How long does a work visa last?


Mar 20, 2024

Immigration is complex and challenging, especially in the United States, where even qualified immigration attorneys can struggle to understand all the ins and outs of US immigration law. If you aren’t a US citizen but want to live and work in the states, you need a work visa. But how long a work visa lasts depends on what type of visa it is—and there are a lot of different types. 

Each type of US work visa has different eligibility requirements, costs, processing times, lengths of stay, etc. The types of visas available to a foreign worker depend on their age, education, skills, country of origin, immigration status, whether they have a job offer in the US, and many other factors. We’ll cover this, plus a brief overview of the different types of US work visas and how long they last, in the article below.

What happens if your work visa expires?

Understanding the consequences of an expired visa is crucial to maintaining legal status and employment in the US. When a work visa expires, the implications can range from loss of work authorization to deportation, impacting not only the visa holder's current situation but also their future chances of re-entering the United States.

The most immediate effect of an expired work visa is the loss of legal status in the United States. This means you are no longer authorized to work and may be considered unlawfully present in the country. The length of time you remain unlawfully present can have serious implications, including bans from re-entry ranging from three years to life.

Without a valid work visa, you lose your employment authorization. Employers are required by law to verify the work authorization of their employees, and continuing to work without legal status can lead to termination. Additionally, this can affect future visa applications, as unlawful employment violates US immigration laws.

If you stay in the US after your visa expires, you may be subject to deportation. The process of removal can begin as soon as the Department of Homeland Security identifies someone as out of status.

To avoid these consequences, it’s important to be proactive. Know your visa expiration date and what options you have for your visa type:

  • Many work visa categories allow for extensions. If you’re eligible, apply well before your current visa expires to make sure you have enough time for the visa process.
  • In some cases, you may be eligible to adjust your status to a different visa category or even apply for permanent residency (Green Card). Consult with an immigration attorney to explore your options.
  • If you can’t extend your visa or adjust your status, it's safer to leave the US before your visa expires and then reapply for a new visa from your home country.

By understanding the implications of an expired visa and planning ahead, you can maintain your legal status. If you find yourself nearing the expiration of your work visa, consult with an immigration lawyer about your options and make informed decisions about your future.

Now, let’s explore the different types of work visas available in the US and how long each one typically lasts.

Temporary non-immigrant visas

Non-immigrant work visas provide paths for qualifying temporary workers who intend to work in the US for a specific employer and a limited period. Unlike immigrant visas, these temporary work visas do not provide a path to permanent residency (like a Green Card) but are essential for the diverse needs of foreign workers and the industries that employ them.

Typically, temporary non-immigrant visas are tied to a specific job offer and company, requiring sponsorship from the prospective US employer. The employer files a petition for the type of work with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Before coming to the US, the employee still needs to apply for a visa, and any spouses or other family members coming to the US with them must apply for their own visas, too.

Common types of temporary non-immigrant work visas include:

H visas

  • H-1B visas (specialty occupations): This visa is for individuals employed in specialty occupations that require at least a bachelor's degree or its equivalent in a specific field. This includes areas such as IT, finance, engineering, architecture, and more. The H-1B visa has an annual cap, with exceptions for certain nonprofit, research, and government organizations.
    • This visa lasts for three years, with the option to extend for up to three additional years.
  • H-2A and H-2B visas: H-2A visas are for temporary agricultural workers from designated countries, whereas H-2B visas are for temporary non-agricultural workers. These visas are subject to numerical caps and are typically used for seasonal, peak load, or intermittent employment.
    • This visa lasts for one year, with the option to extend for up to two additional years.
  • H-3 visas: This visa is for those seeking training in the US in any career except graduate medical school and who plan to pursue their careers outside of the US.
    • This visa lasts for up to two years (or 18 months if the visa holder is enrolled in a special education program).

I visas

I visas are specifically designed for representatives of the foreign media, including reporters, film crews, editors, and similar occupations, allowing them to work temporarily in the US in their profession.

The length of stay with an I visa varies depending on your country of origin. Typically, this visa can be extended for up to a maximum of 10 years.

L visas

L visas are for employees of international companies who are being temporarily transferred to a parent, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary of the same company in the US. The L-1 visa is for managers, executives, or employees with specialized knowledge.

This visa type allows for a stay of up to one year, with the option to extend for up to six additional years.

O visas

An O visa is for individuals with extraordinary abilities or achievements in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, or the motion picture and television industry who are coming to the US to work in their field of expertise. This visa can be extended to include family members.

O visas last for up to three years and can be extended indefinitely in one-year increments.

P visas

Athletes, artists, and entertainers who wish to perform in the US, either individually or as part of a group, at a specific competition, event, or performance can apply for a P visa.

P visas last for up to five years and can be extended for up to five additional years.

R visas

Individuals coming to the US to temporarily work in a religious capacity for a nonprofit religious organization can apply for an R visa.

This visa allows for a stay of up to 30 months, with the option to extend for 30 additional months.


Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), TN visas allow citizens of Canada and Mexico to work in the US in prearranged business activities for US or foreign employers. Eligible professions are listed in the NAFTA treaty, including but not limited to accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers.

The TN visa lasts for up to three years, with the option to extend for up to three additional years.

Permanent (immigrant) work visas

For those seeking to work and permanently live in the United States, permanent (immigrant) work visas, commonly known as Green Cards, offer a path to achieving this goal. Unlike temporary non-immigrant visas, immigrant visas allow foreign nationals to become lawful permanent residents of the US—and even potentially become US citizens. 

Visa holders who intend to become permanent residents are typically granted an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), also known as a work permit. EADs are valid for different lengths of time depending on each worker’s circumstances. If you’re waiting for an adjustment of status, for example, you’ll receive a temporary EAD so you can work to support yourself until your Green Card arrives.

Immigrant work visas are available through various preference categories, each tailored to specific qualifications and circumstances. Below, let’s look at the main categories of employment-based permanent visas.

First preference EB-1

The EB-1 category is reserved for individuals with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics through sustained national or international acclaim. This category also includes outstanding professors and researchers recognized internationally for their academic achievements, as well as certain multinational managers and executives.

Second preference EB-2

The EB-2 visa category applies to professionals holding an advanced degree (beyond a baccalaureate degree) or a baccalaureate degree plus at least five years of progressive experience in their profession. It’s also available to workers with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business who can prove their activities will benefit the US national interest.

Third preference EB-3

The EB-3 category includes skilled workers with at least two years of job experience or training, professionals with a baccalaureate degree, and other workers for unskilled labor that isn’t temporary or seasonal. Although this category covers a broad range of employment types, it requires a labor certification and a permanent, full-time job offer.

Fourth preference EB-4

The EB-4 category is for "special immigrants," which includes a diverse group such as certain religious workers, employees of US foreign service posts, retired employees of international organizations, and foreign minors who are wards of courts in the United States.

Fifth preference EB-5

The EB-5 visa is designed for investors willing to invest a significant amount of capital in a new commercial enterprise in the US that will create or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs for qualifying US workers. This program aims to stimulate the US economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors.

Student and exchange visas

The US offers robust opportunities for international students and cultural exchange visitors to study together and share knowledge. Student and exchange visas are designed for non-US citizens who want to pursue academic studies or participate in exchange programs in the US. 

These visas are categorized into F, M, and J visas, each serving different educational and cultural exchange purposes. Understanding the distinctions between these visa types is crucial for prospective applicants to ensure they apply for the visa most suited to their academic and cultural exchange goals.

F visas

  • F-1 visas: The F-1 visa is for individuals planning to engage in academic studies at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, high school, elementary school, or other academic institution, including a language training program. F-1 students must maintain a full course of study, and they may be eligible to work under certain conditions, including on-campus employment, practical training, and optional practical training (OPT) related to their area of study.
    • This visa lasts for up to five years.
  • F-2 visas: Dependents (spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21) of F-1 visa holders can apply for an F-2 visa. F-2 visa holders aren’t permitted to work in the US but may engage in part- or full-time study at an academic institution.
    • This visa lasts for up to five years.

M visas

  • M-1 visas: International students who wish to pursue non-academic or vocational study or training at a US institution may be eligible for an M-1 visa. This includes technical and vocational programs. Unlike F-1 visa holders, M-1 students are usually permitted to work only after completing their studies for practical training related to their field of study.
    • This visa lasts for one year, with the option to extend for up to six months for practical training.
  • M-2 visas: This visa is for the dependents of M-1 visa holders. Like F-2 visa holders, they can’t work in the US but are allowed to study.
    • This visa lasts for one year, with the option to extend for up to six months.

J visas

  • J-1 visas: The J-1 visa is for individuals approved to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs. This includes students at all academic levels, trainees obtaining on-the-job training, teachers, research scholars, and people participating in cultural exchange programs. The J-1 visa promotes the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences.
    • This visa lasts for one to five years, depending on your program.
  • J-2 visas: Spouses or dependent children of J-1 visa holders can apply for a J-2 visa. J-2 visa holders may apply for work authorization in the United States, provided the income isn’t needed to support the J-1 visa holder.
    • This visa lasts for one to five years.

Temporary business visas

In the US, even if you enter the country on a business trip, you need a work visa in order to legally conduct any business activities. Unlike work visas, temporary business visas don’t permit holders to be employed in the US or receive payment from a US source, but they give workers a way to engage in business activities in the United States without entering the American labor market.

B-1 visas

The B-1 visa is the most common visa for business visitors. It allows individuals to engage in various business activities, including consulting with business associates, attending professional, scientific, educational, or business conventions/conferences, settling an estate, or negotiating contracts. The B-1 visa doesn’t allow for actual employment in the US or long-term residency. Applicants must demonstrate the temporary nature of their visit and their intent to return to their home country upon completing their business.

This visa lasts for up to 10 years, but visa holders can only stay in the US for short durations (usually six months at a time), as granted by US Customs and Border Protection when they arrive.

GB visas

GB Temporary Visitor to Guam visas cover the US territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Visa holders must have a return ticket and can’t stay for more than 45 days, as that is the length of stay available on a GB visa.

WB Temporary Business Visitor under Visa Waiver Program

This visa allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa, using a WB (Waiver for Business) status. Eligible travelers under the VWP must obtain authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before their trip. Activities permitted under the WB status are similar to those allowed for B-1 visa holders, including attending business meetings or conferences, negotiating contracts, and other business activities not involving employment in the US.

Are you eligible for a US work visa?

Determining your eligibility for a US work visa is the first step for anyone looking to work in the USA. But the eligibility criteria and visa application process can be daunting, especially since the process can vary significantly depending on which visa category you pursue.

Despite how challenging it can be to navigate US immigration law, the opportunity to work and potentially reside in the US is a rewarding experience for many. Remember, thorough research, preparation, and compliance with the application requirements are key to navigating the US work visa application process successfully.

Thinking of applying for a work visa somewhere else? The UK is another popular destination with plenty of work opportunities and visa options, including the High Potential Individual (HPI) Visa.

Disclaimer: Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide or be relied on for tax, accounting, or legal advice. You should consult your own tax, accounting, and legal advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: April 17, 2024

The Author

Christina Marfice

Christina is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in Chicago. Having lived and worked in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, she’s bringing her expertise on hiring in Latin America to Rippling.