U.S. Immigration Options for Teachers


Labor shortages in education have led to a growing demand for international teachers to fill vacancies at public and private schools.

Below we reference variations of established U.S. immigration strategies as applied to teachers by order of anticipated viability. Please refer to the hyperlinked pages for more information about each visa classification.

  • H-1B Specialty Occupation Nonimmigrant Visa for Certain Teachers – Considered the “default” professional visa, teaching positions generally qualify for H-1B visas, and Universities commonly sponsor Professors in H-1B status as exempt from the annual H-1B quota and lottery that is generally required for non-University employers. Educational institutions such as high schools with an affiliation agreement with a University may also be exempted from the typical H-1B lottery.Additionally, international teachers who are citizens of Singapore, Chile, or Australia would have a readily available strategy, not subject to the H-1B lottery considerations, under the nonimmigrant visa categories of H-1B1 Specialty Occupation Professionals from Singapore and Chile and E-3 Specialty Occupation Professionals from Australia.
  • J-1 Cultural Exchange Nonimmigrant Visa for Certain Teachers – The U.S. Department of State authorized certain approved program sponsor organizations to support local private and public schools as U.S. employers in hosting teachers. Here is a link to the BridgeUSA website with more information. Schools are recommended to review the bullet-point list of requirements on the State Department website and consult with an experienced business immigration attorney with further case-specific questions, although at a certain stage it may be recommended to work directly with the J-1 program sponsor organization. This pathway may be the most viable strategy, but is presented second as very limited and generally not offering a pathway towards staying in the U.S.
  • Trade NAFTA (TN) Nonimmigrant Visa for Certain Canadian and Mexican Teachers – Citizens of Canada and Mexico who possess a Bachelor’s Degree from the U.S., Canada, or Mexico can apply under this visa category for teaching positions at a college, seminary, or university. Therefore, this strategy would not be viable for lower levels of education.
  • O-1 Nonimmigrant Visa for Aliens of Extraordinary Ability in the Sciences, Arts, Education, Business, or Athletics – This strategy would be relevant if a particularly exceptional international individual applies to be a teacher in the U.S. A pathway to permanent residency may be viable under the EB-1A Extraordinary Ability immigrant visa classification.
  • P-3 Nonimmigrant Visa for Artists or Entertainers Coming to Be Part of a Culturally Unique Program – As a more creative strategy that may not be viable, Music and Art Teachers may qualify under this strategy. More commonly, this strategy may be utilized for a flamenco troupe from Spain or other cultural performances scheduled over a specific period of time.
  • R-1 Nonimmigrant Visa for Religious Workers – Another more creative strategy that may not be viable, non-profit religious organizations affiliated with a specific religious denomination can sponsor teachers whose employment will be religious in nature, so this strategy may work for some but not all teaching positions. A stronger argument could be made for a Religion or perhaps even a Music Teacher, compared to a Math Teacher. Religious workers further have a pathway to permanent residency.

Except as provided above for O-1 and R-1 visa holders, the common pathway to sponsor international teachers for permanent residency would be through a PERM Labor Certification formal test of the labor market, followed by an immigrant petition and application for an immigrant visa or permanent resident green card. As permanent residency strategies can take 2-3 years in processing times, it’s recommended to consider whether starting both the short-term nonimmigrant and long-term immigrant strategies at the same time may be recommended.

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.