January 11

H-1B Alternatives: Other Paths to Entering the U.S. Workforce

The H-1B lottery can be a gamble for employers. Companies often seek alternative visa types to ensure they can employ foreign talent necessary.

H-1B Alternatives:

T.N. Visa

For citizens of Canada and Mexico, the T.N. is a viable alternative to the H-1B visa. The TN visa is established per the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to admit qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens to temporarily enter the United States to engage in professional business activities. 

The treaty agreement between nations helps the petitioner avoid the long delay of filing a complete petition in the U.S. There is also no cap on T.N. visas. The broad list of professions that can qualify for a T.N. visa may prove advantageous to persons whose occupation could never qualify as a specialty occupation under an H-1B visa.

Perhaps best of all, T.N. visa renewals are not limited as long as the holder meets the qualifications; the visa is indefinitely renewable.

Canadian citizens are not required to apply at a U.S. Consulate for a T.N. visa. The requirements for Canadian citizens are very straightforward:

  • show proof of Canadian citizenship,
  • the job offer indicating the length of stay, and 
  • required credentials to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer at a U.S. port of entry. 

Before entry, Mexican citizens can acquire a T.N. visa by applying directly at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. 

L-1 Visa

A L-1 visa is a temporary work visa that allows U.S. corporations with related entities abroad (such as a parent, subsidiary, branch or affiliate) to transfer workers with specialized knowledge or managers/executives to the U.S. 

The employer files an L-1 petition on behalf of the employee who must have worked for the foreign entity for at least one continuous year during their last three years of employment. The L-1 visa is a good option because it can lead to permanent residency (green card).

There are two types of L-1 visas:

L-1a visa is for managers and executives who transfer to a U.S. office or come into the U.S. to set up a U.S. office.

L-1b visa is for specialized employees with essential specialist skills or knowledge.

The L-1a visa grants a maximum stay of up to 7 years, and the L-1b grants up to 5 years. If the employee previously worked under an H visa, USCIS may deduct that authorized time from the allowed stay

E-1, E-2, or E-3 Visa

The E-1 Treaty Trader visa is available to citizens or nationals of one of 30+ countries that have trade treaties with the United States. The E-1 visa allows individuals or employees of companies to enter the U.S. to carry out international trade. The definition of “trade” is not strict and can apply to goods, services, and banking. There is no set limit to the amount of trade that must occur, although there is more emphasis on the number of transactions over total value.

Although the E-1 visa does not provide a path to residency (green card), one of the significant advantages is the indefinite number of extensions, often given in two-year increments (provided the holder continues to meet the qualifying conditions).


The E-2 Treaty Investor Visa is available to citizens or nationals of 30+ countries that have trade treaties with the United States. Individuals with significant funds to invest can come to the U.S with an E-2 visa to set up a business, practice, or office.

Although the E-2 visa does not provide residency (not a green card), one of the significant advantages is the ability to extend the E-2 visa indefinitely or for as long as the business concerned is viable.


The E-3 visa is available to Australian professionals seeking a position relevant to their specialty. The applicant must have a bachelor's degree and the job they are carrying out must require degree-level skills and knowledge.

E-3 visas holders can stay in the USA for two years, with no limit to the number of additional two-year extensions (in most cases).

J-1 or H-3 Visas

Lesser known options are for trainees and persons wishing to gain experience or knowledge of the prospective employer’s products; the J-1 or H-3 visa.

J-1 visa: for those who intend to participate in an approved exchange program.  

H-3 visa: foreign nationals aspiring to come to the U.S. for training in any field (other than graduate medical education) not available in their country. 

Student Visas

Post-graduates can obtain a limited-term (12 months) employment under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. And STEM Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degree holders may request an extension for up to 24 months under the OPT rules.

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