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U.S. Visa Options for Foreign-Born Architects

A high-level overview of the hiring process for non-U.S. citizen architects

Which Work Visa Should Firms Use to Hire Foreign-born Architects?

U.S. firms can hire foreign-born architects using a variety of different visas, including the H-1B, TN, E-3, and O-1 visas. But before they dive into the application process, they must first make sure the candidate meets certain industry-specific requirements. In this guide, we’ll provide a general overview of the available work visas and basic steps required to hire a foreign-born architect.

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Finding the Right Path

There are several different work visa options available that foreign-born architects may be eligible for:


One of the more well-known avenues toward obtaining a work visa is the H-1B visa for specialty occupations. To successfully obtain this visa, the prospective employee must have a bachelor’s degree (or its equivalent) in the relevant field from a recognized and accredited institution. Architects must also hold the proper state certification to practice architecture (more on this below). There are only 65,000 H-1B visas available on a yearly basis.

Note: Before the employer can submit a petition for the H-1B, they must first apply for a Labor Condition Application (LCA). To do that, they will need to meet certain regulatory requirements, which we’ll discuss later.


Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), citizens of Mexico and Canada may acquire what is known as a TN visa to work in the U.S. for an initial period of 3 years. They must have a job offer and the appropriate qualifications — including the equivalent of a bachelors and state certifications. 

Note: While Mexican citizens must go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to obtain this visa, Canadian candidates may be given TN status at certain ports of entry, provided they meet all the eligibility requirements and have the requisite paperwork.


The E-3 visa is a specialty occupation visa meant specifically for Australian citizens. It is similar to the H-1B in that there is a cap — though this cap is rarely filled — and the employer must apply for an LCA . The Australian applicant must have a job offer and the required degrees and certifications.


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants O-1 visas to applicants who can demonstrate extraordinary ability or achievement. Immigrants with O-1 status may stay in the country for an initial period of 3 years with the potential for a year extension. 

To demonstrate extraordinary ability, the candidate must be able to show that they are at the top of their field on the national or international stage. USCIS provides some examples of evidence in Chapter 4 of their policy manual.

Getting the Appropriate Certifications

To practice architecture in the United States, job applicants must obtain the proper certification. As noted on the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) website, there is no one certification for the whole country. There are, rather, 55 separate licensing boards, and each of these jurisdictions has its own specific requirements

In most states, candidates with the proper education (and no license) will need to complete an Architectural Experience Program (AEP) and pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). Prior to both of these, they will need to create a profile with NCARB and complete an Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA).

Fulfilling LCA Recruitment Requirements

When petitioning for an H-1B or E-3 visa, employers must apply for an LCA through the Department of Labor (DOL). As part of the LCA process, the employer will need to post a notice of the open position at the worksite within the 30 day period prior to filing the application. The job posting, according to DOL regulations, must be made available for a minimum of 10 consecutive days.

Under U.S. regulations, the employer must also make an earnest effort to hire U.S. workers for the same position prior to submitting an H-1B petition. The job listing must include a salary that is greater than or equal to the minimum requirement for the H-1B visa. While there are no specific recruitment methods mandated by DOL, the employer should pursue potential candidates in a way that is “normal or customary” for the job in question.

The employer will need to fulfill other requirements such as determining the prevailing wage for architects in that particular geographic region. To do this, they may use resources provided by the National Prevailing Wage Center (NPWC). 

Finally, the LCA must be submitted electronically more than 6 months prior to the employee’s start date. Some exceptions may apply to this timeline.

Submitting Visa Petition

The visa petition process will vary depending on the chosen path. For employers (and their H-1B candidates), there are 3 basic steps:

  1. Submit the LCA application (as discussed in the previous section)
  2. File Form I-129 (officially known as “Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker”) at the appropriate USCIS office
  3. Upon approval of Form I-129, the prospective employee must apply for the H-1B visa at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate

The candidate will also need to apply for admission with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the border. For more on the process of filing I-129, read our article on the subject.

Complying With Regulations

Once the non-U.S. architect is hired, the employer will need to continually comply with the relevant regulations. For instance they will need to:

  • Pay the appropriate wage to the employee
  • Offer copies of the LCA to the new worker
  • Pay the filing fees for the H-1B immigrant
  • Maintain an LCA on file — one which is accurate and up to date
  • Continue to provide the same benefits and working conditions as the other workers
  • Immediately inform DOL of any changes to the H-1B worker’s status

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