A United States work visa allows foreign nationals to live and work in the U.S. But just how long does it take to obtain a work visa and begin working in the U.S.?
Getting a work visa approval: how long does it take?
There are a few points through the work visa process where you may receive an “approval.” First, your work visa petition will be approved by USCIS. Second, your visa application will be approved at your visa interview.
When people ask how long it takes to get a work visa approved, they usually ask how quickly they can begin working inside the U.S. With that in mind, let’s go through each step of the U.S. work visa process.
Step 1: Prepare petition
Estimated time: 1-6 months (varies considerably based on the law firm)
The process begins with preparing your visa petition. Depending on the type of visa and the law firm you work with, this can take anywhere from one to six months.
The best way to speed up your petition preparation process is to work with a reputable and efficient immigration team. In addition, you should respond quickly to your immigration team’s requests so no time is lost.
Step 2: Submit petition to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Estimated time: a few days to ship the petition package to a USCIS office
Once your petition is prepared, it will be shipped to a USCIS office somewhere in the U.S.
Step 3: Receive a decision from USCIS
Estimated time: under 15 days when filed with premium processing; 3-8 months when filed with regular processing
The time it takes USCIS to adjudicate a case varies based on a variety of factors, such as:
- Case type (learn how to check average case processing times)
- USCIS service center location
- Immigration regulations
- Premium processing
Most U.S. work visas allow you to pay an extra fee ($2500) for premium processing. USCIS reviews cases filed with premium processing in 15 calendar days or less.
Cases filed without premium processing are not tied to a predictable timeline. However, you can check the average processing times for each type of work visa on USCIS’s website.
After reviewing your case, USCIS will issue a decision.
Possible USCIS decisions:
- Approval: If your visa petition is approved, you can move on to step 4.
- Request for Additional Evidence (RFE): If you receive an RFE, you must prepare and submit a response. After submission, you will have to wait for a final decision from USCIS. If you filed with premium processing, you would receive a decision in 15 calendar days or less.
- Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID): NOIDs are rare. Rather than giving you a denial right away, USCIS will give you a second chance to show you meet the visa requirements. Like with RFEs, you will have to submit a NOID response and wait for USCIS’s final decision.
- Denial: If you receive a denial, you will have to reapply for your visa or explore other immigration paths.
Step 4: Visa interview and stamp (or change of status)
Estimated time: varies depending on the consulate
Depending on your location and how you filed your petition (Change of Status or Consular), you may need to go to a visa interview at a U.S. consulate abroad before starting work on your new visa.
However, if you filed a Change of Status petition, you can begin working in the U.S. immediately once your petition is approved and your visa start date has passed. Read more about the differences between Change of Status and Consular petitions.
Before you attend the visa interview, you must complete a DS-160 visa application online. During your interview, the Consular officer will put an official visa stamp in your passport, which is the final step in getting a visa. After this point, your visa is officially “approved.”
Begin your work visa process today