School building

Nonimmigrant work visa options for educators

Nonimmigrant visas are temporary in nature, with specific periods of validity. They are employer-specific and may be position-specific and location-specific, as well.

There are multiple nonimmigrant work visa options available for teachers, professors, lecturers and/or researchers at colleges and universities as well as primary and secondary public, private and charter schools.

The most common nonimmigrant work visa options for educators include:

H-1B visas

The H-1B nonimmigrant visa category is available for U.S. employers to fill a “specialty occupation” with a qualified foreign national. A specialty occupation is one that generally requires a bachelor’s degree or higher, or its equivalent, as a minimum, entry-level credential. Teaching positions usually meet this requirement, according to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

A legislatively-established statutory cap limits approvals of new H-1B petitions in a fiscal year to 85,000, with 20,000 of that total reserved for foreign nationals who have obtained an advanced degree or higher from a U.S. college or university. Certain institutions and foreign nationals, however, are “cap-exempt” and may be eligible to file an H-1B petition not subject to the numerical limits.

Institutions of higher education, such as accredited colleges and universities, are automatically exempt from the H-1B cap lottery. Additionally, Garfinkel Immigration has been successful in arguing that nonprofit primary and secondary public, private as well as charter schools are eligible for “cap-exempt” H-1B status by establishing a written affiliation with an institution of higher learning.

These written contracts include:

  • The primary or secondary school agreeing to host student teachers from one or more college or university.
  • The secondary school offering dual enrollment classes which allow students to receive credits from a specific college or university.

“Cap-exempt” status allows colleges and universities as well as nonprofit primary and secondary public, private and charter schools to file for an H-1B visa for a qualified foreign national at any time throughout the year.

In most situations, an H-1B petition can be approved for a maximum initial period of three years and may be extended for an additional three years longer. Spouses of H-1B visa holders may be eligible for work authorization, in some circumstances.

J-1 visas

A J-1 visa permits foreign nationals from any country to come to the United States in an exchange program designated by the U.S. Department of State.

The foreign national must enter the United States for the purpose of teaching, instructing, lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills or receiving training.

The foreign national must have a residence in a foreign country which they have no intention of abandoning. The foreign national must demonstrate sufficient knowledge of English to participate in the program and demonstrate access to sufficient funds to cover expenses.

The J-1 visa program was designed to facilitate international exchanges. The primary purpose is to expose foreign visitors to U.S. methodologies, expertise and culture and share that learning and experience upon return to their home countries.

The J-1 visa category requires a foreign national to return to their country of origin for at least two years following the completion of their J-1 program before applying for a new nonimmigrant visa or permanent residency in the U.S.

Therefore, the J-1 visa is typically a temporary solution for employment as there are usually limited options for a foreign national to remain in the United States following the expiration of their status.

O-1 visas

O-1 visas are reserved for foreign nationals who are highly talented or have reached a notable level of acclaim in the fields of science, art, education, business or athletics.

The foreign national must be extraordinary in their field in terms of knowledge, ability, expertise and accomplishments and the position being offered must require the services of an “extraordinary” person.

In order to qualify under the O-1 nonimmigrant visa category, a foreign national must be able to demonstrate that they have sustained national or international acclaim and that their achievements have been recognized in the field through extensive documentation. More information about qualifying for an O-1 visa can be found here.

O-1 visas may be an option for some foreign nationals looking to be employed by a college or university as a researcher, professor or lecturer.


Learn more about Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm’s Education Specialty Practice Group here.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm at 704-442-8000 or via email with any questions.

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