U.S. Immigration Options for Designers

Including Graphic Designers, Industrial Designers, & Interior Designers


The U.S. immigration system is broken down between temporary “nonimmigrant” visa categories allowing for temporary residency in the United States with the possibility of renewals in 1-5 year increments, as well as permanent “immigrant” visa categories which allow noncitizens to remain in the U.S. indefinitely with a path to U.S. citizenship within 5 years.


Trade NAFTA (TN) Nonimmigrant Visas for Canadian and Mexican Design Professionals

For Canadian and Mexican professionals, the occupations of Graphic Designer, Industrial Designer, and Interior Designer are specifically listed as qualifying for a Trade NAFTA (TN) nonimmigrant visa. Qualifying Canadian or Mexican citizens must have a job offer from a U.S. employer where they will be performing the job duties of one of these types of designer occupations, and the Canadian or Mexican citizen must be able to prove that they have either:

  1. Relevant Bachelor’s, Baccalaureate, or Licenciatura Degree; or
  2. Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate plus three (3) years of relevant experience.

Canadians can present their application to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a Port of Entry with a fee of $56 and be approved for an initial duration of three (3) years within a matter of minutes or a few hours, after which they can get back in their car or board their flight to the United States.

Mexicans can apply at a U.S. Consulate outside of the United States with jurisdiction over their residence. TN visas may be approved within a matter of minutes for a duration of four (4) years, although visa stamping typically takes about a week for the return of the applicant’s passport.

Both Canadian and Mexican citizens already within the United States can have the employers file a petition to change to or extend their existing TN status with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) instead of the above.

Overall, it’s a relatively efficient and cost effective process for U.S. employers to sponsor Mexican and Canadian design professionals.


H-1B Specialty Occupation Nonimmigrant Visas for Design Professionals

Without regard to the citizenship of the applicant, the H-1B Specialty Occupation nonimmigrant visa category allows U.S. companies to sponsor prospective employees who will work in a job that ordinarily requires a Bachelor’s degree in a specific field, which the prospective applicant actually possesses.


Readily Available Nonimmigrant Visa Similar to H-1B for Design Professionals from Singapore, Chile, and Australia

The H-1B1 nonimmigrant visa for professionals from Chile and Singapore as well as the E-3 nonimmigrant visa for professionals from Australia are readily available pathways similar to the H-1B above in terms of qualifying, but without the annual lottery, for qualified citizens of these countries.


Other Nonimmigrant Visa Options


Permanent Resident “Green Card” or Immigrant Visa Categories for Design Professionals

The most common way for an employee to be sponsored for permanent residency requires a formal test of the job market to confirm that there are no willing, qualified, and available U.S. workers, called PERM Labor Certification. Once certified by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), a U.S. employer can file an immigrant petition on the basis of which the current or prospective employee can apply for permanent residency as an adjustment of status from within the United States or for an immigrant visa through a U.S. Consulate abroad. This process can take 3-4 years or longer depending upon the current backlogs and country of birth of the beneficiary.


Naturalization as a U.S. Citizen

After five years of permanent residency, during which the majority of time is spent physically within the U.S., lawful permanent residents can apply for U.S. citizenship. Any time spent in nonimmigrant status does not count towards these five years.


For more information on U.S. immigration strategies for design professionals, visit our Services webpage, which offers a list of visa categories and additional resources for further development in consultation with a business immigration attorney.


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.