U.S. Immigration Options for Biologists


Many U.S. immigration options exist for qualified international professionals in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) occupations, including in biology. Below we explore the temporary nonimmigrant visa categories and the permanent immigrant visa categories for permanent residency green cards.


Temporary Nonimmigrant Visas for Biology

In reviewing potential options, a U.S. immigration attorney will generally start with the H-1B Specialty Occupation visa as the most common pathway for degreed professionals working in occupations that generally require a Bachelor’s degree or higher in a specific field.

Here are some examples of occupations which may qualify for an H-1B visa:

  1. Biologists – Often focused on research and understanding biological phenomena.
  2. Biochemists and Biophysicists – Professionals in this field study the chemical and physical principles of living things and biological processes.
  3. Biological Science Teachers, Postsecondary – These educators teach courses in biological sciences at the college level and engage in significant amounts of research.
  4. Biostatisticians – This role involves applying statistics to biological fields. Biostatisticians are crucial in designing biological experiments and analyzing data from medical research.
  5. Bioengineers and Biomedical Engineers – Engineers in this field apply engineering principles to problems in biology and medicine, often developing equipment, devices, computer systems, and software used in healthcare.
  6. Bioinformatics Scientists – They develop software applications or algorithms to analyze biological data, particularly in genetics and genomics.
  7. Biological Technicians – These technicians support biological and medical scientists by preparing experiments and analyzing the results.

Generally this pathway requires an annual lottery due to the limitations of new H-1B visas which can be issued annually, which is why the following additional options may be considered. However, the exceptions to the lottery (other than an applicant who has already been selected in the lottery) include employer sponsors who are Universities, affiliated with Universities, a nonprofit research institute, or a government research institute. Biology occupations are often employed by the foregoing “cap-exempt” U.S. companies.

Singaporean and Chilean (H-1B1 visa) and Australian professionals (E-3 visa) working in biology occupations which ordinarily require a Bachelor’s degree or higher in a field of biology have a nearly identical pathway in terms of requirements, but without the lottery and potentially without USCIS.

“Biologist” is also one of a limited number of occupations listed in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) which are eligible for a Trade NAFTA (TN) visa, which is limited to degreed professionals from Canada and Mexico. As another occupation which may be relevant, applicants with less than a Bachelor’s degree who possess theoretical knowledge and experience of biology through experience and/or some education may also qualify as “Scientific Technicians or Technologists” if they are working in direct support of a Biologist.

E-1 Treaty Investor and E-2 Treaty Investor companies can sponsor managers and essential skills employees with Bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field.

Biologists who are being transferred from a company outside of the United States to come work in the United States may qualify for an L-1 Intracompany Transferee visa.

The O-1 Extraordinary Ability and Achievement visa may be worth reviewing for especially talented biologists.

As a short-term option if none of the above are viable, the J-1 Cultural Exchange visa may be a potential option for trainees for a training program up to 18 months in duration, perhaps while an H-1B visa is being pursued under the annual lottery (if required) followed by one of the green card strategies outlined below as a permanent solution.


Green Card Pathways for Biology

Employment-based permanent residency pathways usually involve a PERM Labor Certification regulated by the U.S. Department of Labor as a prerequisite. After successfully completing this process, the employer can sponsor the employee for permanent residency through the filing of an immigrant petition with appropriate evidence, after which the employee can apply for either an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad or a green permanent resident card as an adjustment of status from within the U.S. Until the end, this process does not confer any immigration status or ability to remain in the United States in the meantime while pending, so it’s important to pursue and maintain a temporary nonimmigrant visa if the current/prospective employee needs to be working in the United States.

Other potential immigrant visa or green card pathways could be EB-1 Extraordinary Ability or the EB-2 National Interest Waiver for especially qualified applicants, especially STEM PhD holders with a significant amount of peer-reviewed research, cited publications, and/or patents.


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.