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How to Work in the U.S. Without a University Degree?

Many people dream of having the opportunity to live and work in the U.S. Unfortunately, obtaining this dream can be quite challenging. Employment visa applicants must contend with complicated application procedures, stringent eligibility requirements, and unforgiving government agencies.

One of the most common types of employment visas is the H-1B visa for specialty occupations. This visa, at minimum, requires applicants to possess a bachelor's degree, license or certification that allows them to be employed in a specialty occupation.

Consequently, the H-1B visa may seem out of reach for individuals who do not possess a university degree or other professional certification.

Below are seven visa categories that allow beneficiaries to work in the U.S. without a university degree.

I) Short Term

1. H-2A Visa: Temporary Agricultural Worker (3-year maximum)

The H-2A visa allows foreign workers to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural employment. These visas are only available to citizens of designated countries.

H-2A petitioners (prospective employers) must meet the following requirements:

  • Offer employment that is temporary or seasonal;

  • Demonstrate that there are insufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to fill the positions;

  • Submit proof that employing H-2A workers will not negatively impact the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers; and

  • Provide a single, valid, temporary labor certification (from the U.S. Department of Labor) with the submission of Form I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.

2. H-2B Visa: Temporary Non-agricultural Worker (3-year maximum)

The H-2B visa allows foreign workers to perform temporary or seasonal non-agricultural employment. These visas are only available to citizens of designated countries.

H-2B petitioners (prospective employers) must meet the following requirements:

  • Demonstrate that there are insufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to fill the positions;

  • Submit proof that employing H-2A workers will not negatively impact the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers; and

  • Prove that the need for the prospective worker is temporary.

Positions are considered temporary if one of the following conditions are met:

  • The one-time occurrence requirement: The petitioner must prove that a temporary event of a short duration has triggered the need for the temporary worker's services. Additionally, the petitioner must not have employed similar labor in the past or foreseen that they would need similar labor in the future; or

  • Seasonal need: The petitioner must prove that the employment is related to an annual season or is recurring; or

  • Peak load need: The petitioner must prove that he/she regularly employs permanent workers and requires additional workers to supplement his/her labor force during a peak period. The temporary workers must not become part of the full-time operations.

3. Exchange Visitor Program (J-1 visa)

The Exchange Visitor Program (EVP) allows foreigners to visit the U.S. to participate in various educational or training programs. Some programs allow participants to perform jobs without a university education. Two such programs are the au pair and trainee programs.

Au pair (2-year maximum)

The au pair program places young people (between 18-26 years old) with U.S. host families to provide childcare services.

Eligibility requirements for the au pair program include:

  • Spoken English proficiency;

  • High school education;

  • Good health (as evidenced by the completion of a medical exam);

  • Pass an interview conducted by an organizational representative (a report based on this interview will be forwarded to the host family);

  • Good moral character (evidenced by a background check);

  • Completion of a psychometric test; and

  • Provision of three non-familial references.

Trainee (18 months)

The trainee program allows foreign professionals to experience U.S. culture and receive training from U.S. businesses in their respective fields.

Each prospective trainee must meet either of the following requirements:

  • Possession of a degree or professional certificate from a post-secondary institution and one year of work experience in his/her field; or

  • Completion of five years of work in the field in which he/she is seeking training.

Important! While such J-1 visa holders can receive compensation for their work, they cannot use their visas to work outside of their designated programs.

Compensation must be similar to U.S. workers holding similar positions. Working conditions must align with all federal, state, and local wage and labor laws.

J-1 workers must apply for social security numbers and pay U.S. taxes.

II) Medium Term

4. L-1B (5-year maximum)

The L-1B visa is utilized by professional, specialized foreign workers employed by a foreign company. The visa enables such workers to be transferred from an office abroad to one of the company’s offices in the United States.

Once a qualifying relationship exists between the foreign company and its U.S. counterpart, there is a durational requirement that must also be satisfied. Specifically, the named employee must have been working for the foreign company for one continuous year within the three-year window preceding his/her anticipated admission to the U.S.

The named employee must seek to enter the U.S. to provide services to the U.S. branch of the company in a specialized knowledge capacity.

USCIS defines specialized knowledge as follows:

“[K]nowledge possessed by an individual of the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures (See 8 CFR 214.2(l)(1)(ii)(D)).”

L-1 visas do not generally require a minimum level of education. However, they may still be challenging to obtain.

Applications adjudicated by U.S. posts often have more success than those adjudicated by USCIS. L-1B visas may only be granted to professionals who hold a Bachelor’s degree or possess equivalent experience. Some adjudicating officers may give weight to job experience, while others will insist on degree qualifications.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, it is worthwhile to explore whether this visa would be suitable for you.

5. H-1B Visas (6-year maximum)

The H-1B visa is used by foreign workers to be employed in specialty occupations in the U.S. It is most straightforward to obtain this visa when the applicant possesses a bachelor's degree. However, applicants without a degree may be issued an H-1B visa so long as they can prove that they have equivalent qualifications.

Applicants must demonstrate that they possess the education, specialized training, and/or progressively responsible experience equivalent to completing a U.S. bachelor’s degree (or higher) in the specialty occupation.

Once the applicant receives a job offer from a U.S. employer, the employer will submit a petition for the prospective employee’s H-1B visa.

When submitting Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, petitioners applying for beneficiaries without a college degree must supply one or more of the following:

  • An evaluation from a university official;

  • Results of equivalency examinations [e.g. Program on Noncollegiate Sponsored Instruction (PONOSI) or the College Level Examination Program (CLEP)];

  • Evidence of membership/certification from a nationally recognized professional organization in the relevant specialty; and

  • Evidence of education, specialized training and job experience equivalent to a degree. For example, three years of work experience in the specialty occupation, working alongside personnel with degree qualifications. This can be proved by items such as published work about (or authored by) the applicant in a reputable, professional publication. Alternatively, the applicant may include professional licenses or evidence of his/her contributions to the field recognized by a notable authority.

View our post: Top Twenty Employment Sponsors For H-1B Visas

III) Long Term

6. E-1 visa for Treaty Traders (can be renewed indefinitely)

The E-1 visa allows foreign merchants into the U.S. to conduct trade between the U.S. and their home countries. Merchants must be nationals of a treaty country that has entered a commerce and navigation treaty with the U.S.

E-1 visa applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Conduct substantial trade of goods and services (over $100,000 in a given year); and

  • Conduct trade principally with the U.S. (exceeding 50%, this must be evidenced by extensive documentation).

Applicants are not required to make a financial investment, hire U.S. workers, or submit a business plan (although it is good practice to do so).

7. E-2 visa for Treaty Investors (can be renewed indefinitely)

The E-2 visa allows foreign entrepreneurs into the U.S. to set up business in the U.S. Entrepreneurs must be nationals of a treaty country that has entered a commerce and navigation treaty with the U.S.

E-2 visa applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Invest a substantial amount of capital in a bona fide enterprise in the United States (usually over $100,000); and

  • Must enter the U.S. strictly to develop and direct the investment enterprise. Applicants must demonstrate at least 50% ownership of the enterprise or possess operational control through a managerial position or another corporate device.

Applicants must immediately commence business operations upon receipt of the E-2 visa.

If you would like to petition for a foreign worker or discuss any other immigration matter, please contact us here.

We assist countless foreign nationals and we will be happy to personally assist you with your application as well. Send us an E-mail or call us at (888)354-6257. For reasons on why you should consult an immigration attorney whenever you have an immigration issue, see our page titled: Reasons Why it is Vital to Use an Immigration Lawyer.

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