Visa Overview For International Architecture Job Applicants

So how can someone living abroad can get an architecture job in the U.S.? Often the biggest hurdle for international applicants is the work visa. 

Obviously "abroad" is a relative term but since I am currently in the United States I will be referring to citizens outside of the U.S. wanting to work here. 

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This is one of the most common email topics I receive. Therefore, I felt it would be appropriate to give a brief overview on the visa process for international architecture job applications. 

Disclaimer: I am not an immigration expert and everyone's situation is different, so make sure you do your research and consult with the proper professionals. There is a lot of time and money at stake so be sure everything is done properly. 

Where Should You Apply?

Generally speaking, you will have more success applying to large international firms as they are more likely to have the experience and resources to deal with visa processing. 

You should try to target firms with around 50 or more staff, as any smaller and they will not likely go through the hassle of a visa applicant. However, this is a general rule and there are certainly exceptions.

The Fine Print

The most common way to get an architecture job in the U.S. is through the H-1B Visa. 

H-1B description from the USCIS website:

You may be eligible for an H-1B visa if you are planning to work for the business you start in the United States in an occupation that normally requires a bachelor’s degree or higher in a related field of study (e.g., engineers, scientists or mathematicians), and you have at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a field related to the position.

Initial period of stay in the United States: Up to 3 years. Extensions possible in up to 3 year increments. Maximum period of stay generally 6 years (extensions beyond 6 years may be possible).

You will need a employer in the U.S. to sponsor you, here is the description from the USCIS website:

In general, a valid employer-employee relationship is determined by whether the U.S. employer may hire, pay, fire, supervise or otherwise control the work of the H-1B worker.

In some cases, the sole or majority owner of the petitioning company or organization may be able to establish a valid employer-employee relationship, if the facts show that the petitioning entity has the right to control the beneficiary’s employment.


1) The prospective employee must be paid at least the actual or prevailing wage regarding the occupation, whichever is higher. Whether prevailing wage is paid is certified by the Secretary of Labor. Prior to filing an H-1B application with USCIS (i.e., form I-129), it is required to file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) and have it approved.

It is possible to look up salaries in the Foreign Labor Certification Data Center: The certified LCA must be attached to the subsequent H-1B filing with USCIS. 

2) Existence of an employer-employee relationship with the petitioning U.S. employer. 

3) The position must qualify as a specialty occupation which means that:

  • A bachelor’s degree or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for the particular position;
  • The degree requirement is common for this position in the industry, or the job is so complex or unique that it can only be performed by someone with at least a bachelor's degree in a field related to the position;
  • The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or
  • The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree.

Example: A position as an architect usually requires at least a bachelor's degree. 

3) The position must be in a specialty occupation related to the field of study.

Example: The candidate has a degree in interior design, but is hired as an architect instead. USCIS might challenge that the position requires a degree in architecture. 


The costs for an H-1B visa are available at the website of USCIS at H and L Filing Fees for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker

Fee summary as of March 2016:

Employers with 1-25 employees: 
$325 (base filing fee associated with form I-129);
$750 for employers with 1 to 25 full-time equivalent employees, unless exempt; and
$500 Fraud Prevention and Detection fee.

Employers with more than 25 employees: 
$325 (base filing fee associated with form I-129);
 $1500 for employers with more than 25 full-time equivalent employees, unless exempt; and
$500 Fraud Prevention and Detection fee.
$ 2,325

For more information visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

The fees above are those typically covered by the employer. However it is recommended you use an immigration attorney to help prepare and file the application documents and forms. Attorney fees vary depending on the attorney, but can range from $1,000 to $2,000. You may also incur additional fees depending on your situation. 

I hope this brief visa overview has been helpful to anyone who is considering getting an architecture job in the United States.

If you enjoyed the article and would like to learn more of the job application process, check out The Complete Package. This includes a free sample Two Page Portfolio to get you started. Thanks!

See also my posts on:

3 Tips to Get An Architecture Job With No Experience

Where To Apply For Architecture Jobs Online

The Two Page Architecture Portfolio

Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

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