Do I need a visa first to get a job in the USA?

Do I need a visa for the USA first? Or do I need to find a job in the USA first? So confusing…

You know it, and you’ve already heard about it! To be legal, working in the USA requires a visa. But how to get it and when in the process? There are plenty of visa types: for tourism, transit, student, etc. Here, I will talk about the work visa and the process that will allow you to live and work in America.

What is first? Do I need a visa or a job?

Since I’ve been in that business, I got plenty of emails asking me what the exact process of finding a job in the United States is, and how to get an American working visa.

Here is an example:

I just wanted to ask you a question about working in America, because it’s something I’m not sure to understand; is it mandatory to find a job and company in the US, so is it possible to apply for a work visa or work permit after arrival?

The answer is… Yes and no! I know, it can be confusing.

Please keep in mind that you CANNOT move to the USA first with no visa, or only with an ESTA, to work or to find your job, never ever. Even for 1 week!

BUT don’t think you can obtain a work visa only by asking the embassy… You cannot get a work visa on your own. To get an American work visa, you should find your job first, in a company that will sponsor you for a working visa!

It that not a vicious circle?

No job → No visa


No visa → No job

So where to start?

Step 1: Find your company and sign your employee letter

The way to break that circle is to find your job from your own country, in a company in the USA ready to sponsor you for the visa you are qualified for. And this is what we did, Maxime and I, in 2014.

We searched for days and nights from our home country, a company that could sponsor us the work visa. Actually, we NEVER came to America before going with our work visa… Never did the ESTA or tourist visa neither.

How can I find a job in a company sponsor in America ?

What did we use? The Internet!

I can hear from here you’ll think it won’t be that difficult to find a job being far apart because of the internet. It’s true. Without the Internet, you won’t find your job remotely. But that’s not quite as simple as it looks either…

Do you need a visa to work in the US?

Why? Because it’s also easy for you to waste your precious time applying everywhere online. The thing is, you should target your search as much as you can!

To make it, based on my experience I strongly recommend to only search among companies used to sponsor visa. Why? Because 96% of companies in the United States are not interested to sponsor you for a working visa. So it’s going to be tough to find the right one among all those companies. You can find sponsor companies here. And to go deeper, you should search ONLY among companies that can technically sponsor the visa YOU are eligible for!

Why? Because not all companies can technically sponsor someone for all kind of visa. And in the other hand, depending on your profile, you are not eligible for all existing visa. Do you know what I mean? So, your profile should match with the company’s profile. And for that, you need to run the Visa Simulator to discover for what visa you are eligible for. Once it’s done, go here to find job openings among companies depending on your visa.

Finally, after 3 months searching, we both got a job with a working visa each! Max had two opportunities in San Francisco and New York. And I, in Miami and New York. So we both chose New York.

Then, it’s only once we signed our employee letter that we could apply for the visa. And it’s exactly the same way for every US work visa as far as I know!

How long is it going to take to find a company?

For us, it took 3 months without children. But it depends on your situation, profile, what you want to do, and your motivation!

In our example, we both found in French companies. So we interviewed in Paris, and not in New York.

Step 2: Apply for your working visa and get it

After that big step, the company will have to fill out their form, and you will have to fill out your form so that the application can be submitted to the government. As the first step, you don’t need to be located in the USA to do that. Actually, you should be outside of the territories once you got the interview appointment at the Embassy.

That’s what we did. We both got an interview at the U.S. embassy in Paris.

What kind of American work visa do you know? The Green Card?

As the Green Card is the immigrant visa, it is the most popular American working visa. However, don’t expect to get the Green Card with your employer first. It could happen, but it’s extremely rare!

Most of the time, you are going to have a non immigrant visa for a while. It can be for 1 year as 7 years. At that time, you will be able to apply for the Green Card through your employer, but it depends on you and your employer.

Several types of non immigrant visa exist. I got the E-1 essential employee, while Max, after the H-1B failed (no lottery chance), got the E-2 essential employee. But again, it depends on your situation, profile, and what you want to do. According to the type of visa you fit with, you can be sponsored by a company, or a sponsor organization.

Again, to discover your future potential US work visa and which sponsor you need, go through the Visa Simulator, even if you think you know already the kind of visa you want. Depending on your situation, it will show you what type of working visa you may have, the advantages and disadvantages of this visa, when to apply, and what you have to do!

Step 3: Start your job and get your Social Security Number

Once you get your visa, you are ready to go! You will be authorized to go through the U.S. customs, and start your job in the USA. That’s what we did again! I got my visa under 3 months. Once I received it, 3 days after my interview in the embassy, I flew to the USA to start the great adventure!

Do I need a visa to work in the US?

Max joined me after 3 Months… He applied first for the H-1B visa, but no success. It took 3 months to get the response, or rather, no answer! Even if his case has been certified, which means his visa application has been validated, he has not been the lucky winner of the H-1B lottery. Then, his company sponsored him the E-2 employee visa, which took again, another 3 months.

10 days after our arrival in America, we went to the Social Security Administration to pick up our Social Security Card. It’s the same process for every American working visa!

This card contains your Social Security Number which allows you to work, and also to pay your tax in the USA. That number is going to track you everywhere for better or for worse…

Is the process of getting a work visa in the United States of America more obvious to you now? Let me know in the comments below!