Can a Noncitizen Work as a STEM Professional in the U.S.?

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The United States has long been a destination for top talent from all over the world. The United States’ ability to attract global talent – especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) – has spurred path-breaking innovation, leading to the creation of jobs, new industries and new opportunities for all Americans. You may be wondering whether a noncitizen can work as a STEM professional in the U.S. If so, please read on, then contact an immigration lawyer experienced with employment immigration today.

Does a noncitizen need to have STEM education, experience or skills to qualify?

Some pathways, such as the O-1 nonimmigrant visa classification and the EB-1A immigrant visa classification, are for those with “extraordinary ability.” These require that a person have widespread and sustained acclaim. Others, such as the H-1B, require at least a relevant bachelor’s degree or equivalent. And others, such as the L-1, require a pre-existing relationship with a company that does business both in the United States and abroad.

Does the noncitizen need to have a STEM job offer or have a company submit a petition?

Most pathways require you to already have a job offer, in which case an employer will submit a petition to USCIS on your behalf. However, some classifications do not require a job offer and permit you to directly submit an application or petition with USCIS. In other words, you may be self-petitioning. For example, if you are seeking lawful permanent resident status, i.e. a Green Card, based on a classification as an individual with “extraordinary ability,” you do not need a job offer and do not need an employer to file the immigrant petition on your behalf. Although a job offer is not required in this example, you must provide evidence establishing that you are coming to the United States to continue work in your area of expertise.

Will the noncitizen be working in the U.S. on a permanent basis as a lawful permanent resident or on a temporary basis as a nonimmigrant?

Some opportunities provide a basis for STEM professionals to obtain permanent resident status in the U.S. Others – such as F-1 OPT, H-1B, L-1 and O-1 – allow the noncitizen to temporarily live and work in the U.S. Many people who do work through one of these nonimmigrant pathways eventually transition to permanent resident pathways and U.S. citizenship.

Must a noncitizen meet any other criteria for a specific pathway?

Some criteria that do not directly relate to professional qualifications can affect visa eligibility. For instance, only citizens of Canada and Mexico qualify for TN visas. In addition, a noncitizen may have to follow timing or other requirements particular to certain pathways. For example, some immigrant pathways require the employer to first obtain an approved labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. The labor certification verifies that an insufficient number of able, available, qualified and willing U.S. workers exist to fill the position and that employing a noncitizen will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. citizens.

If you have any further questions, please reach out to a firm skilled in providing U.S. immigration legal services as soon as possible.

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If you have any immigration-related matters, contact the Lightman Law Firm to schedule your initial consultation today.