Getting straight to the matter at hand without putting the reader through a bunch of unnecessary fluff, the short answer is no, you cannot move to the United States as a digital nomad. In other words, the US government has not issued a visa, short-term or otherwise, which caters directly to digital nomads or remote workers. Therefore, if you are a foreigner and such is your profession, there are other types of visas you would have to apply for and hope you get accepted in what can be described as a highly-competitive market.
ABOUT U.S. IMMIGRATION
The United States has more immigrants than any other nation – and by a wide margin at that. That’s another way of saying, as we regularly point out at Greetings From Abroad, that it is the most-coveted immigrant destination in the entire world.
Relatedly it is one of the most-visited countries, only being bested in that regard by France and Spain. And even then, it can be speculated that the reason the US isn’t on top is the result of two factors.
First is it being on the other side of the globe from the regions where citizens tend to travel the most. Second is that gaining official entry into the United States, as you probably already know, can prove extremely difficult (and costly to no avail) if you’re not a citizen of a select group of countries.
IT CAN BE TOUGH ENTERING AMERICA
One of the main reasons obtaining the visa is so hard goes back to the US being the preferred migration destination. That is to say that it’s not particularly unusual to hear tales of visitors who stayed, illegally, beyond the stipulated duration of whatever visa they acquired.
So for example when interviewing visa applicants, it is common for American officials to go about ascertaining if the applicant has the intent to stay longer than the visa he or she applied for. Or put more frankly, they don’t want people who are actually intending to become permanent residents – i.e. those who do not have the established means to rightfully survive stateside by intend to do so anyway – to trick the government by rather apply for short-term visas.
So as alluded to earlier, it is very much possible to go through the entire application process, paying fees accordingly and still end up being rejected. And the refusal rate for some countries is a lot higher than it is for others. So it’s almost as if the United States is a VIP nation, one that everybody wants to get to, but access is limited.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO AS A DIGITAL NOMAD?
Again, the common solution to making it to the US as a digital nomad is to apply for a standard visa. And considering that this lifestyle is a transitory one, what you would likely be applying for is a non-immigrant visa.
APPLY FOR A NON-IMMIGRANT U.S. VISA
There are a number of different visas which fall into this category, none specifically catering to remote worker. But the ones that are most applicable to the digital-nomad cause are the Business (B-1) and Tourism (B-2) visas.
It has been pointed out that most of people who do apply in this category actually request a combination of the two, i.e. a B-1/B-2 Visa. So basically, holding that joint document would categorize you as a business tourist in the United States, which can be counted as an accurate, albeit general description of the digital nomad lifestyle anyway.
By applying for the B1/B2, that gives you a wider range of criteria to choose from in order to qualify. But basically, the B1 side stipulates that you actually intend to engage in specific business activity with Americans while in the United States. Or it may rather be that you’re going to attend a conference.
Meanwhile, the B-2 is a bit broader in scope. But fundamentally, it is such that you’re going to visit someone, participate in an event (or recreational class) or, most simply, to tour.
BASIC REQUIREMENTS FOR THESE VISAS
Besides for the basic documentation, i.e. your valid passport and filling out the necessary applications, you will also need to prove to the Americans, with documents, that you can pay for the trip and, as noted earlier, will indeed depart afterwards.
To note, the B1/B2 allows you to stay in the country for six months (meaning that your passport also had to be valid throughout the length of the stay). But as with practically every other country out there, there are official ways to extend your visit, perhaps even to a permanent one, if govvie approves of this course of action.
But that said, whereas there does not appear to be any specific income requirements for the B1/B2 Visa, we would speculate that you if do intend to stay for the entire six months, you should at least be making somewhere in the range of $15 an hour (or roughly $30,000 annually), which is a respectable minimum wage as far as the US is concerned, to be approved.
APPLY FOR A U.S. IMMIGRANT VISA
We haven’t forgotten that the name of this post is “how do I move to the US as a digital nomad”. The United States is ridiculously huge, to the point that some of us involved in digital nomadism may be content therein.
In fact we just recently posted an article highlighting what are considered to be the 10 best cities for digital in the US. The entries on that list span a good part of the country, but there’s even more that didn’t make it.
And now it becomes a bit clearer as to why the US government is concerned with non-immigrants overstaying. That is to say that securing a B1/B2, filing for extensions and hoping that the powers that be approve it appears to be a whole lot easier than actually qualifying for an immigrant visa.
For example, those who are potentially eligible for an immigrant visa are split into five categories.
Logically as a digital nomad, the one you would be most inclined to apply for is an Employment-Based Immigrant Visa. But let’s just say that in order to qualify, usually you’d have to be someone a lot higher on the food chain than your average digital nomad, even one who is successful enough to travel internationally.
Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
There is what is called the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, otherwise known as Form I-140. What this basically entails is you already have been hired by an employer in the US, who then goes about applying for you to become a permanent resident. Theoretically, if you know where to look, have the right connection(s) or the skills a prospective employer desires, you can be hired beforehand for a job in the United States that is remote in nature.
However logic would dictate that if an employer is willing to actually bring you stateside, he, she or they would likely want or require you at the job site, which really isn’t true digital nomadism.
Diversity Visa Program
Another option is what is called the DV or Diversity Visa Program. In some places it is actually referred to as the DV Lottery or Green Card Lottery. That’s because those who are chosen for entry to the US through this initiative are done so at random, and the program is only conducted at a certain, limited time of year.
Moreover, the criteria for eligibility is relatively humble. Basically you just need a valid passport, high school diploma and a couple of years of work experience – things that most digital nomads are likely to possess. Moreover, there is no initial application cost.
The caveat though is that only 50,000 individuals are approved annually out of, in 2021 for instance, nearly 12,000,000 applicants. Also, even if you are amongst the shortlist of 125,000, there is another applicant process (and interview) to go through, as well as the possibility that your name is so high on that list you will not get the opportunity to go either way. For instance, if your number is 51,000 and the 50,000 ahead of you successfully complete the entire process, then that’s it, better luck next year.
In any event, this doesn’t particularly read like what a diehard digital nomad would want to go through, unless maybe he or she really desires to live in the United States and doesn’t have any other chance of getting there. And on that note, it should be pointed out that the DV Program was specifically designed for citizens of countries who are underrepresented as far immigration to the US is concerned. Even then, some nations fare a lot better than others.
The fact that there’s even a DV Lottery, with roughly 10,000,000 applicants annually, is a further testament to the draw of the United States. Or relayed from a different perspective, let’s say that the US government isn’t really under any pressure to institute a digital nomad visa in order to attract prospective visitors.
So who knows when, if ever, they’d be compelled to get around to introducing an entry program specifically catered to digital nomads or even remote workers in general. But for what it’s worth, there are plenty of other visas available. And all criteria considered, by the looks of things it would appear the ones most suited for digital nomads are of the B1/B2 variety.