by James A. O’Malley

Published in, January 2009


o-malley-attorneys-media-4As an immigration lawyer I am asked all the time, how does a person get or stay legal in the United States? Here is all that information summarized.
In addition to the green card/permanent resident status, there are approximately 35 other types of employment visas and work permits available to people wishing to live and work in the United States.

This article will summarize some of the more practicable employment visas available to citizens of Ireland and future articles will deal with specific employment visas for specific situations.

The range of U.S. employment visas, which are referred to by a specific letter of the alphabet (e.g. A, B, C, etc.) covers most types of employment situations from trainee internships (J visas) to professional (H-1 visas), entrepreneur (E visas) and expert (O-1 visas) positions. Some visa categories have sub-categories and all “alphabet” visas have provisions for spouses and minor dependents.

Unlike the green card/permanent residence status, the “alphabet” visas are time limited and usually employer and job-related specific. This means that when such a visa is issued to a person, the validity of that visa is for a specific length of time and it is restricted to a specific employer for a specific position. Generally, a U.S.-based employer must initiate the request for an alphabet visa on behalf of an Irish citizen. The U.S. employer can be a company, corporation, individual, or partnership.
In the case of an entrepreneur E visa, the U.S. employer can be a company set up by the Irish citizen. This is because the U.S. and Ireland are parties to a Treaty of Commerce that provides visas to citizens of either county who invest in the other country. Future articles will explore the E visa category more fully.

“Irish citizens in professions ranging from construction trades to information technology to office management and administration can be eligible for this type of J-1 visa.”

The J-I visa will be familiar to many Irish graduates. The “recent graduate” twelve month J-1 visa is available to Irish citizens within one year of graduating from a third level post secondary Irish college or university. What might not be as familiar is that there are several other types of J-1 visas. There are six, twelve and eighteen month J-1 visas available to Irish citizens, even if they have not completed a college or university degree. With the support and input from a U.S.-based employer, many Irish citizens in professions ranging from construction trades to information technology to office management and administration can be eligible for this type of J-1 visa.

Many Irish citizens will be familiar with the H-1B visa program. The H-1B is a six-year employment visa given at the request of an eligible U.S. employer to a qualified job applicant. The program is subject to an annual quota and selection in recent years has been on a lottery basis because the demand has been greater than the quota available. The filing period is short, beginning on April 1 each year and running only a few days before the quota is filled. What many people will be less familiar with are the H-2 and H-3 visa categories that do not have the same quota-based uncertainty. These H-2 and H-3 visas are available generally year round at the request of an eligible U.S. employer. Similar to almost all the “alphabet” visas, H-2 and H-3 visas are specific to a specific employer for their duration – generally 12 to 24 months. H-2 visas allow U.S. employers to fill short term or seasonal needs with qualified workers. An example would be an unexpected spike in business activity or a temporary absence of a permanent employee.

Investor visas for entrepreneurs known as E-2 visas and trading company E-1 visas are particularly interesting and can offer Irish entrepreneurs access to U.S. markets. E-2 visas require the Irish citizen to set up a business in the U.S., capitalize that business with a realistic amount of working capital and lay out a five-year business plan with projections of growth in revenue and personnel. The idea is that such entrepreneurs will benefit the U.S. economy through their presence and their business acumen. E-1 visas are similar but require that substantial trade will be conducted between the U.S. and Ireland by the Irish owned company. Small and medium sized enterprises are particularly encouraged to avail of the E-1 and E-2 visa programs.

Information visas, known as “I” visas are given to journalists and other media representatives of Irish based media—newspapers, magazines, radio and television—who will be based in the U.S. and who will report back on U.S. matters of interest to their Irish audiences.

P visas are available to Irish performers coming to the U.S., individually or as a part of a group to perform in music, theater, multi-media etc. P visas are also available to certain athletes coming to compete in the U.S. either individually or as a member of a team. Generally P visa recipients are not employees of a U.S. company, and consequently they need an agent or representative to initiate the visa process on their behalf. P-1 and P-3 visas are particularly suitable for artists who have pre-arranged performances scheduled in the U.S. and who have artistic representation such as a management company, public relations organization or booking agent who will process the visa application. Support personnel such as non-performing technical and other essential tour personnel can be granted P-1S or P-3S support visas.

The O-1 visa is often referred to as the visa of the stars. This is because it is defined as the visa for people of outstanding ability and reputation in their field of endeavor. Many entertainment personalities avail of the O-1 visa; film, theater, television, music and other artistic luminaries are often beneficiaries of the O-1 visa. However, a little know fact is that the O-1 visa is available also to people in science, business and athletics. The standard is high and the application for an O-1 visa requires a lot of proof that the person is indeed outstanding in their profession.

The above is a very broad outline of some of the U.S. visa categories available to Irish people. In future articles I will be expanding on some of the categories and will offer more detailed insight into the application and adjudication process.

James A. O’Malley is a principal in the law firm of O’Malley & Associates. He has been handling U.S. visa and immigration matters for almost thirty years. He is a native of Limerick City and a graduate of Galway University.

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