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I'm Italian (sadly), and I'm planning to find a job in USA and move there. I'd love to do it before the end of September, and I'm trying to understand how visa and green card work and what are the involved timings.

I know that to live in the USA I need a green card. I've found, too, that it exists an H-1B visa that seems to allow me to move to USA and work there for a certain period of time. But there are cases where bureaucracy is not my territory, so this time I'm sure more or less about nothing.

Note: I know the concept of green card sponsors, but let's forget that for a moment.


Basically what I'm trying to understand is: suppose that I find a job in the USA. Can I move there and work with just the H-1B, and in the meantime request the green card? How difficult is to get the green card, by the way? Will the timings work?

  • P.S. I'm not sure if this is about travel or if it's better fit for Expat.se. Obviously I've no problem for this question being moved there, in case. – motoDrizzt May 19 '17 at 11:56
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    The premise of this question is flawed. A green card is not necessary for a foreigner to live in the US. Green cards are only for permanent residents. People with H-1B status do not have green cards: after a few years, they can get them, but they lose H-1B status at that point. Anyway, this question belongs on Expatriates. – phoog May 19 '17 at 12:51
  • There are several other visa types, depending on the situation, the employer, etc. It is a very complicated topic. – Aganju May 19 '17 at 16:15
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The usual route to the USA with a job is through the H-1B visa. An H-1B visa is through a lottery system. You must find a company willing to hire you. The company submits an application in the spring. If the application is approved, you will be able to start work in the October of the same year. There is a huge demand for H-1B visas such that the application process opens and closes usually within a few days and the applications that will move forward are chosen via a lottery. There are only so many H-1B visas allowed each year. You generally need an advanced degree or 5 years experience after a bachelor's degree.

A person who graduates from an American university with a Ph.D or master's gets an extra shot at an H-1B (but still a lottery).

Universities can hire people via an H-1B visa but these do not have a "cap"/are not in the lottery system and can occur any time during the year.

There are a few other visas that give right-to-work. An O visa is for someone with extraordinary skills or knowledge.

If you're working for a company with an office in the USA, you can try for an L visa (intracompany transfer).

Here is a link to the US Department of State on Temporary Worker Visas

Immigrant investor visas are possible but you need $500k to $1000k in capital to invest.

Yet another possibility that leads directly to permanent residency is the Diversity Visa AKA "Green card lottery". You apply in October, and find out the following May whether you've been chosen to apply. The odds are not good, like 1-2% and certain citizenships are excluded because of the high numbers of immigrants through other channels.

Diversity Visa instructions

  • There's also the diversity visa program, no advanced degree required. – phoog May 19 '17 at 19:09
  • Very true @phoog. I'll add that one shortly. (I had a relative try for one this year. Didn't get it.) – mkennedy May 19 '17 at 19:14
  • Can I have subtitles, please? :-D There are tons of job offers in California for my profession, as there is a huge shortage of qualified programmers (like in most of the world, by the way), and I'm pretty sure I can get one there quite easily. Does your answer mean that if -let's say Google- has the need for 10 new programmers, it will not be allowed to hire from outside the country, thus will be forced to potentially lose money and market? – motoDrizzt May 20 '17 at 15:32
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    That's correct. Google would have to write a justification on why you're the person for the job and apply for a visa. To protect Americans and perm residents, there are only so many new work visas allowed. It is possible but there are only a few places where it would be possible. Actually you should do some research and then ask that question. – mkennedy May 20 '17 at 16:12
  • The exclusions are according to place of birth, not citizenship. Italy is not currently on the exclusion list. – phoog May 22 '17 at 23:12
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Please note that both H1B and "Diversity Visa" are lotteries, there is no guarantee that you succeed. I read about a situation of a Silicon Valley startup founder, who applied for H1B visa (as student in Stanford U), failed, and was not able to work in his own startup, only remotely from Europe.

Are you willing to wait few years, hoping to win H1B visa? For company low success rate when applying for such visa it does not matter: if they know that current success rate is say 30%, they apply for 3 times as many positions as they have to fill (it just cost more). But for you, failure to win means one more year spent in limbo, waiting. Are you ready for that?

H1B application is quite expensive (company may need a lawyer to do it correctly), and success rate in GC Lottery is obviously rather low.

There is another way. You can apply for immigration to Canada, which has saner and more predictable immigration policy (based on skills, and as a programmer, you have interesting skills they like). Even for non-programmers, Canada has point-based system, so aspiring immigrant can estimate own chance before paying lawyers. If accepted, you can live and work in Canada. From there, you can decide if you are just fine in Canada (make sure you look into what a mess is healthcare in USA - for me that was the ugliest surprise here), or after becoming Canadian, you can apply for TN visas (NAFTA) to live and work in USA. This way is much slower, but final outcome is much more predictable.

Yet another way is to get a visa based on marriage (not sure if you are married now). If you have a friend in USA, you can get a fiancee visa, which allows you to enter USA and if you don't get married in few months, you return home.

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