Professional visas: Which types are most common?

by Heather Porter
Associate Practice Leader at Charles Aris Inc.

[Please note: Charles Aris search consultants are not immigration attorneys; please seek legal counsel before sponsoring an individual with a visa document or before making a career change under visa sponsorship.]

In today’s business environment, people and businesses work on a global scale. Companies seeking top talent can and perhaps should consider candidates in a position to work in the United States under a professional visa.

In the world of executive search, recruiters speak to visa-holding professionals on a daily basis. In this three-part series, we will explore the most common types of visas which recruiters encounter; why an organization should consider a professional on a visa; and navigating your career while you have visa sponsorship.

First, we’ll outline the most common types of professional visas, their definitions and the parameters around them. The most common types of visas encountered by recruiters at Charles Aris Inc. are:

  • L-1 visa
  • TN visa
  • H-1B visa

We’ve provided a brief description of each of these visas below, as well as what it means for a majority of our client organizations and the candidates they consider for their most critical roles.

L-1 visas

The L-1 visa category applies to nonimmigrant professionals who work outside of the United States for a company with a corporate parent, subsidiary, branch or affiliate in the United States. These individuals may come to the United States as intracompany transferees who are coming temporarily to perform services either in a managerial or executive capacity (L-1A) or which entail specialized knowledge (L-1B). Unfortunately, individuals who are in the United States under an L-1 visa are not eligible to obtain a visa allowing them to work for another company in the United States.

TN visas

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) makes temporary employment in the United States easier for certain Canadian and Mexican professionals. NAFTA created a new visa category, called TN, for eligible Canadian (TN-1) and Mexican (TN-2) professionals. It also affected the terms of admission for Canadians admitted to the United States under other nonimmigrant classifications. TN employment must be in a profession listed in NAFTA Appendix 1603.0.1, and the TN employee must possess the credentials required. The United States does not limit the number of TN-1 visas issued.

H-1B visas

The H-1B temporary visa category enables nonimmigrants to work in the United States in a specialized professional capacity. Common H-1B occupations include computer professionals, teachers, physicians, engineers, architects, accountants and healthcare professionals.

To be eligible for H-1B status, a candidate must:

  • have a minimum of a four-year university/college degree or its equivalent
  • be paid at the “prevailing wage”
  • fulfill a job that typically requires a minimum four-year university/college degree or its equivalent

Under current U.S. law, H-1B visas are subject to a numerical cap of 65,000 per fiscal year. In addition, 20,000 individuals who obtain advanced degrees from universities in the United States have their own H-1B cap. Up to 6,800 of these H-1B visas are reserved for individuals who are citizens of Chile and Singapore.

Employers prepare their H-1B petitions in February and March, and submit them so that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the Department of Homeland Security, receives the petitions starting April 1 of each year. By April 7, 2015, the USCIS had received nearly 233,000 petitions from employers. It then used a computer-generated random selection process (essentially a lottery) to select the 20,000 advanced-degree visas first, and then the remaining 65,000.

Individuals on whose behalf H-1B petitions are approved may start employment on October 1 of each year. H-1B visas are typically valid for three years and can easily be extended for an additional three years. After these six years, the individual must return to her or his home country for at least one year before an employer can reapply for another H-1B visa on their behalf.

Individuals in the United States under an H-1B visa can accept employment from another company for the remaining duration of their visas (and any unused extension). The new company must sponsor the professional and pay an administrative fee (usually around $5,000) to transfer the visa.

[Tip of the hat to the USCIS … please visit for more information.]