Working in the U.S. As a Foreign Teacher: What To Know Before You Go


You can teach in accredited primary and secondary schools in the U.S. as a foreign teacher, but you’ll need either a J-1 visa or an H-1B visa to be able to enter and work in the country.

However, you’ll need to process each of these visas differently depending on your peculiar circumstances.

If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to hire a good immigration attorney who will help you navigate the whole process and secure your visa as quickly as possible.

Types of Teacher Visas

There are two types of visas you can apply for if you want to teach in the U.S., namely J-1 and H-1B visas.

J-1 Visa

J-1 is a study and exchange visa that allows you to stay temporarily in the U.S. throughout the duration of the program.

You can only apply for the visa if you have already been accepted into the program.

J-1 Visa Requirements

You must meet the following requirements if you want to work in the U.S. as a foreign teacher:

  • Be employed by an accredited U.S. primary or secondary school.
  • Be qualified to teach in your home country.
  • Be teaching in your home country at the time of application.
  • If you’re not working as a teacher in your home country, then you should have the relevant teaching qualifications, must have completed an advanced degree within 12 months of application, and must have taught full-time for two years within the last eight years.
  • Have a bachelor’s degree in education or in the subject you intend to teach.
  • You must have taught for two years or have had related professional experience.
  • Meet the requirements of the U.S. state you want to teach in.
  • Have good character and reputation.
  • Be ready to teach in primary, including pre-kindergarten, or secondary schools.
  • Intend to teach full-time, or language immersion.
  • Be proficient in English. You can demonstrate your proficiency by completing the TOEFL if English isn’t your first language.
  • Be able to organize an activity that facilitates dialogue between U.S. students and students from your home country.
  • Be able to complete two cultural exchange activities.

The J-1 visa is suitable for foreign teachers and other eligible categories wishing to stay in the U.S. for a short time. It lasts only three years, but one-year extensions are possible for as many times as you want. However, there’s no guarantee that these extensions will be approved.

How to Obtain a J-1 Visa

Follow the steps below if you’re applying for a J-1 visa:

  • Complete the visa application form
  • Schedule an appointment with your local embassy or consulate
  • Pay your visa application fee
  • Prepare the required documents
  • Attend your visa interview

If your interview is successful and you’re given a visa, you’ll then be able to enter the U.S.

These are just some basic documents required to process your J-1 visa application, but be sure to check with your local visa office for detailed requirements, or hire a seasoned immigration lawyer to help you with your application.

H-1B Visa

An H-1B is a temporary worker visa given to people in a specialty occupation.

Teachers fall within the definition of a specialty occupation.

H-1B Visa Requirements

You must meet the following requirements to be eligible for an H-1B visa:

  • Possess a bachelor’s degree, its equivalent, or higher qualification.
  • Be licensed in the U.S. state you want to teach.
  • Your institution or employer must apply for, obtain, and file a Labor Condition Application, or LCA, to the U.S. Department of Labor, or USDOL.

How to Obtain an H-1B Visa

Here are the steps you and your employer can take to apply for an H-1B visa:

  • Your employer submits the completed LCA to USDOL for certification.
  • Your employer submits a Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, or Form I-129, after certification.
  • Your employer secures approval of the visa petition, usually with the help of an immigration attorney.
  • You’ll then apply for an H-1B visa.

If you’re already in the U.S., you can start work immediately once your employer’s visa petition is approved. If you’re outside the country, you’ll also have to submit an Application for Nonimmigrant Visa, or Form DS-160, usually through an immigration attorney.

The Bottom Line

The process of getting a J-1 or H-1B visa is long and strenuous with no guarantees that your visa application will be approved, but an immigration expert should be able to help you navigate the whole process and secure your visa as quickly as possible.


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