Work Visas for Researchers and Scientists

Work Visa Options for Scientists, Professors, and Researchers

Navigating the intricate pathways of work visa applications can be a daunting process, especially for researchers and scientists striving to make valuable contributions to global knowledge. We understand the importance of your work and the urgency of overcoming bureaucratic hurdles. This guide aims to simplify the process and present a clear outline of work visa options available to scientists, professors, and researchers. With this information at your fingertips, we hope to expedite your journey towards continuing your invaluable research on international platforms.

female scientist in the united states on a research visa (nonimmigrant status) looking through a microscope

Your Immigration Goals are Our Top Priority

Our office has an excellent team that focuses on applications for Researchers and Scientists to be able to enter the U.S. and work in their field.

Most Researchers and Scientists obtain nonimmigrant work permits through the H-1B or O-1 visa programs. The J-1 visa is also an option for scholars, professors, and researchers participating in exchange programs. The TN visa for Mexican or Canadian citizens is another less common option, but still allows those living in either country to enter the US for business purposes.

Regarding US permanent residency, we typically encourage filing EB-1A (Extraordinary Ability), EB-1B (Outstanding Researchers and Professors), and EB-2 (National Interest Waiver) cases for very accomplished Researchers and Scientists. All of these categories carry with them a high standard, one that we vet carefully to ensure that the applicant has a good case.

H-1B Visas

H-1B Visas for Scientists, Professors, and Researchers 

The H-1B visa is a popular option for foreign professionals seeking to work in the U.S. in specialized fields. With a maximum duration of 6 years, this visa is typically granted for an initial period of 3 years, with an option to extend. 

For scientists, professors, and researchers, the H-1B visa offers the opportunity to engage in research projects, teach at U.S. universities, or work for private companies that contribute to scientific advancements. The applicant must hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in the relevant field, such as Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Aerophysics, Computer Science, or any other relevant field of study. Additionally, the professor or researcher must have a job offer from a U.S. employer who is willing to sponsor the H-1B visa. 

The H-1B visa is subject to annual caps imposed by the U.S. government, with a standard limit of 65,000 visas per year, plus an additional 20,000 visas for those with a master’s degree or higher from a U.S. institution. However, it’s important to note that universities and non-profit research institutions are exempt from this cap, making the H-1B a particularly viable option for scientists, professors, and researchers. 

O-1 Visas

O-1 Visas for Extraordinary Abilities in Science, Education, and Research 

The O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the fields of science, education, business, and athletics or who have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and have been recognized nationally or internationally. There are two types of O-1 visas: O-1A and O-1B. For researchers, professors, and scientists, the O-1A visa is particularly relevant. 

An O-1A visa is generally granted to individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics. To qualify, applicants must provide evidence of receiving a major, internationally recognized award akin to a Nobel Prize or evidence of at least three of the following: receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field; membership in associations in the field that require outstanding achievements; published material about the individual in professional or major trade publications or other major media; evidence of the individual’s participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or an allied field; original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance; authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals, or other major media; a high salary or other significantly high remuneration in relation to others in the field; or employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation.

The O-1 visa has no annual cap like the H-1B and is often a suitable option for those unable to secure an H-1B visa. The O-1 visa can be granted for up to three years and extended in one-year increments. 

young researcher on a EB-1a visa category with legal permanent resident status presenting a powerpoint

J-1 Visas

J-1 Visas for Professors, Research Scholars, and Teachers

The J-1 visa is designed for foreign national exchange visitors participating in designated exchange programs in the U.S. with a specific purpose. This broad category includes but is not limited to, professors, research scholars, and teachers who come to the U.S. to engage in research, teaching, instructing, and/or lecturing.

The J-1 program fosters the exchange of ideas between Americans and foreign nationals and promotes mutual understanding by enabling participants to return to their home countries and share their experiences in the U.S. To be eligible for the J-1 visa, applicants must be able to demonstrate their intention to participate in an approved program for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, or receiving training.

For example, those who intend to be a part of a research scholar program or participate at corporate research facilities need to prove their intent to participate in the program through a J-1 visa by providing a detailed research or training plan, a letter of support from their home institution, and evidence of sufficient financial resources to support themselves during their stay in the U.S.

EB-1A Extraordinary Ability 

This is an employment-based first preference classification for people with (1) extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim and whose achievements have been recognized in the field through extensive documentation; (2) who seeks entry to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability; and (3) whose entry will substantially benefit the United States.

Your achievements must be recognized in your field through extensive documentation. No offer of employment is required. You must meet 3 out of the ten listed criteria below to prove extraordinary ability in your field:

  • Evidence of receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence
  • Evidence of your membership in associations in the field which demand outstanding achievement of their members
  • Evidence of published material about you in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • Evidence that you have been asked to judge the work of others, either individually or on a panel
  • Evidence of your original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance to the field
  • Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications or other major media
  • Evidence that your work has been displayed at artistic exhibitions or showcases
  • Evidence of your performance in a leading or critical role in distinguished organizations
  • Evidence that you command a high salary or other significantly high remuneration in relation to others in the field
  • Evidence of your commercial successes in the performing arts

This is a category where we really have to prove that you have risen to one of the top percentages in your field. It takes a lot of work and collaboration between the applicant and our office; thus, documenting your accomplishments in the field through objective sources is critical to presenting a good case to the USCIS.

EB-1B Outstanding Professors and Researchers

This is an employment-based first preference classification for Professors and Researchers, making immigrant visas available to foreign nationals (FN) who are internationally recognized as outstanding in their academic field. This category, unlike Extraordinary Ability, requires a petitioner to sponsor the FN for immigration. The FN will then need to work for the Petitioner upon ultimate approval of the permanent residency (“Green Card“) process.

The FN must be internationally recognized prior to the submission of the I-140 and have at least three years of teaching or research experience in the academic area. The FN must be seeking “entry” into the US to teach in a tenure or tenure track position within a university or institution of higher education, conduct research at a university or institution of higher education, or conduct research with a private employer that employs three full-time researchers within the same department or division that the FN is being offered a position and the department or division has received recognition for accomplishments in the field.

To first establish eligibility for the OP/R category, evidence of at least 2 of the six following criteria must be met:

  • Receipt of major prizes or awards for outstanding achievement
  • Membership in an association which requires outstanding achievement
  • Published material in professional publications written by others about FN’s work
  • Participation as a judge of the work of others.
  • Original scientific research
  • Authorship of scholarly books or articles in the field.

Attainment of at least 2 of the above criteria establishes eligibility for the classification; however, the Outstanding Professors and Researchers category is subject to a “final merits examination,” which decides if the evidence presented in totality indicates that the FN has been recognized internationally as outstanding in his/her academic field. The Final Merits stage has become an increasingly more difficult hurdle as USCIS often applies higher scrutiny of the evidence submitted in support of the criteria listed above, and an FN’s work should stand well apart from other researchers within the academic field.

EB- 2 National Interest Waiver

The employment-based second preference National Interest Waiver allows an applicant to completely skip the PERM (Labor Certification) process and to file for Permanent Residency without a sponsoring employer.

Professionals in certain fields – and with particular abilities and accomplishments – may qualify for an Employment-Based Two (EB-2) national interest waiver. They must be:

Immigrants who hold advanced degrees. These immigrants must have an advanced degree, such as a Masters degree or Doctorate in their field. Most scientists and researchers meet the advanced degree requirement.


Immigrants who have exceptional abilities. Immigrants who are particularly gifted in science, the arts, or business may qualify for an EB-2 National Interest Waiver based on their proven achievements.

In order to apply for a National Interest Waiver, you must show that you meet the criteria of possessing an advanced degree and having exceptional abilities. In addition, you must demonstrate that: 1] that the benefit of your proposed activity will be national in scope; 2] you seek employment in an area of “substantial intrinsic merit” to the U.S.; and 3] that the requirement of a Labor Certification will adversely affect the national interest.


Your work must benefit the U.S. as a nation and not just one area of the country. An example is an applicant who worked for the State Department of Transportation. It was not at all difficult to document that his achievements in developing structure materials for bridges surpassed those of the majority of his peers. Unfortunately, his work only impacted a certain region of the U.S. You must be ready to provide evidence that the results of your work are national in scope, such as cancer research which impacts people across the country. Our office has handled National Interest Waiver cases for a variety of individuals in various fields, but the fundamental question here is whether the work impacts the country as a whole.


Proving the merit of your specialty involves a thorough explanation of the work and a description of its application to real life. Your petition should include a thorough CV and letters of support from experts in the field. Some topics we’ve worked with include cancer research, research into alternative energy sources, and even a researcher who worked on the Space Elevator. These fields of study and development are fundamentally significant. Their very nature interests and benefits us all.


The application must also address the fact that the time, effort, and expense of a PERM application (or Labor Certification) would be of little worth. The PERM process is meant to determine whether there are qualified U.S. workers for the position and if there would be a negative impact on the U.S. workforce by the hiring of a foreign national. In the case of an approvable NIW case, it should be clear that the immigrant’s work is so highly specialized that their Permanent Residence in the U.S. would be of no detriment. Basically, that the immigrant’s background and accomplishments in the field are so significant that there is no negative impact on the U.S. workforce by foregoing the labor certification process.

A National Interest Waiver is approved for only the highest echelon of professionals in the sciences, arts, and business. Because its benefits are so great, the application must be prepared with the utmost care. Call us to discuss the details of your work, your achievements, and your desire to contribute to the United States.

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Your Trusted Immigration Lawyers

In conclusion, the intricacies of the immigration process can be daunting and complex. As experienced immigration attorneys, we are dedicated to guiding you through each step, ensuring the highest possibility of success in your pursuit of U.S. residency. We understand the significance of our role in your journey and are committed to providing you with comprehensive and personalized legal assistance. Don’t navigate these waters alone – contact us today online or call us at 919-833-0840 for a consultation to determine your eligibility for these visa categories.

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