Employment Laws for Immigrants: What You Need to Know 


Every year, on average, over a million people make the decision to immigrate to the United States for a variety of different reasons. Whether it’s to seek a better life than they currently have, to get away from societal issues, or just to simply find a new home, the United States is an excellent place to end up. 

However, as with any other country to live in the United States means to work on a daily basis. For immigrants, this can be difficult if they are not qualified to work in the country, which can lead to serious issues. Therefore, studying up on the employment laws for immigrants should always be done for anyone considering moving to the United States. 

Who is Qualified as an Immigrant?

First and foremost, it’s important to look at the definition of who an immigrant is before looking at whether employment laws for immigrants in the U.S. apply to you. In short, an immigrant is any person who comes to a foreign country with the goal of living there permanently. They are not native to that country and they do not possess citizenship when they arrive, hence they are qualified as an immigrant. 

Can an Immigrant Work in the United States?

In short, an immigrant just stepping onto U.S. soil for the first time will not be legally allowed to work, as there are minimum requirements. However, there are specialty Visas that an immigrant can apply for which give them the legal right to work in the country despite not being a citizen of the United States. Going further, an immigrant can also choose to either pursue a green card or citizenship, depending on their status, both of which would give them the legal right to work in the country as well. 

The Difference Between a Green Card and a Visa

Many immigrants considering how to work in the United States often find themselves confused regarding the difference between a green card and a Visa. The main difference between these two is that a Visa allows a person to legally enter the United States and stay for a certain amount of time and for a specific purpose. 

A green card, on the other hand, is a permit that is granted to immigrants which allows them permanent residency in the United States without a pre-defined date when they need to leave. Visas are required to be held prior to entering the United States, but a green card is often earned and granted after a person has been in the country for some time. 

Therefore, an immigrant who is looking to permanently reside in the United States for the foreseeable future should consider attempting to secure a green card. An immigrant who is only planning on living in the United States for a shorter period of time should consider a specialty Visa which allows them to work in the country. 

14 Visas Allowing a Person to Work in the U.S. 

As mentioned, there are a number of specific Visas which allow an immigrant to work in the United States legally. Without one of these Visas, the work you are performing in the country could very well be illegal and grounds for being removed from the country. To see if the Visa you hold is one which allows you to work, refer to the following list of fourteen eligible Visas: 

  1. E1 or E2 Visa: This Visa allows treaty trader or treaty investors to work in the U.S. 
  2. F-1: This is a specialty Visa that is given to foreign academic students who are allowed to work
  3. H-1B, H-1C, H-2A, H-2B, or H-3: This are basic Visa types provided to temporary workers with a defined end date
  4. I: An I Visa is one provided to a foreign information media representative
  5. J-1: This is a Visa that is given to an exchange visitor but only when certain conditions are met
  6. K-1: This is another specialty Visa that is issued to the fiancé of a U.S. citizen 
  7. L-1: The L-1 Visa is an intra-company transferee Visa
  8. M-1: The M-1 Visa is another specialty type that is meant for foreign vocational students
  9. O-1 or O-2: This is a Visa meant for temporary workers in the sciences
  10. P-1, P-2, or P-3: These three Visa types are meant for temporary workers in the arts and athletics in an exchange or cultural program 
  11. Q-1 or Q-2: This is a Visa issued to those who are cultural exchange visitors
  12. R-1: An R-1 Visa is given to temporary religious workers who are partnered with a non-profit organization
  13. TC: This is a special category of Visa that is given to professional business workers admitted under the U.S. Canada Free Trade Act 
  14. TN: Finally, this is for professional business workers admitted under NAFTA

The Process of Acquiring a Green Card

Those who are considering going beyond a simple Visa may have toyed with the idea of acquiring a green card at some point in time. The process for a green card is far more strict than a Visa and requires eligibility through the following: 

  • Green Card through Family
  • Green Card through Employment
  • Green Card as a Special Immigrant
  • Green Card through Refugee Status
  • Green Card for Human Trafficking and Crime Victims
  • Green Card for Abuse Victims
  • Green Card through Other Miscellaneous Categories
  • Green Card through Registry 

Assuming a person falls into one of the above buckets, they will likely be eligible to apply for a green card and permanent residency in the country. 

The Bottom Line

Immigration to the United States can open the door to many new opportunities that may have seemed out of grasp in the past. It’s important to ensure these opportunities are available to you, however, which is why learning all about employment laws for immigrants is important. Use the above information to narrow down whether you are eligible for employment in the U.S. and, if currently not, take action to make yourself eligible. 

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