From US posting to permanent residency

William Diaz

Arena Immigration

Immigration to the USA for representatives and employees of foreign national governments is now more straightforward than ever, but employees of local governments face more limited options

© David Carillet /

© David Carillet /

A posting to the USA can have obvious appeal to those working in the diplomatic service or for international organisations like the United Nations. While long-term residence visas for the USA are notoriously hard to come by, representatives of foreign governments relocating to the USA are well catered for, as are their families.

For government officials, diplomats and staff of international organisations, US travel may range from a single meeting to long-term residency or even eventual citizenship. Regardless of one’s position in a foreign government or international organisation, the USA generally requires the proper visa for aliens to enter temporarily or reside for the long term. With adequate planning, those entering on official business encounter an accommodating and hospitable system that confers some notable benefits, especially with regard to the transfer of family and personal employees.

Diplomats, foreign officials and employees of national governments entering the USA on official business typically require an A-1 or A-2 visa. However, heads of state and heads of government are eligible for the A-1 visa, even if visiting in an unofficial capacity. While the A-1 visa is available to heads of state or government, as well as representatives entering the USA to serve at an embassy or consulate, it also covers European Union and African Union delegation members. In contrast, the A-2 visa is issued to employees of foreign governmental organisations, including embassy and consular staff, foreign military personnel (subject to various requirements), and the staff of European Union and African Union delegations.

It is important to note that representatives of foreign local, state or provincial governments encounter very limited US visa options. The visa category open to these individuals is the general B-1 business visitor visa available to the common business traveller not engaged in productive work. The B-1 visitor visa does not extend any dependent status to the family of a visitor and lacks many of the benefits associated with visas that are issued to representatives of national governments.

For employees of international organisations, the G visa category operates in a manner that is similar to the A visa category. There is also a special visa for employees of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The G-1 visa is issued to government officials with permanent membership of an international organisation, while the G-2 visa is reserved for representatives of a recognised government travelling temporarily to the USA to attend meetings of a designated international organisation. The G visa category is not limited to the work of governments recognised by the USA, as the G-3 visa may be issued to representatives of non-recognised governments.

For example, the G-3 can allow representatives of non-recognised governments to participate in temporary meetings of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council. Finally, the G-4 visa is available to those entering the USA to work for the United Nations or other designated international organisations. Organisations are ‘designated’ as per a list maintained by the US Department of State.

The immediate family of a primary visa holder is normally eligible for a dependent A or G visa. ‘Immediate family’ comprises spouses (including same-sex marriages), and unmarried sons and daughters who are members of the household. Immediate family also includes relatives of the primary visa holder or their spouse who are related by blood, marriage or adoption. In some circumstances, the definition further includes a person that resides regularly in the primary visa holder’s household, regardless of traditional family ties.

A key consideration for many A or G visa holders is ensuring that personal employees are permitted to accompany them and work in the USA. The A-3 and G-5 visas are required for the transfer of personal employees. When applying for the A-3 and G-5 visas, there are a number of rules and restrictions that warrant careful attention.

Personal employees must be under contract in order to qualify for a visa. The relevant law requires an employment contract that adheres to various requirements, including payment of an adequate wage (as per US Department of Labor standards). The rules governing these visa applications are structured to prevent the involuntary servitude of personal employees. In fact, personal employees that are mistreated or abused are afforded special legal protections.

In order to avoid inconvenience or undue complications, careful adherence to the applicable law is advised, as the US government is often vigilant in protecting personal employees present in A-3 or G-5 visa status.

Years of service in the USA frequently creates significant social and professional ties to the country. For example, dependent children raised in the USA often self-identify as culturally American. Those who initially enter on an A or G visa may wish to acquire status as a legal permanent resident (green card status) or even pursue US citizenship as a means of remaining in the USA. Unique green card options exist for primary A or G visa holders and their families. In addition to the special rules set forth below, A or G visa holders may avail themselves of the standard procedures to acquire a green card, including family-based sponsorship through marriage to a US citizen. While procedures vary, citizenship is typically available to the green card holder after five years as a permanent resident.

Of interest to some former officers and employees of international organisations, including the United Nations, is the ability to acquire a green card in order to retire in the USA. Retirees may apply if they have lived in the USA on a G visa for at least 15 years prior to their retirement. Half of the seven years immediately preceding the application must be spent in the USA. Spouses of retirees, as well as the widows or widowers of deceased former employees (under limited circumstances), may also qualify for a green card. Unmarried sons and daughters of the retiree are also eligible, subject to various limitations. This path to permanent residency is particularly appealing to individuals and families that have significant ties to the USA and wish to remain.

The USA maintains special procedures to protect diplomats of countries embroiled in civil war or political turmoil. Officials holding a diplomatic position may qualify for a green card if they have failed to maintain their diplomatic status, are unable to return to their home country and would otherwise be admissible for residency.

This special option protects defectors who may encounter dangerous conditions upon return to their home country, while also sidestepping the onerous process of formally applying for asylum. Dependent family members may also acquire the green card through this special process.

US immigration options for those involved with the work of foreign governments and international organisations are numerous and are more hospitable to families and personal employees than a common US work visa. When entering the USA with an A or G visa, primary visa holders must remain mindful of the various benefits afforded not only to them, but also to family members and personal employees that wish to enter. With assignments in the USA that may span years, newcomers should also remain mindful of their long-term options for permanently remaining in the USA, if desired. Even though the USA is generally permissive in offering visas to those involved in the work of foreign governments and international organisations, even a modicum of additional planning can ensure a smooth transition of an entire household for a short-term visit or even a permanent relocation.

About the author:

William Diaz is an attorney at Laura Devine Solicitors


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