Guide: How to legally work in the United States


Moving to the United States and finding a satisfactory employment is not an easy task, but a walk in the park compared to the legal side of it. Whereas it is not impossible to work without being legally allowed to do so, it is not advisable. First of all, if anything happens to you while you work, you will find yourself with no rights to any help at all, if you need urgent care it will cost you more than you can (most likely) afford and you risk being deported for a good amount of time. There are a few different ways to do it legally, but you need time, money and a lot of patience.

Do you already have an American Employer?

The easiest way is if you already have an American employer, in which case the company will file a petition on your behalf. If you work for an international company with branches in the U.S. for example, and you have been transferred to one of these, your employer will most likely take care of the paperwork for you.

Once you find an American Employer

If you find a job with an American employer, there are two different visas to apply for; Temporary (non-immigrant) Worker or Permanent Worker.

Non-immigrant Visas

The first option, the Temporary Worker, will need to be filed by your prospective employer for the most part, another, much smaller part, is reserved for treaty traders and treaty investors. To qualify for either, you have to work for a company that has at least 50% Swedish ownership and where no less than 50% of the trade involved is between Sweden and the U.S.


Another temporary visa is the O-1 and it is for Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement coming to the country to work within their field of expertise for a limited time. If you have extraordinary skills in either sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, or if you are a movie star, or TV-star for that matter, the O-1 is the visa for you. But you have to be in the upper echelons of your profession in order to qualify. If your spouse or parent qualify, you may file for an O-3 visa for the same period of time, or if you qualify, you may file for your spouse and child/ren.

Visa Waiver or B-1

If you only intend to visit the country, but in a business manner, you can most likely do so under the visa waiver program, unless your stay will exceed 90 days in length, in which case you may apply for a B-1 visa.

Immigrant Visas

EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4 and EB-5

The second option, the Permanent Worker, can be filed by the person wishing to immigrate, you, in other words. But let’s not get carried away just yet. In order to be considered you have to have something to offer your new country, something that they don’t already have in abundance. The USCIS (the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) defines this as “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, outstanding professors or researchers; and multinational executives and managers.” (

Basically, you are applying for an immigrant visa based on your professional skills.
Also, if you hold an advanced degree within your field, or if you are otherwise skilled in ways that the U.S. lack, you may qualify for a permanent visa.
If you have a lot of money, at least $500.000, that you wish to invest in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. that would employ at least 10 American workers full-time, you could also qualify for a permanent visa.

If you qualify under any of these categories, you may file for your spouse and child/ren as well. The job-based visas are divided into five categories, or preferences, titled EB-1, EB-2 and so on.

Residency through marriage

Another way to become a legal alien is through marriage. If you get married in the United States and your spouse is American, you can apply for permanent residency. However, it is vital that your status was already legal before you entered into the holy matrimony, and you may then simply apply for an adjustment of status from whatever visa you had previously to a permanent resident. If you got engaged before entering the states, your fiancé/e may file a K-1 petition on your behalf, a so-called fiancée visa, and you are then to get married within 90 days of entering the country. Once married, you qualify for residency. Once you have your residency, commonly known as a Green Card, you are legally allowed to work.

Green Card Lottery

If you are feeling lucky, you can also try the Green Card lottery. The lottery, called the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is open to nationals from countries with a low immigration rate to the U.S. Sweden is one of these countries. There are only a few requirements to enter and the first one is to have a minimum of high school education or two years of work experience and that you are only allowed to enter once per registration period. Each year, approximately 50.000 immigrant visas are obtained this way and they are equally distributed among eligible countries.

To sum up, there are two ways to work legally in the United States, one is temporary, the other is permanent. If you manage to get a permanent visa, you become a legal alien, not a citizen. You may work, you must pay taxes but you are not allowed to vote nor join the armed forces. The status can expire or be revoked, but you may also be eligible to apply for citizenship after a certain amount of time as a legal alien.



Visa type
What does it allow you to do?

H1B Temporary Work for the US based company sponsoring your H1B visa You may not work for multiple companies nor stay in the country after your employment ends.
O1 – Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement Temporary Conduct business related to your extraordinary ability You must only work within your field of expertise.
B1 Temporary Temporarily represent a foreign company in the US You must not receive a salary from a US company or reside permanently in the United States.
EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4 and EB-5 Permanent Work and live in the United States Highly educated or have at least 500.000 USD to invest in a business based in the U.S.
Green card Permanent Work and live in the United States

Must be renewed every ten years and may be revoked.


Sources:  –> WORKING IN THE US




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