Note: We are not providing legal advice. Please speak to an immigration attorney and review resources from the US Department of State.
One of the most common questions we get from teachers outside of the US is:
How do I teach in the US and get a work visa to stay here in the long term?
In the current political environment, it’s harder to get a US visa than years past.
While it’s possible for teachers outside the US to get visas to teach here, I’ll warn you upfront that it is a long, arduous process with no guarantees.
There are two kinds of visas teachers can apply for – the H-1B visa and the J-1 visa. Here are a few key facts you’ll need to know about both:
The J-1 Visa (3 years only)
You must already be hired at an accredited primary or secondary school willing to sponsor your visa
If you don’t have a sponsor in place, it’s impossible for you to justify your stay in the US
You need to have been a qualified teacher in your home country or last legal residence for at least 2 years
You’ll need to be employed as a teacher at an accredited primary or secondary institution in your home country at the time you apply for your visa
If you are not a teacher, you must at least meet the qualifications your home country has to become a teacher or have completed an advanced (Master's or PhD) degree in the last 2 years
You need to be qualified to teach in the State you intend to move to in the US
Every State has different requirements to become a qualified teacher. In some States, this means you need to take a few tests and submit a portfolio, and in others, you might need to complete a Master’s program.
You can find these requirements on each State’s Board of Education websites (search for “state + Board of Education + teacher certification”)
You’ll need to demonstrate proficiency in written and spoken English
The easiest way to do this is to complete the TOEFL if you are not from an English-speaking country. If English is the primary language in your home country, this is less of an issue to contend with.
You’ll need to complete two cultural exchange activities
Every year you are in the US, you are required to organize an activity that shows a cultural aspect of your home country for your classroom, school, or district.
You’re also required to organize an activity that facilitates dialogue between US students and students from your home country (e.g., pen pal programs, cross-cultural projects through blogging).
You can only enter the US with the intent of becoming a teacher at your sponsored institution
You can’t change professions because your visa is contingent on your contribution to the US education community.
The J-1 visa only lasts for 3 years, but you can apply for 1-year extensions for an unlimited amount of time
3 months before your visa expires, you can apply for an extension for as many years as you like. However, your extension isn’t guaranteed, and you risk not being able to stay in the US every time you apply for an extension.
If you think you’ll only be in the US for a short amount of time, this might be the best type of visa for you. Here's more information on the J-1 visa.
The H-1B visa (3-10 years with the opportunity to apply for a green card after 3 years)
You’ll need to already be hired at an accredited primary or secondary school willing to sponsor your visa.
Just like the J-1 visa, you’ll need an institution ready to sponsor your entry to the US
Although the H-1B visa doesn’t specify that you need to have teaching experience prior to your entry to the US, many teachers who hold H-1B visas are highly experienced and exceptional — otherwise they wouldn’t be hired by an accredited school in the US.
You’ll need to be certified to teach in the US State you intend to move to.
As I mentioned before, you can find the requirements on every State’s Board of Education website.
You’ll need to demonstrate written and spoken proficiency in English.
Just like with the J-1 visa, the most painless way if you are from a non-English speaking country would be to take the TOEFL. No need to worry about this if you’re from a country where the primary language is English.
There are an extremely limited number of H-1B visas available and the chances of winning one are low.
There are only 65,000 H-1B visas available in the US each year for people of all professions.
Everything is based on a lottery system — if you aren’t chosen in the lottery when you apply for an H-1B visa, you will need to leave the US after 60 days.
The H-1B visa lasts for 3 years — afterwards, you can choose to apply for 1-year extensions for up to 7 years.
If you choose to apply for a US Permanent Residency after 5 years of working in the US, you must notify your employer and they must go through the necessary steps to petition for your US Permanent Residency.
You’re permitted to stay in the US while waiting for your Permanent Residency to be processed, but this can be a very long, anxiety-inducing wait.
Public schools do sponsor H-1B visas — but usually only for specialized positions like STEM or certain fields in technical education.
This is because these positions are hard to fill, and schools are willing to look overseas for candidates who have these skills.
Best of luck if you’re a teacher trying to work in the US! Having teachers with diverse backgrounds and experiences helps children broaden their perspective. Despite the fact that the visa process is grueling, we hope that you have the chance to teach in a classroom here and to enrich our education community.
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