Visas and Immigration
An international scope is essential to our research at NREL, and we invite outstanding foreign national students, scholars, and professionals to become part of our organization. Here is what you need to know about visa types, immigration, and living in the United States.
If you have questions, contact the Foreign National Program Office, 303-384-7569.
Laws and regulations surrounding immigration and naturalization in the United States are listed below. Visit the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for more detailed information.
- Lawful Permanent Residence Cards must be replaced with a new card every 10 years.
- Children under the age of 14 at the time you received permanent residency must be registered and fingerprinted within 30 days of their 14th birthdays.
- Dependent children must obtain their own visa status before their 21st birthdays.
- Aliens must notify the USCIS within 10 days of each address change using form AR-11.
- After traveling abroad, a lawful permanent resident may return to an unrelinquished residence in the United States. If less than one year, entrance will be granted using the Permanent Resident Card ("green card"). If travel abroad is up to two years, an application must be submitted for re-entry.
Note: The U.S. government issues 55,000 immigrant visas ("green cards") based on a lottery each year. For questions or information on eligibility and the application process, call the Visa Lottery Hotline number at 202-331-7199 or visit Visa Lottery.
U.S. Consulates and Embassies
The U.S. Department of State has specific federal regulations about when personal appearance and interviews can be waived for nonimmigrant visa applicants. The regulation states that "U.S. nonimmigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the United States but who wish to be in the United States on a temporary basis—for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, or study."
These guidelines affect individuals coming into the United States in a nonimmigrant category, as well as nonimmigrant visa holders who must renew their visa stamp outside of the United States. Access the U.S. Department of State's embassies and consulates website and visit the website for the consulate or embassy that pertains to you.
Tax Laws That May Affect You
The filing of U.S. income tax returns as a resident, rather than a nonresident, is critical for a U.S. permanent resident. You may be subject to an estate tax if the United States is considered your domicile at the time of death.
For detailed information regarding your taxes, visit the Internal Revenue Service to access the applicable federal tax forms and publications:
- Publication 519, Tax Guide for Aliens
- Publication 597, U.S. and Canada Tax Treaty
- Publication 901, Tax Treaties.
Coordination of Social Security Programs
Treaties on Social Security called "Totalization Agreements" exist between the United States and numerous other countries. In addition to establishing contribution rules, these agreements establish eligibility rules for retirement and disability benefits when someone has worked and paid into the U.S. Social Security system and one or more others.
H-1B visa holders may want to become familiar with this and continue to maintain the plan in their home country as well.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — Denver Office
12484 E. Weaver Pl., Centennial, CO 80111
Make an Appointment: InfoPass
For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State’s Visas website.
NREL uses the H-1B temporary professional worker category for temporary staff and certain regular staff positions.
- Current immigration law makes the H-1B category available to any person in a "specialty occupation," a position "which requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and attainment of a baccalaureate or higher degree or its equivalent in the specialty occupation as a minimum requirement."
- The H-1B employee must have met the minimum qualifications for the position, including experience, degree, any license or certificate, and any special requirements at the time of filing the H-1B petition.
The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program is a temporary exchange of visiting scholars that links research and educational institutions around the world.
Participants enter the U.S. with a J-1 visa, identified as "exchange visitors," including J-1 Short-term or Research Scholars or J-1 Interns. Participants are exposed to U.S. techniques, methodologies, business practices, and expertise, which increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries via educational and cultural exchanges.
Insurance Coverage Requirements
U.S. federal regulations require every J-1 participant and their J-2 dependents have medical insurance coverage with the following minimum benefits for the duration of their participation in the program:
- Medical benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness,
- Repatriation of remains in the amount of $25,000,
- Expenses associated with the medical evacuation of the exchange visitor to their home country in the amount of $50,000, and
- A deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness
- A policy underwritten by an insurance carrier with an A.M. Best rating of "A-" or above.
NREL must have proof of insurance coverage before a Certificate of Eligibility is issued.
212(e) Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement
The two-year home country physical presence requirement is one of the most unique characteristics of exchange visitor status. This rule is tied to the J-1 exchange visitor's field of study and country of last permanent residence. Not all J-1 exchange visitors are subject to this rule. If an exchange visitor is subject to the two-year home residency requirement, it is noted on the DS-2019 and on the visa stamp.
Waivers to J-1 Exchange Visitor's Visa
NREL does not support the pursuance of a waiver of the J-1 Exchange Visitor's Visa. NREL does not generally object to the waiver; however, if the U.S. Department of State grants the waiver, continued employment at NREL or change in status to another visa type is not implied nor guaranteed. Fees associated with the waiver request are the responsibility of the requesting foreign national.
J-1 Professional Scholar
J-1 Professional Scholar appointments at NREL fall into one of the following categories:
- Research Scholar: An individual conducting research, observing, or consulting in connection with a research project. A research scholar may also teach or lecture, unless disallowed by the sponsor.
- Minimum stay of 6 months required
- Maximum stay of five years
- Short-term Scholar: An individual coming to the United States for a period of up to six months to lecture, observe, consult, and participate in seminars, workshops, conferences, study tours, professional meetings, or similar types of educational and professional activities. Once confirmed, the individual may not change to any other category of J-1 Scholar.
- No minimum stay required
- Maximum stay of six months (NOTE: no extensions beyond six months under any circumstances)
The J-1 Intern program is designed to provide an opportunity for certain eligible international students to pursue a structured and guided internship program at NREL in a specific academic field. Requirements include:
- The J-1 Student Internship fulfills educational objectives for the prospective intern's current degree program at his or her home institution overseas.
- Prospective intern is currently enrolled full-time and pursuing studies in an advanced chosen career field outside the United States or graduated from such an institution no more than 12 months prior to the date the exchange visitor program begins.
- Maximum duration of 12 months.
The E-3 Australian Treaty Worker in Specialty Occupation category is used for temporary staff and certain regular staff positions.
- The E-3 category is available to Australian nationals in a "specialty occupation," that is, a position "which requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and attainment of a baccalaureate or higher degree or its equivalent [in the specialty occupation] as a minimum requirement."
- The E-3 employee must have met the minimum qualifications for the position at the time of applying for an E-3 visa.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) developed the TN (Trade NAFTA) immigration category to facilitate the entry of Canadian and Mexican Citizens into the United States to engage in professional activities on a temporary basis.
- The U.S. Department of State's list of the professional occupations and minimum qualifications serves as the basis for TN employment. Direct information about the TN category is found at INA§214(e)(2), and at 8CFR§214.6.
- Please note that the TN category is only available to citizens of Canada or Mexico. Landed immigrants or permanent residents of Canada or Mexico are ineligible.
The O-1 non-immigrant category is for the employment of individual aliens who have achieved and sustained national or international acclaim for extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, motion picture, or television industries. The category permits an employer to petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for a non-immigrant to come to the United States on a temporary basis to work within his or her area of extraordinary ability or achievement. It also permits family members and, in certain cases, assistants to join the non-immigrant.
There are three paths to Employment-Based Permanent Residence. NREL will use the most appropriate of the three to obtain permanent residence for a qualified employee:
- Outstanding Professor/Researcher
- National Interest Waiver
- Labor Certification for Advanced Degree Holders.
Approval of an outstanding professor/researcher petition can be obtained if NREL can demonstrate that a sponsored employee has an exceptional record of scholarly achievement in his or her field. More than three years of teaching and/or postdoctoral research experience; a very strong record of publications; superlative evaluations by recognized experts in the field; and the receipt of prizes, awards, or other forms of professional recognition are usually required to obtain approval of an outstanding professor/researcher petition.
This type of case is handled in consultation with NREL's Outside Immigration Counsel.
National Interest Waiver
When deemed to be in the national interest, the Attorney General may utilize the national interest waiver to waive the requirement that an alien's services in the sciences, arts, or business be sought by an employer in the United States.
The provision can apply to both aliens of exceptional ability and to members of the professions holding advanced degrees (or the equivalent). These applications for permanent residence are exempt from the labor certification requirement.
To obtain a national interest waiver, it must be demonstrated that the work being done is in the national interest and the alien's continued contribution is crucial to the work.
Applications are more likely to succeed if it can be shown that the alien's work meets one or more of the following seven conditions:
- It improves the economy,
- It improves the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers,
- It improves education and training programs for U.S. children and under-qualified U.S. workers,
- It improves health care,
- It provides more affordable housing for poorer U.S. residents,
- It improves the U.S. environment and make more productive use of natural resources, or
- It requested by an interested U.S. government agency.
This process usually takes between one to two years to complete, if not more. Depending on the person's country of birth, this process may take several more years. This type of case is handled in consultation with NREL's Outside Legal Counsel.
Labor Certification for Advanced Degree Holders
NREL must demonstrate there are no qualified and willing U.S. workers available for the position in question. This is done through a special advertising process under the supervision of the Department of Labor. NREL must also meet Department of Labor wage requirements to obtain an approved labor certificate. Once prevailing wage requirements are met, most NREL applications for labor certification in the academic job categories succeed, since the positions in question generally require high levels of education and specialized experience in short supply in the domestic labor pool.
This process usually takes between one to three years to complete, if not more. Depending on the person's country of birth, this process may take several more years. This type of case is handled in consultation with NREL's Outside Immigration Counsel.
- Description: Has filed for adjustment to immigrant status in the United States.
- Limitations: May request Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) during brief waiting period (usually eight to nine months)
- Documentation: Employment Authorization Document (EAD) form I-766 or I-688B.
Immigrant or Permanent Resident Alien
- Description: Has been granted permanent residency in the United States, called an Immigrant Alien or Permanent Resident Alien.
- Limitations: No limit on the employment they may legally hold. Protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Documentation: Is able to show Resident Alien Card (I-151 or I-551 stamp in passport), also referred to as a green card ("green cards" can be other colors).
Conditional Permanent Resident
- Description: Those who have applied for immigrant status through marriage to an American citizen or U.S. permanent resident.
- Limitations: No limits on the employment they may legally hold. Protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Documentation: Is able to show work authorization from the USCIS.
The "temporary visitor" status is a nonimmigrant classification for persons desiring to enter the United States temporarily for business (B-1), for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2), or combination of both (B-1/B-2) purposes. United States Department of State (DOS) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers have wide discretion in granting visas or entry to the United States.
Travelers coming to the United States for tourism or business for 90 days or less from qualified countries may be eligible to visit the United States without a visa if they meet the visa waiver program requirements.
DOS/DHS may not view B-1/WB or B-2/WT Visitor status as appropriate for someone coming to a university to study, conduct research, consult, or lecture. Another immigration category, such as a J-1 exchange visitor, may be appropriate for such purposes and could possibly refuse a B visa or entry to the United States in B visitor status.
It is at the foreign national's own risk to obtain a visa and to gain admission to the United States as a B-1/WB or B-2/WT visitor. See the U.S. Department of State's information on Visitor's Visas for Pleasure and Business for requirements.
Visa Waiver Program
Visitors of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) who wish to come under visa waiver may be granted permission to enter for 90 days only and may not extend their stay. VWP countries and requirements, including Electronic System for Travel Authorization, are on the U.S. Department of State visa waiver program.
Resources for Living in the United States
There are many things to know about living in the United States, such as legal requirements, your U.S. address, Form I-94, travel, healthcare, taxes, insurance, language, living in the Denver area, driver's license, and social security.
NREL must meet certain legal requirements if you or your family members have been involved in an accident or have contracted an illness that is serious or life threatening, or if you have been arrested for any criminal activity. Contact the Foreign National Program Office within 24 hours in these situations: Joy Gonzales, Joy.Gonzales@nrel.gov, 303-384-7569.
Notify NREL's Human Resource Office of your U.S. address. For J-1 Exchange Visitors, this information is required for your assignment and must be reported in the Student Exchange Visitors Information System to validate your arrival. All visa categories also need to complete and submit to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) the AR-11 Change of Address Form. Any future address changes must also be reported via the AR11 form.
Contact the Foreign National Program Office at least two weeks prior to travel abroad. We will provide you with a travel letter to assist with your re-entry to the United States. For H-1B visa holders travelling internationally, please check the expiration date of the Form I-94 when entering the United States, to verify that it matches the expiration date on the I-797 H-1B Approval Notice. Please contact our office if there is a discrepancy.
Students should watch this video to prepare for their arrival in the United States, how the healthcare system works, and how students should seek medical care appropriately if they become sick or injured.
Visit Internal Revenue Service's International Taxpayers for tax information applicable to foreign students and scholars.
Wait at least 10 calendar days from the date of entry into the United States to apply for a driver's license or ID. Most states and territories use the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Program to determine a non-citizen's eligibility for many public benefits, including the issuance of a driver's license.
Colorado residents who are not U.S. Citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents ("green card" holders) will only be eligible to receive a restricted driver's license or identification card. Learn more about obtaining a Colorado Driver's License and verify you have the correct documentation to apply for a Colorado Driver's License. Please contact our office for an employment verification letter, and visit the Online Driver's License Office.
Accompanying Dependent Requirements
An accompanying dependent who applies for a driver's license or state ID should present supporting personal status documentation as well as status documentation of the primary visa holder. Information on a practical training period or cap-gap period reflects the duration of status. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will look for consistency between the dependent's duration of status and that of the primary visa holder.
Sometimes DMV offices have difficulty when verifying dependents. The best way to alleviate this problem is for all nonimmigrants in this position to do the following:
- Always go to the DMV office with the primary (F-1, M-1 or J-1) status holder
- Bring the following paperwork:
- The primary and dependent's most current Form I-94
- The primary and dependent's valid passport with visa (when applicable)
- Proof of identity
- Proof of relationship (e.g., marriage certificate)
- The primary and dependent's most current Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 (This is critical when the primary F-1 or M-1 is on OPT)
- Form I-797 or Form I-797A "Notice of Action," in cases of a change of status (e.g., H-1B).
Please apply for a Social Security Card 10 days after entry into the United States. You will need to provide:
- A completed Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card
- At least two documents that establish the applicant's age, including passport and one additional document establishing identity
- Form I-94
After receiving your Social Security Number, please provide a copy to these NREL organizations:
- Office of the Chief Financial Officer — Payroll
- Human Resources