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Your Key to the American Job Market: Applying for a US Work Permit Visa

Thinking of moving to the US to work? Then, you need a US work permit visa — a visa that grants entry into the United States as well as authorization to work in the country.

Know that it is illegal to work in the US if the visa you use to enter the country does not grant employment authorization. Working in the US without proper work authorization (even if it is for a few hours) comes with dire consequences, including deportation and being barred from entering the US for 3 to 20 years.

The bottom line? If you intend to work in the United States during your stay in the country, go with a US work permit visa.

This guide examines how to apply for US work permit visa. At the end of this guide, individuals who need a work permit to legally work in the US will know how to get a work permit in the USA.

Understanding the US Work Permit Visa Application Process

US Work Permit Visa Application Process

While all US visas grant entry into the US, not all of them grant US work authorization. However, a US work permit visa (also called a work visa) allows an individual to enter the US for employment purposes. That is, a work permit visa combines entry into the US and employment authorization in the US.

Since a work permit visa gives permission to enter the US, you apply for it (and obtain it) in your home country (before traveling to the US).

The process of obtaining a US work permit visa involves many steps, which start with identifying an appropriate work visa category and its specific requirements.

Eligibility Criteria for US Work Permit Visas

There are different types of US work permit visas. Each one has its own set of requirements and qualifications. As such, the eligibility criteria for US work permit visas vary depending on the type of visa you are applying for.

For example, the O-1 work permit visa requires individuals to demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim in their field. But to qualify for the TN visa, you must meet the following TN visa requirements:

  • You must be a citizen of Canada or Mexico
  • You must have been offered a US job that qualifies under the NAFTA list of occupations.
  • You must be qualified to work in the job
  • Your intention to stay in the US must be temporary

Different Types of Work Permit Visas

Some common examples of work permit visas that allow individuals to travel to the US for work include:

  • TN visa
  • H1-B 
  • L-1
  • O visa
  • E-3 visa

TN visa

The TN visa is a non-immigrant visa birthed by the North American Free Trade Agreement (now the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement). It allows Canadians and Mexicans to enter the US to work in certain occupations. 

The TN visa has become one of the easiest and fastest work visa types for entering the US for work. For example, Canadians can apply for a TN visa by presenting the required documentation to a US Customs and Border Protection officer at the port of entry when entering the United States, without prior application to USCIS.

All you need is to secure employment in one of the jobs on the NAFTA list of occupations and meet the educational and professional qualifications for the job.


The H-1B visa is a US work permit visa under the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows US employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.

Individuals require a job offer from a US employer and must meet certain educational and professional requirements.


The L-1 visa is a US work permit visa that allows intercompany transfers to the US to work. That is, it allows a US employer to transfer an individual from one of its foreign offices to its US office. It also allows a foreign company that does not have a US office to send an executive to the US to establish an office in the country.

The L-1 visa requires that the individual be employed by the transferring company for a specific period.

O-1 visa

The O-1 visa is issued to people with extraordinary ability or achievement in science, art, education, business, or athletics. It requires a high level of expertise and recognition in your field.

E-3 visa

The E-3 visa is issued to citizens of Australia coming to the US to perform services in specialty occupations. This occupation requires applying highly specialized knowledge and attaining a bachelor’s or higher degree.

Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for a US Work Permit Visa

After identifying an appropriate US employment visa category, the next thing is to apply for your US work permit visa. The US work visa application process includes gathering the required documentation, completing and submitting the application, and navigating the interview and approval process.

Gathering required documentation

Guide to Applying for a US Work Permit Visa

If an individual does not submit required documents with their work permit application, the US government will almost certainly reject the application for failure to submit requested evidence or supporting documents.

So, what do you need to apply for a work permit visa? The required documentation for a US work permit visa varies depending on the type of visa you are applying for. However, common documents required across various work permit visa applications include:

  • Your passport.
  • Employment letter from a US employer.
  • Copies of your educational and professional qualifications relevant to the job.
  • Copy of the approved Form I-129 filed by your employer (if applicable).
  • A copy of the form I-797 notice of approval received after your employer petitioned the USCIS.
  • Visa application form.
  • Recently taken passport-sized photographs meeting specific requirements of the US embassy.
  • Evidence of paying the required visa application fees.
  • Proof of financial support.

Completing and submitting the application

After gathering the required documentation for your visa application, complete the appropriate application form for a work visa for international workers. For most non-immigrant visas, including the TN visa, you need to complete the Form DS-160 — the Online Non-immigrant Visa application form.

  • Visit the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website to access the DS-160.
  • Create an account on the CEAC website.
  • Start a new application, and then choose the location where you will apply for the visa and the visa category. For example, when applying for a TN visa, select the “TN-NAFTA Professionals” category.
  • Complete the form by providing information about your personal details, passport, travel plans, employment, and other relevant information.
  • Upload your photograph.
  • Review all information you enter into the form. Then, submit the form and print the confirmation page that includes the barcode (which is required for the work visa interview).

Navigating the interview and approval process

Visa interview at a US embassy or consulate. US Work Permit Visas.

After submitting your work visa application, the authorities will review it and schedule you for a visa interview at a US embassy or consulate.

Attend the scheduled work visa interview. Be prepared to provide supporting documents. Also, be prepared to answer questions about your background, qualifications, and the purpose of your visit.

Prepare for the TN visa interview with the TN visa application kit!

Timelines and Expectations: Processing Times for US Work Permit Visas

The processing times for US work permit visas vary, depending on the type of visa and other factors like the workload of the USCIS.

For example, the processing time of the TN visa ranges from 2 to 6 months. However, Canadians have the option of applying for the TN visa at the port of entry, allowing immediate/ on-the-spot adjudication.

Conclusion: Empowering Your Journey into the American Job Market

To start or continue your career in the US, you need a visa that not only allows you to enter the US but also allows you to work in the country.

The TN visa, which allows Canadians and Mexicans to work temporarily in the US in specific NAFTA occupations, is one of the most common US work visas.

An experienced TN visa consultant will help you navigate the TN visa application process. We’ll take you through the process, from ensuring you gather the required documents to preparing you for the visa interview.

Boost your chances of successfully obtaining a US work permit visa (particularly, the TN Visa). Book a consultation with TN Visa Expert today!

FAQs on Applying for a US Work Permit Visa

These are the most frequently asked questions about how to apply for work permit in the U.S.

Can I apply for work permit in the U.S.?

Yes, you can apply for a work permit (also called an employment authorization document) in the U.S. Unlike a work permit visa you must obtain before traveling to the U.S., a work permit is a document that permits individuals already in the US to engage in employment activities legally. 

If you are in the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa that does not grant work authorization, you should apply for (and obtain) a work permit before engaging in any paid work in the country. 

What documents are needed to apply for a work permit?

You need certain documents to apply for a U.S. work permit. The work permit documentation are:

  • A copy of the photo page of your international passport.
  • A copy of your current US visa.
  • A copy (front and back) of your Form I-94 Arrival-Departure record into the US.
  • A copy of your last work permit (front and back)). Individuals who have not been issued a US work permit before must submit one of the following identity documents:
    • A copy of a government-issued identity document showing the individual’s picture, name, and date of birth
    • A national ID document with a photo and/ or fingerprint
    • A birth certificate with a photo ID
    • A visa issued by a foreign consulate
  • Two identical recently taken color passport-style photographs. The photos must be 2 by 2 inches, have a white background, and show the full face frontal view.
  • A copy of the notice you received from the US government when you submitted your visa application. This receipt notice is not required if an individual applies for permanent residence at the same time as the work permit.

How long does it take to get a US work permit?

Getting a work permit in the USA can take several months. After submitting your work permit application to USCIS, processing takes about 2 – 7 months, depending on the reason for applying. For example, the work permit processing time for asylum seekers is usually quicker.

Once USCIS receives your application, they’ll send you a receipt notice (with a receipt number that you can use to track your application). You should get this notice 2 to 3 weeks after submitting your work permit application.

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