How Long Does a Working Visa Last?

Once the U.S. government issues you a work visa, one big question remains – how long does this U.S. working visa last?

The answer can depend on different factors, such as the type of visa and any delays in the process. We’ve put together the following short article to address these questions for any game studios and developers who are on a U.S. work visa.

Overview of Work Visa Duration

The validity duration of a U.S. work visa varies significantly, depending on the specific type of working visa.

Generally, work visas can range from a few months to several years, with opportunities to extend the duration.

  • Short-term visas may last for several months and are typically for temporary or seasonal work. Examples of short-term work visas include H-2A, H-2B, H-3 (focused on training), J-1, or work authorization pursuant to a student visa like CPT or OPT on an F-1 visa.
  • Long-term visas, on the other hand, can extend for multiple years. They are usually connected to longer employment contracts or specific roles that require a longer stay. Examples of long-term work visas include the H-1B, L-1, O-1, E-1, E-2, and E-3.

Length of time for a U.S. Work Visa

Most U.S. work visas have a maximum validity period, after which the foreign national worker must either obtain an extension based on permanent employment (if the current visa classification allows you to do so) or switch to another classification.

The situation with extensions can be quite complicated, depending on the specific circumstances, so it’s best to consult a professional.

For example, certain work visas such as the H-1B visa are initially valid for up to three years and may be extended for an additional three years. The total duration for an H-1B holder can reach up to six years, with certain stipulations for renewal and extension.

In the United States, USCIS offers a pathway to permanent residency for holders of work visas after a certain period, typically by allowing U.S. employers to file an employment-based permanent resident petition on behalf of the foreign national.

Strict requirements

The requirements for such employment under an H1B or other work visa are strict. The sponsoring company needs to test the labor market to ensure that the offer of permanent employment to the foreign national does not displace willing and able U.S. workers.

Additionally, there may be specific circumstances under which the validity period of the visa can be affected. This can include changes in employment, employee termination, or changes to U.S. immigration policy.

It’s always recommended that individuals and any sponsoring employers consult immigration attorneys for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Types of Work Visas and Their Validity Periods

The United States offers different types of work visas, each with specific validity periods tailored to the nature of the work and the terms of employment.

Below is a list of common work visas and their standard validity periods:

  • H-1B Visa: This visa is designed for specialty occupations that require a high level of expertise in fields such as IT, finance, engineering, and more. It is typically valid for three years and can be extended up to six years.
  • L-1 Visa: Aimed at managers, executives, or specialized knowledge employees transferring from a company’s foreign office to its U.S. office, the L-1 Visa generally has a validity of three years for specialized knowledge employees and one year for new office employees, extendable up to a total of seven years for L-1A and five years for L-1B.

    Employees may also switch from an L-1B to an L-1A if their specialized knowledge rises to the level of managerial responsibilities, which would allow the worker to gain an extra two years of validity.

  • O-1 Visa: Individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement, such as artists, athletes, or business leaders, can be granted an O-1 Visa. This type of visa is usually valid for the duration of the event, performance, or activity, not exceeding three years, with the possibility of extension.
  • E-2 Treaty Investor Visa: Investors who make a substantial investment in a U.S. enterprise can apply to receive an E-2 Visa. The E-2 visa’s validity typically depends on the treaty between the United States and the applicant’s country, usually up to five years. This visa can be renewed indefinitely as long as the business operates.
  • TN Visa: Under the USMCA (formerly NAFTA), Canadian and Mexican citizens engaged in professional business activities on a prearranged basis for a U.S. entity can receive a TN Visa with a validity of up to three years, which can be renewed indefinitely.

    Note that while there is no legal maximum date for TN holders, workers on this visa should be wary of extending their visa too frequently. This conduct may suggest intent to permanently reside in the U.S., which is not permitted on this temporary work visa.

    Further, Canadian citizens do not require a physical visa stamp in their passport to enter the U.S. on the TN.

  • H-2B Visa: For non-agricultural temporary workers performing seasonal, peak load, or intermittent services, the H-2B Visa can be issued for the period of time authorized on the labor certification, up to one year, with the opportunity for extensions in increments of up to one year, with a total stay not to exceed three years.

The exact duration of each visa type depends on the individual’s unique situation, the purpose of the employment, and U.S. immigration laws.

It is crucial for visa holders and applicants to understand the terms of their visas to ensure compliance with U.S. immigration policies.

Renewal and Extension Procedures

When someone’s work visa in the United States is nearing its expiration, they may have the option to apply for an extension or renewal to legally extend their stay. It’s essential to be aware of the specific processes and timelines involved to maintain legal working status.

The specific forms, fees, and procedures vary depending on what kind of visa extension you’re looking for:

H-1B Extensions

For those holding an H-1B visa and seeking an extension, the process involves filing USCIS Form I-129. This form does not require entry into the H-1B lottery again and continues your current H-1B status.

  • Timeline: The processing time can range from 2 to 3 months, but may vary based on service center workload.
  • The 240-Day Rule: It permits an employee to continue working for up to 240 days while the I-129 extension request is processed.

L-1 Visa Holders

L-1 visa holders can receive extensions in two-year increments, with a total maximum time frame depending on their specific L-1 subcategory (either L-1A (7 years) or L-1B (5 years)).

To successfully extend a work visa, accuracy and timeliness are critical. You must ensure all documentation is current and filed appropriately to avoid potential delays or interruptions in their employment eligibility.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, determining the length of a U.S. work visa can be tricky, as there are many facets to the calculation. Additionally, getting one in the first place is no easy task.

Need help? Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your visa situation, whether you’re an employer bringing an employee to the U.S., or an employee looking for help with their work visa application.

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Zachary Strebeck

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