A foreign worker may obtain a visa to work in the United States through employer sponsorship through a process called "labor certification." However, you cannot apply for a visa to work in the United States until you find an employer willing to sponsor you and act as a petitioner in the application process. Obtaining a work visa is challenging but is possible if you have the right skill set.
Companies often hire foreign workers but must follow established protocols. A company must petition on behalf of a foreign worker for him to obtain a visa. The employer becomes a sponsor for the worker, which gives him the right to work within the U.S. for a specific period of time until his work visa expires. He must return to his home country once his visa expires or find another employer willing to hire him. The U.S. Department of Labor issues work visas across certain categories. For instance, an H-1B visa requires workers in specialty occupations with at least a bachelor's degree. In contrast, nonimmigrant visas such as tourist and student visas permit you to stay in the U.S. for only a short duration.
Prevailing Wage Determination
In an effort to streamline the application process, the Department of Labor changed the procedures for obtaining labor certification. To begin the process, an employer must obtain a prevailing wage determination from the DOL using an online system called iCert. The PWD determines the wage rate based on various job descriptions. An employer must pay 100 percent or more of the PWD.
Even though a company may want to hire a foreign worker, according to labor rules, it must make a good-faith effort to fill the position with a U.S. worker after obtaining the PWD. The company must advertise and recruit for the position in the U.S. first. If recruitment efforts fail to land a U.S. worker, the company can submit a PERM labor application to the DOL. The decision time frame is supposed to be 45 to 60 days but may take up to one year.
Only after the labor certification approval can the employer and foreign worker proceed to the visa petition process. Upon approval of the petition, the foreign worker must apply for a green card through an adjustment process, if he is already legally in the U.S., or consular process for an immigrant coming from overseas.
In some cases, an immigrant worker need not apply for labor certification before applying for a green card. Workers classified as "employment first preference," such as those with extraordinary talents or skills in the arts, sciences, business and educational fields, are exempt from the labor certification process.