U.S. Immigration Options for Financial, Accounting, & Tax Professionals


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The U.S. immigration system provides pathways to obtain temporary “nonimmigrant” visas and permanent “immigrant” visas aka “green cards” by reference to letters and numbers for each visa type associated with the section of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA). Certain visas are created by treaty with the applicant’s nationality(ies), whereas others are generally available to citizens of any country. Most business immigration options for professionals and investors require sponsorship by a U.S. company, which may be owned by the applicant in the case of an entrepreneur visa context. Various procedures for obtaining immigration status depend on the country(ies) of citizenship, current location and U.S. immigration status of the applicant, and the visa type, involving a combination of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) inside the U.S., U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at Ports of Entry.

Considering the above “lay of the land,” below are the options specific to CPAs, accountants, and finance and tax professionals.

 

Nonimmigrant Visa Options for Temporary Residence

Often times, international professionals and entrepreneurs begin their time in the U.S. in a nonimmigrant visa status as relatively easier and quicker to obtain where they qualify, and sometimes for various reasons people choose to remain and extend these visas for their duration of time in the U.S. without ever pursuing U.S. permanent residency or citizenship. These visas allow people to live and work in the United States only for the sponsoring U.S. company, but must be renewed generally in increments of 1-5 years, maintaining the approved activity and continuing to establish qualification with each extension of status petition or application.

Usually the temporary nonimmigrant visa options are greater for noncitizens who possess a Bachelor’s degree in a specific field (ex. accounting or tax) who will be working in an occupation which ordinarily requires a degree in that field. For example according to the databases relied upon by the U.S. immigration authorities, “Tax Preparers” and “Bookkeeping, Accounting, & Audit Clerks” are common occupations which generally do not require a Bachelor’s degree, whereas the occupations of “Personal Financial Advisors,” “Financial Managers,” “Financial & Investment Analysts,” “Accountants and Auditors,” “Treasurers and Controllers,” and “Investment Fund Managers” generally do require a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field.

Here are common U.S. immigration categories with hyperlinks to articles that provide more information about each visa type:

  • H-1B Specialty Occupation visa – The H-1B visa is the default professional visa option which does not require a treaty to exist with the workers’ home country. Any finance, accounting, or tax position which ordinarily requires a Bachelor’s degree as a minimum for entry into that occupation generally can qualify. Although the initial approval is valid for 3 years and renewable, there are only 85,000 available new H-1B visas each year, so USCIS conducts a lottery each March to determine who can obtain these visas for an October 1 start date at the earliest. Exceptions to this lottery are Universities, University affiliates, and nonprofit/governmental research institutions.
  • H-1B1 visa for Singaporean and Chilean professionals – Similar to the above in terms of the requirements, except the filing procedure is different, and an annual lottery would not be required, which makes this a relatively readily available option.
  • E-3 visa for Australian professionals – Nearly identical to the H-1B1 visa, with some minor differences.
  • Trade NAFTA (TN) visa for Canadian & Mexican professionals – Different from the above options, the ¬†USMCA / CUSMA / T-MEC (formerly NAFTA) provides a limited list of occupations which can qualify. Accountant and Management Consultant would be the two apparent occupations worth reviewing for financial, accounting, and tax professionals. This category does not require a lottery either, so it’s relatively readily available, especially for Canadian professionals who can present their application at the Port of Entry to CBP. Licensure is a post-entry requirement for immigration purposes, meaning applicants can obtain a TN visa without having to first obtain licensure where required (ex. CPA).
  • E-2 Treaty Investor (i.e. entrepreneur) visa – For citizens of countries with an E-2 visa treaty, this visa category may present a flexible option for entrepreneurial accountants and tax professionals who wish to pursue various ventures within the scope of an approved business plan. This visa can be used to sponsor certain owners as well as supervisors and essential skills employees important for the operation of the business.
  • L-1 Intracompany Transferee visa, which can be used for U.S. expansions of existing international companies to transfer Managers, Executives, and Specialized (Proprietary Company) Knowledge employees which may include accounting and tax professionals. This visa can be used to sponsor certain owners who would fall within one of these three categories of workers.

 

Immigrant Visas for Permanent Residency (i.e. Green Cards)

Immigrant visa categories often take years to develop qualifications and obtain this immigration status, and no immigration status is conferred until the end of this process, which results in an immigrant visa and green permanent resident card, usually valid for 10 years and renewable indefinitely.

Here are immigrant visa preference categories and subclassifications which would be common for employment in finance, accounting, and taxation positions:

  • PERM Labor Certification followed by an Immigrant Petition under the EB-2 (Advanced Degree Professionals) or EB-3 Immigrant Visa Categories
  • EB-1C for Multinational Managers and Executives who transferred from managerial employment with an affiliate abroad to a U.S. company where they are serving as a Manager or Executive. Although not written in law, strong cases involve management of multiple levels of workers, including degreed professionals, totaling 10+ employees in their role before coming to the U.S. and currently in the U.S.
  • EB-5 Immigrant Investors

 

U.S. Citizenship

After five (5) years of permanent residency, spending the majority of this period in the United States, noncitizens who are lawful permanent residents can apply to naturalize as a U.S. citizen. The time spent in nonimmigrant status does not count towards this five years, but applicants who are married to a U.S. citizen can apply earlier, after 3 years instead of 5 years.

 

The above is informational and not intended to be legal advice. Please consult with an experienced business immigration attorney on your specific facts and circumstances before proceeding with any U.S. immigration strategy.