This article provides the latest information on immigration options regarding IT companies and their highly skilled workforce.
US nonimmigrant (temporary) visas
Most often, IT professionals move to the United States by obtaining temporary nonimmigrant visas. Subsequently, if they meet the criteria, they can apply for a Green Card. However, first, let’s look at the nonimmigrant visas available to IT professionals and the reasons for obtaining them.
H-1B visa for programmers
The H-1B visa is one of the most common visas for hiring foreign IT staff. A foreign citizen must meet all the requirements for the position held, including having a bachelor’s degree (or its equivalent over the years of work) or higher in a field related to his type of activity. The employer, in turn, when submitting documents, must demonstrate that he offers at least the average wage in the market for this type of employment.
For many IT companies, typical H-1B visa positions are software developers and database developers. System administrators and other computer systems analysts may sometimes, though not always, be approved for H-1B visas. Entry-level computer programmers or computer support specialists most often cannot qualify for H-1B status.
A significant issue for most employers looking to sponsor an H-1B worker is an annual limit on the number of places available for H-1B visas.
Usually, the H-1B visa is issued for 3 years. As a rule, the maximum period of stay in the country on this visa is 6 years. However, a temporary extension is available if the employee applies for a permanent residence permit (Green Card).
L-1 Visa for IT Professionals
The L-1 visa category is for individuals who have worked in either a highly specialized field or management positions outside the United States for at least 12 months in the past three years who wish to come to the United States to work for an affiliated company.
Companies must demonstrate that their IT professionals have more than average knowledge to qualify for the L-1 visa. Like the H-1B, this category is coming under scrutiny, especially for IT workers. However, it can be a good option for software developers or for IT managers with management responsibilities who will be relocated to the United States to work in a similar position.
The advantage of the L-1 visa is that there are no restrictions on the number of visas issued. For managers and executives of the L-1A category, the total visa validity period is seven years (initially, the visa is issued for three years, and after that, it can be extended twice for two years). For narrow-profile professionals of the L-1B category, the total period is five years (three years of the initial visa plus a two-year renewal period).
O-1 Visa for IT Pros with Extraordinary Ability
Some professionals may qualify for the O-1 visa, which is suitable for individuals with outstanding ability or achievement. To obtain this visa, you must meet at least three of the following requirements:
- Have national (or better international) awards for outstanding achievements in the IT field.
- To be a member of an association or organization that requires certain skills and achievements in the IT field to enter.
- Be mentioned in professional or major publications, newspapers, or magazines.
- Have your publications in professional or major publications, newspapers, or magazines.
- Make a scientific contribution to the development of the IT field.
- Have high wages.
- Participate as a judge or mentor at conferences or major competitions in the IT field.
To be one of the key specialists in a large and well-known company, organization, or institution in the IT field.
The O-1 visa is usually issued for three years. It can be a good choice for academics and entrepreneurs who have made significant contributions to the IT field.
F-1 Visa for IT Students
International students in the United States hold F-1 visas and can only work under very limited conditions. Within one year after graduation from a US university, students are allowed to work in the country by submitting documents for OPT (Optional Practical Training).
Thus, graduates with an IT specialization can work for any employer in the United States, if their work is closely related to their knowledge gained during their studies. Graduates with STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), which also includes computer science, may request permission to renew the OPT for another 24 months under certain circumstances.
A B-1 visa is available to foreign citizens for temporary business visits to the United States. Acceptable activities include, but are not limited to consultations with colleagues, participation in short-term specialized training programs, participation in professional conferences or conferences, or contracting. The maximum period allowed in B-1 status on any trip is one year.
Green Card for IT Specialist
The above categories of nonimmigrant visas are temporary. An employee working on a visa in one of these categories is only allowed to work in the United States for a few years. If the company wants to hire an employee for a longer period, it must sponsor him to obtain permanent resident status, that is, a Green Card. This status allows a foreign citizen to reside and work in the United States permanently.
The process of obtaining a Green Card
The process of obtaining permanent resident status takes several years, so employers usually begin the application process within the first two years of an employee’s temporary visa.
As a rule, the process of obtaining a Green Card takes place in three stages:
Green card – 1 step
Labor certification PERM (Program electronic review management)
The PERM job certification process requires an employer to make a good faith effort to find employees to provide evidence that there are no more qualified candidates for the position among US citizens. The employer must also demonstrate that he is offering competitive wages.
Obtain Green card – 2 step
After the PERM process is completed, the employer submits an I-140 application. The I-140 petition process is confirmation that the foreign national meets the requirements for the position and that the employer is willing to pay the required salary.
Get a Green card – 3 step
The period of waiting for a Green Card can take from several months to several years. Next, an I-485 application is submitted, and after its consideration, Green Cards are issued to both the employee and his immediate family.
A very limited number of IT professionals are eligible to skip the PERM labor certification step. In their case, the path to obtaining a Green Card begins with the filing of an I-140 petition. There are only three categories of employees who are eligible for this reduced filing:
International Executive Director / Manager. The employee must have held this position overseas for at least a year out of the past three years and should seek to transfer to the United States to take up a management position with the same employer or subsidiary. This option is suitable for CIOs or other high-level IT managers.
Distinguished Professor or Research Fellow
The candidate must demonstrate international recognition for excellence in the IT field and have at least three years of teaching and research experience.
A candidate with outstanding ability. The employee must have exceptional IT skills, nationally or internationally proven.
US Immigrant Visas for Priority IT Professionals
If an IT professional has done an outstanding job and is at the pinnacle of his career, then he can immediately apply for an EB-1 immigrant visa. Although this category of visas is not typical for IT professionals, it will be an excellent option for moving to America for a specialist with extraordinary ability in Information Technology.