa is intended for individuals in specialty occupations that require theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty. Some examples are engineers, architects, doctors, and accountants.
- Eligibility: Must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and a job offer from a US employer in a specialty occupation.
- Annual cap: 85,000 new H-1B visas per fiscal year with a separate 20,000 cap for individuals with a US master’s degree or higher.
- Duration: Initial three years with a possible 3-year extension. Maximum stay is six years.
- Application process: Employer files Labor Condition Application and H-1B petition with USCIS. If approved, the worker can enter the US.
- Timeline: 12-18 months from the start of the application process to visa approval and entry.
H-1B1 Singapore/Chile Treaty Visa
Similar to H-1B but exclusively for nationals of Singapore and Chile holding bachelor’s degrees. Subject to different annual caps.
H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker
For temporary or seasonal agricultural work like planting, harvesting, processing agricultural products, etc.
- Requires a job offer and proof no qualified US workers are available.
- Valid up to 1 year, renewable up to 3 years total stay.
H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker
For temporary non-farm jobs like landscaping, construction, hospitality, etc. Requires a one-time need that cannot be filled by US workers.
- Valid up to 1 year, renewable up to 3 years total stay.
L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive/Manager
Managers and executives joining US offices of multinational companies have worked abroad for at least 1 of the past three years.
- Valid initially up to 7 years (5+2 extension)
L-1B Intracompany Transferee Specialized Knowledge
For professionals with proprietary knowledge vital to the company joining US offices.
- Valid initially up to 5 years (3+2 extension)
Immigrant Visa Options
While nonimmigrant visas only grant temporary status, immigrant visas lead to permanent residence or a “green card.” These are:
EB-1 Outstanding Professors and Researchers
This is a green card for professors, researchers, and those with extraordinary abilities in sciences, arts, business, or athletics. No job offer or labor certification is required.
- Immediate green card eligibility.
EB-2 National Interest Waiver
For advanced degree professionals whose work will substantially benefit the U.S., No job offer or labor certification is required, but high standards are required to qualify.
- Takes 24-36 months from application to green card.
EB-3 Skilled Worker or Professional
For bachelor’s degree holders in occupations requiring at least two years of training or experience. Requires certified Labor Certification.
- Takes 24-48 months from application to green card.
The permanent residence process under all employment-based categories includes labor certification, visa petition, immigrant visa processing, and green card approval. Employers sponsor throughout the process until the individual becomes a permanent resident.
To determine if you are eligible for a particular visa sponsorship category, employers and workers should evaluate the following:
- Education level attained – Most categories require minimum education thresholds like a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
-Years of work experience in the field – Some categories have minimum experience requirements, especially for more senior roles.
-Nature of work duties – Job duties must align with the visa category definitions and be specialized enough to qualify.
-Employer industry – Some visa categories are industry-specific, like H-2A for agriculture.
-Citizenship – Visa categories have different citizenship limitations based on bilateral work agreements.
-Annual visa availability – H-1B and other quotas have limited numbers to be distributed by lottery each year.
Consulting an experienced immigration attorney can help navigate complex eligibility assessments involving these factors. They can advise on the best visa fit based on circumstances and the likelihood of approval.
Understanding eligibility upfront saves considerable time, money, and effort in pursuing unsuitable options that are less likely to succeed. It is always recommended to evaluate multiple visa choices to determine the optimal path.
Getting Started with the Application Process
Now that we understand the various US visa sponsorship categories available let’s look at how the application process typically works in practice when seeking sponsorship. Each visa has its own unique set of required forms and procedures that must be followed.
Generally speaking, the main steps are:
- Job offer and recruitment: The US employer identifies a position to sponsor and recruits the foreign national candidate of interest. Most roles require advertising to US workers first.
- Preparation: Required documents like resumes, credentials, and descriptions of job duties are gathered. Attorney fee agreements are signed if legal representation will be involved.
- Filing labor certification: For permanent visas like EB-2/EB-3, employers file a labor certification application with the DOL to prove no qualified US workers are available for the position. This can take 6-18 months before approval.
- Filing petition: Form I-129 (or I-140 for immigrants) petition is filed electronically or by mail along with supporting documents. USCIS accepts fees which currently range from $700-4000 depending on category.
- Receipt and case processing: USCIS issues receipt notices, conducts Request for Evidence reviews as needed, and schedules any required exams/interviews. Adjudication time ranges from months to over a year.
- Obtaining approval notice: Once approved, notice is sent. For nonimmigrants, workers can now seek visa appointments at a consulate abroad. For immigrants, adjustment of status or consular processing follows.
- Entering the US and beginning work: With a H/L visa stamped in the passport, the foreign national can now travel, enter legally, and begin working for the petitioning employer.
Let me know if any part of this process needs further explanation! Proper filing and evidence compilation maximize chances of success the first time around.
Another critical factor to consider is visa processing timelines which can often span over a year or more from start to finish of the entire process. Some key timing points:
- H-1B cap-subject petitions – File by 1st week of April for the following October 1st start date. Selection occurs in May via lottery.
- H-1B extensions/amendments – Can take 6+ months currently, so plan well in advance of expiration.
- Labor certifications – It can take up to 18 months for PERM labor certification alone before immigrant visa filing.
- I-140 immigrant petitions – Currently taking 12-18 months for processing once filed with USCIS.
- I-485 adjustment of status applications – 6-12 month processing at application support centers nationwide.
- Consular immigrant visa processing – Can take 10+ months after I-140 approval and interview scheduling abroad.
Proper forecasting of these various stage durations is essential so workers are not left without status due to delays. Submitting applications as early as possible helps offset unforeseen USCIS or DOL holdups during busy processing periods.
Applying with an Attorney
While it is possible to directly file US immigration forms without assistance, retaining an experienced immigration attorney is highly recommended for visa sponsorship cases. Here are some of the key advantages:
- Expertise – Attorneys are experts in immigration law and procedure who deeply understand filing requirements and evidence standards. They can advise on eligibility and optimal strategies.
- Accuracy – Common mistakes or omissions on forms and supporting documents risk denial or delays. Attorneys thoroughly review submissions for accuracy and completeness.
- Communication – Attorneys act as the liaison between the worker, employer, and various government agencies involved. They handle all correspondence and requests for additional information efficiently.
- Legality – Laws and policies continuously evolve, requiring up-to-date knowledge. Attorneys ensure processes align with all prevailing rules to maximize regulatory compliance.
- Affordability – In the long run, legal representation pays for itself by avoiding the costs of denied petitions and having to refile. First-time approvals save significant time and stress as well.
- Peace of Mind – Leaving an immigration case in the hands of a knowledgeable attorney removes self-doubt and lets workers focus on their jobs and lives while the case is managed professionally.
Of course, attorney fees can range significantly depending on experience levels and office locations. Reputable immigration attorneys typically charge flat fees for standard services, with estimates provided upfront for full transparency. Discounted packages are also common for large-scale employer clients. In the end, the value of expert legal support usually outweighs the costs.