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What do foreign and immigrant workers need to know?

Learn about common issues that foreign workers face.
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Several types of work visas allow immigrants to work in the United States. If you are an immigrant worker who does not have a work visa, or if your visa does not permit you to work, you may face serious consequences for working without permission.

What are the different types of work visas?

As a noncitizen, you may work in the United States if you have either a temporary work visa or a permanent work visa. Temporary non-immigrant visas usually have time restrictions. For instance, H1-B visas, which are reserved for skilled workers, are the most common type of temporary visa. They are usually approved for a period of only three years, with a maximum renewal period of three more years. On the other hand, permanent work visas do not have the same time restrictions as temporary visas because they provide a path to legal permanent residence.

Am I authorized to work in the United States if I am a foreign student?

You may also work in the United States if you are a foreign student with an F-1 or M-1 visa, or an exchange visitor with a J-1 visa.

  • Students with F-1 visas, are not allowed to work off-campus, at least not for the first year of your studies, with some exceptions.

  • Vocational students with M-1 visas may not work until they are finished with their studies.

  • Exchange students with J-1 visas, may work while enrolled in specified programs.

Student visas are considered temporary, so you may only work for as long as your student visa is approved. However, depending on the type of visa, you may be able to apply for permanent residence once your student visa has expired. As a permanent resident, you would be authorized to work in the United States so long as your green card is valid.

What happens if I work without permission?

In addition to losing your job, you may face Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

ICE is an immigration enforcement agency that has the ability to detain you if its agents find that you are working in the United States without authorization. Detention by ICE could lead to deportation or criminal charges, depending on your immigration status.

What if some types of work are not permitted under my visa?

If you have a visa that allows you to work, your visa may have certain restrictions on the type of work you can do, or the length of time you are allowed to work. For example, F-1 student visa requires a student's employment to be related to their field of study. If your work visa has restrictions, you must follow them or risk losing your visa.

For more information about obtaining a work visa or understanding the restrictions on your work visa, contact an attorney who specializes in immigration and employment matters.

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