There are Five Major Status Categories for Individuals in the USA:

  1.Non-Immigrant Visas – temporary
  2.Immigrant Visas – lawful permanent residents (green card holders)
  3.Asylees – Asylum and refugee status holders
  5.Undocumented – illegal immigrants

This overview will give you a general idea of the options available in categories 1 and 2.


H-1B Visas – Available to people in “specialty occupations” with either a university degree or enough experience in the field to equal a degree (generally 3 years of experience for every 1 year of degree study). Applicants must have an employer in the US willing to sponsor them and pay they the current prevailing wage for the position. There is a cap of 65,000 available H-1B visas per fiscal year.

L Visas – Intra-company Transfers- Available to those coming to the US to work for a company that has offices both in the US and outside the US, where the alien has worked for the company abroad full-time for at least one of the last three years as an owner, executive, manager or an employee with specialized knowledge. Limit of seven year stays for owners, executives and managers; five year stay for special knowledge employees.

B-1/B-2 Visas – Available to Short term visitors/tourists for pleasure or business who must show their intention to return to their home country. Some examples of legitimate business travel (as opposed to “work” or “employment” which is forbidden on a B visas) are: conventions/conferences/seminars; commercial transactions such as negotiating contracts, litigation, consulting with clients or business associates; professional athletes only receiving tournament money; coming to the US to set up a US subsidiary and explore investment opportunities; installing equipment as part of a contract; observing the conduct of business, etc.

E Visas – E-1 Treaty Traders and E-2 Treaty Investors – Available to aliens from a country that has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the U.S., and who currently working for a business that has a substantial volume of trading business with the United States or are investing a “substantial amount” of money in a commercial investment in the US.

F-1 Visas – Available to Students admitted to a fulltime degree program or English Language program. Can work on campus up to 20 hours/week. Visa valid for the period of time it takes to complete the study program.

J-1 Visas – Exchange Visitors- Available to individuals coming to the US to participate in an exchange program as trainees, professors or research scholars, short term scholars, foreign doctors, camp counselors, au pairs and students in work/travel programs in the US; often requires person to return home for two years before switching to another visa.

O Visas – People with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, crafts, education, business, athletics or any field of “creative endeavor”

P Visas– Athletes, Artists, and Entertainers.

R Visas – Religious Workers- Available to those coming to the US to work as a minister or work in a religious vocation or occupation.


Basic Categories:

  1. Family sponsored immigrants
  2. Employment based immigrants
  3. Diversity immigrants
  4. Refugees and Asylees


EB-1-1 – Persons of Extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.

EB-1-2 – Outstanding Professors and Researchers

EB-1-3 – Multinational Executives and Managers. This category is very similar to L-1 intra-company transfer non-immigrant visa

EB-2 – Members of the Professions Holding Advance Degrees or People With Exceptional Ability. These cases require a labor certification approved by the Department of Labor, or a National Interest Waiver.

EB-3 – Skilled Workers, Professionals and Other Workers- Available to university graduates and people working in jobs requiring a worker with at least two years experience. Requires an approved Labor Certification. Currently, this category is “unavailable” which means that the demand is this category was so much greater than the availability, that the Department of State has decided to temporarily enact a moratorium and no one falling under this category can get their Greencard (or even apply) until the category once again becomes available, even if they have an approved Labor Certification and an approved Petition by the US employer to have them as a full time employee.

EB-4 – Special Immigrants – Religious Workers

EB-5 – Investor Employment Creation Visa- Available for those investing at least one million dollars in a business in the US and creating at least 10 new (full-time) jobs. The investment must be of “at risk” funds and the investor must be able to prove the legitimate source of the funds.


As the preference gets higher, the wait time gets longer. Can be as many as 12-15 years wait.

Immediate relatives of US citizens. Spouse, unmarried children under 21 years old, and parents of US citizen children over 21 years old. No wait time, except for application processing and adjudication.

First Preference – Adult unmarried child of a US citizen

Second Preference A – Under 18 years old child of a green card holder or the spouse of a green card holder.

Second Preference B – Adult unmarried child of a green card holder.

Third Preference – Married child of a US citizen.

Fourth Preference – Brother or sister of a US citizen.

DV Visas – Green Card Lottery- The US government allocates 50,000 visas a year for people to receive through a random computer drawing. Low probability of “winning.”

This is only a brief overview of the various immigration options for individuals wanting to come to the USA either on a permanent or temporary basis. The information is neither intended to be complete nor exhaustive, and is not intended as legal advice.