How to Work in the U.S. as a Nigerian – Nigerian to USA

If you’re a Nigerian citizen looking to work in the United States of America (USA), then this post is for you.

If you’re a Nigerian looking to work in America, you’ll need a permit to work, also known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) – which lets you work in the US.

In this post, we’ll go through the different ways by which you can get that employment authorization card (EAD)by providing answers to your frequently asked questions.

Notes

A few notes before we get started:

  • This post primarily focuses on Nigerians living in Nigeria. If you’re already in the US (legally) on a nonimmigrant visa (for example, the F1 student visa or B1 business visa), you’ll only need to change your visa status or adjust your visa status to a visa category that’ll allow you to get the employment authorization and start working.
  • If you’re a Nigerian citizen living in Nigeria, and you want to work in the US (or even visit for tourism or business reasons for 3 months or less)…

… you MUST apply for a visa and be granted that visa for you to be allowed in.

That’s because Nigeria is not one of the countries on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) list maintained by the US Department of State.

  • Although there are different legal routes to work in the US, they generally follow the same 4-step process:
    1. you decide on the type of work visa that’d work for you (based on your specific situation)
    2. you prepare your application and petition the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – the US agency in charge of immigration matters
    3. if approved, you can then apply for a visa at the US Embassy locations in Nigeria, so you can be admitted into the US
    4. if your visa’s approved, you then fly to the US, and present yourself at the US Port of Entry (your arrival US airport) where you’ll need to be confirmed to enter the US and start working.
  • Of all the four steps listed above, the first and second steps are the toughest to overcome – finding the best type of work visa that works for you, and getting your petition approved by the USCIS

With that, let’s get started.

1. What’s the difference between the terms “US nonimmigrant” and “US immigrant”?

  • Nonimmigrant status – means you’re in the US on a short-term or temporary basis, for example: to visit as a tourist, for business, temporary work, or to study.
  • Immigrant status – means you’re living permanently in the US.

2. I’m seeing a lot of unfamiliar terms like LPR, green card holder, CR, or alien. What do all of these mean?

According to US immigration:

  • As a Nigerian citizen living in Nigeria, you’re an alien
  • If you’d like to travel to the US and stay on a short-term basis, you’d be applying to be a nonimmigrant
  • If you’re applying to live and work permanently in the US, then you’re trying to become an immigrant
  • If your application for an immigrant visa is successful, for most visa applications, you’ll become a conditional permanent resident (CR), which means you’ll be holding the Green Card for 2 years
  • Once the 2-year completes and you’ve abided by all the rules, you’d apply to remove the conditions on your status as CR, so you can become a ‘full’ Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) or a green-card holder without the conditions
  • After five years of being a green-card holder (2 years for CR and 3 years for ‘full’ LPR), you can then apply to become a US citizen

3. So what are the different types of US visa that I qualify for as a Nigerian living in Nigeria?

Basically, there are two categories of visas that you can qualify for as a Nigerian: Non Immigrant Visas (NIV) and Immigrant Visas.

Let’s talk first about Non Immigrant Visas (NIV).

Generally, there are 44 visa types (based on reasons for travel) under the NIV category (see table below).

Of those 44 visa types, there are 12 that I’ve seen that are most common for Nigerians traveling to the US on a nonimmigrant status (see table below, in italics).

The 12 common visa types for Nigerians, that I know of, are:

1. B-1 (Business visitors)

For example: traveling to meet your US business partners, attend a business, academic, or professional conference, or work on contract and negotiation deals.

2. B-1 (Domestic employees or nannies – must be accompanying a foreign national employer)

Those helping B-1 in Number 1 above to accomplish his/her goal.

3. B-2 (Tourism, vacation, pleasure visitors)

For example, traveling for the summer, going on a getaway to nice vacation spots in the US.

4. B-2 (Visitors for medical treatment)

Going to the US for special surgeries or emergencies, etc.

5. D (Diplomats and foreign government officials)

Politicians, political leaders, and top heads in government in Nigeria.

6. F-1 (Students – academic and language students)

Going to the US to study either as an undergraduate (BSc) or postgraduate (MS, PhD, MBA, etc.).

7. F-2 (Student dependents – dependent of an F-1 holder)

Closest family members – spouse and kids – of the F-1 student in No. 6 above.

8. H-1C (Nurses traveling to areas short of health care professionals)

Nurses and midwives needed in several US hospitals.

9. I (Information media representative – media, journalists)

Reporters and journalists from media houses like The Punch, Guardian, etc.

10. K-1 (Fiancé(e))

For the fiancé(e) of a US citizen to travel to the US and marry his or her US citizen spouse within 90 days of arrival.

11. P (Athletes, artists, entertainers)

For Nigerian musicians, entertainers, comedians, etc.

12. R (Religious workers)

To go on a short visit for religious purposes.

S/NVisa TypeReason for Travel
1A1-2, G1-4, and NATO1-6Visa renewals in the U.S. – A, G, and NATO
2A-2Foreign military personnel stationed in the U.S.
3B-1Athletes, amateur and professional (competing for prize money only)
4B-1Business visitors
5B-1Domestic employees or nannies (must be accompanying a foreign national employer)
6B-2Tourism, vacation, pleasure visitors
7B-2Visitors for medical treatment
8BCCBorder Crossing Card: Mexico
9CTransiting the United States
10DCrew members (serving aboard a sea vessel or aircraft in the U.S.)
11DDiplomats and foreign government officials
12E-1Treaty traders
13E-2Treaty investors
14E-3Australian worker – professional specialty
15F-1Students – academic and language students
16F-2Student dependents – dependent of an F-1 holder
17G1-G5Employees of a designated international organization
18H-1BPhysicians or doctors
19H-1BSpecialty occupations in fields requiring highly specialized knowledge
20H-1B1Free Trade Agreement (FTA) professionals: Chile
21H-1B1Free Trade Agreement (FTA) professionals: Singapore
22H-1CNurses traveling to areas short of health care professionals
23H-2ATemporary workers – seasonal agricultural
24H-2BTemporary workers – nonagricultural
25H-3Training in a program not primarily for employment
26IInformation media representative (media, journalists)
27JExchange visitors
28JExchange visitors – international cultural
29J-1Exchange visitors – au pairs
30J-1Professors, scholars, teachers
31J-1Physicians or doctors
32J-2Exchange visitors – children (under age 21) or spouse of a J-1 holder
33K-1Fiancé(e)
34LIntra-company transferees
35M-1Students – vocational
36M-2Student dependents – dependent of an M-1 holder
37NATOEmployees of NATO
38NATO 1-6Foreign military personnel stationed in the U.S.
39O-1Foreign nationals with extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business or athletics
40PAthletes, artists, entertainers
41QExchange visitors – international cultural
42RReligious workers
43T-1Victims of human trafficking
44TN/TDNAFTA professional workers: Mexico, Canada

So if you’d like to work in the US on a short-term basis, then start with those 12 nonimmigrant visa types and see the one that best fits your background.

And for a few of those 12 types, if you’ve been staying in the US legally on your nonimmigrant visa…

… you can eventually adjust or change your status to an immigrant visa status, which then lets you stay and work permanently in the US.

But the second option you can use to work in the US is through immigrant visas.

So let’s now talk about immigrant visas.

Immigrant visas let you live and work permanently in the US, so those are very scarce and harder to get.

Also, all immigrant visas are only processed at the US Embassy location in Lagos.

In other words, the US Embassy in Nigeria can’t process your immigrant visa in Abuja, only in Lagos.

There are currently four broad categories of immigrant visas available to Nigerians. They are:

  1. Family-based
  2. Diversity visa (or visa lottery)
  3. Employment
  4. Returning Resident visa

For any of these four categories, a US citizen, permanent resident (green-card holder), or future US employer would generally need to file your application for your immigrant visa…

… unlike nonimmigrant visas whereby you can file for yourself.

PLEASE NOTE: Nigerians have been banned from getting immigrant visas to the US, effective February 21, 2020.

The only exception is for Special Immigrants who have provided assistance to the U.S. Government.

But before the ban came into place, there have generally been four ways to immigrate to the US from Nigeria (the first two used to be the most common ways Nigerians immigrate from Nigeria):

1. Family-based immigrant visa

If you, as a Nigerian citizen, have an immediate relative who is a US citizen or green-card holder, and is 21 years or older, they can sponsor you for a family-based immigrant visa (IV).

There are two types of family-based IVs:

  • Immediate relative: That is, if the US citizen is your spouse, parent, or child. US does not limit the amount of IVs in this category.
  • Family preference: That is, if you have some distant family relationship with the US citizen or the green-card holder (Legal Permanent Resident); for example, unmarried son or daughter. There’s a limit to the number of IVs in this category.

Overall, a US citizen has more options to sponsor his/her close family than a green-card holder does.

For example, a US citizen can sponsor his/her:

  • Spouse
  • Son or daughter
  • Parent
  • Brother or sister

Whereas a green-card holder can sponsor his/her:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried son or daughter

2. Diversity visa (or visa lottery)

The US Immigration Act of 1990 provides 55,000 immigrant visas through a visa lottery every year for countries with lesser representation to come to the US.

The goal of the lottery is to diversify the immigrant population in the US, so that US will choose more people from countries with low rates of immigration to the US in the previous five years.

HOWEVER, since 2015, Nigerians have been banned from the visa lottery.

If you’re a Nigerian born to Nigerian parents, then you are not eligible for the visa lottery.

Only people that were born outside of Nigeria or have parents that were born outside of Nigeria are eligible for the Diversity Visa.

3. Employment immigrant visa

Every year, about 140,000 immigrant visas are made available in this category to bring in foreign citizens from all over the world into the US, primarily based on their job skills.

Depending on your skills, education, and/or work experience, you could qualify for the employment IV under one of these five categories:

  • First preference EB-1: If you’re highly exceptional in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics; a world-class professor or researcher; or a top-tier multinational executive or manager
  • Second preference EB-2: If you have an advanced degree (MS, PhD…) and you have a superb ability in the arts, sciences, or business
  • Third preference EB-3: If you’re a skilled worker suitable for specific job opportunities in the US
  • Fourth preference EB-4: For religious workers and employees of US government and agencies based abroad
  • Fifth preference EB-5: If you’re a Nigerian investor who’s ready to invest $1.8 million, or $900,000 (for specific employment areas in the US), in a business in the US that will employ at least 10 full-time US workers

4. Returning Resident visa

The returning resident visa is for permanent residents who have stayed outside of the US for more than a year.

If you’re a lawful permanent resident (LPR or green-card holder) or conditional resident (CR), and you’ve remained outside of the US for more than 1 year, then you’ll need to re-apply for a new immigrant visa in order to enter the US and continue your permanent residence.

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