Teachers and researchers work visa
Immigrating to the United States as a foreign teacher or researcher is not as difficult as it first may appear given the many immigration options available. There are four temporary work visas available to foreign teachers (the H, J, Q and O Non-Immigrant visas). There are also three ways foreign teachers can obtain their green cards (self petition based on extraordinary ability, as an outstanding researcher and through the Labor Certification process).
Generally, foreign teachers obtain temporary work visas before obtaining their green card because it is faster to obtain a temporary visa than a green card. The H, J, Q and O Non-Immigrant Visas all have very different requirements except for one – the foreign teacher must have a school, museum, institution or other similar type employer sponsor him or her for the work visa.
The most common temporary work visa is the H1-b temporary work visa, the professional working visa. In order to qualify for the H1-b visa, the foreign teacher must be a graduate of a four-year University and will be employed in a job related to the foreign teacher’s field of study. For example, a foreign teacher with a four year degree in education is eligible for a professional H1-b work visa as well as a foreign teacher with a four year degree in Computer Science provided the foreign teacher with the computer related degree is going to specialize in teaching computer science.
For those foreign teachers who have less than a four year university education, the INS will allow the foreign teacher to qualify for a H1-b visa by substituting three years of progressive work experience for every year of college the foreign teacher is missing from that of a four year degree. For example, if the foreign teacher graduated from a two-year university program, but has six years progressive work experience, than the foreign teacher can still qualify for an H1-b visa.
The H1-b visa is generally valid for three years and can be renewed for an additional three years giving the foreign teacher a total of 6 years of temporary employment in the United States. During the temporary six years of employment, the sponsoring school or institution can sponsor the foreign teacher for a green card, which is discussed below.
Non-Immigrant temporary J visas are available to qualified Professors or research scholars who are entering the United States to lecture, observe, consult, demonstrate special skills and/or to participate in seminars, workshops, conferences, professional meetings, study tours, etc… for a period of up to six months. Extensions are not permitted. Non-Immigrant temporary J visas are also available for up to three years for foreign primary and secondary school foreign teachers as well as foreign professors who will be teaching and/or lecturing at post secondary accredited institutions, museums, or libraries.
To obtain a J visa, the school or sponsoring institution that will be employing the foreign teacher must be approved by the Department of State as a J-1 program sponsor. Some schools and institutions prefer obtaining J status for their foreign teachers as there is no onerous requirements to keep payroll records or prove to the Department of Labor that the foreign teacher is being paid the prevailing wage of similarly employed U.S. teachers in the area of employment like the requirements associated with the Non-Immigrant H visa.
Unfortunately, unlike the H visa, while on a J visa, the foreign teacher or professor is considered a visitor and cannot apply for a permanent green card or be a candidate for a tenure track position. In addition, some J visas are issued with a two year home residence requirement attached to it, so that the foreign teacher can not change his or her status to that of an H visa or get a green card without first returning to his or her home county for a two year period. There are waivers of the two-year home residence requirement but they are difficult to obtain.
Non-immigrant Q visas are available to foreign teachers who have less than a four year college education, and who do not qualify for a H visa based on a combination of education and work experience. Assistant foreign teachers may also qualify for a Q visa. The essential ingredient in the Q visa is that the sponsoring school, museum, or institution requires the services of the foreign teacher to expose the students or pupils to a non-American culture as part of a structured program. Assistant foreign teachers, language teachers, history teachers, Art teachers, Music teachers, and Social Studies teachers may all qualify for a Q visa provided the sponsoring institution runs a program that contains a cultural component that is essential to the foreign teachers visit. Q visas are available for up to 15-month periods and cannot be extended. Just like the J visa, the foreign teacher or professor is considered a visitor and cannot apply for a permanent green card or be a candidate for a tenure track position. Unlike the J and H visa, spouses and children of the foreign teacher are unable to join the primary teacher applicant in the United States as an accompanying family member.
Non-Immigrant O visas are the "extraordinary ability visas" that are available to foreign teachers and others in the field of education that have demonstrated sustained national or international acclaim. For this category, extraordinary ability refers to foreign teachers or educators that have risen to "a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who … (are) in the very top of the field of endeavor." Non-Immigrant O visas are usually approved for one-year increments and can be renewed indefinitely. Further if the foreign teacher or professor can qualify for an O visa, than he or she should be able to qualify to self petition himself or herself for a green card as an outstanding educator as the standards of the O visa and the self petitioning green card as an extraordinary ability educator are virtually identical.