How can I sponsor my flight training?

Can overseas pilots get an FAA ATPL and work for a US-based commercial airline?

At the most basic level, DHS / State Work Permit Department regulations must be followed. There are essentially three categories that you can be in with regards to employment:

  1. A naturalized or naturally born US citizen. You can work for any US employer.

  2. An (in-status) permanent residence (holder of a green card). You can work for any US employer.

  3. A non-resident. You may only work with DHS authorization.

The first two are a bit self explanatory. Some positions may have specific requirements - for example, you cannot be a US president without being naturally born. Some employers restrict the employment of non-nationals based on various United States laws that usually affect access to information of a military nature or are applicable to military needs. As a result, much of aerospace manufacturing is banned from non-U.S. Residents simply because the company may also do aerospace tasks and not want to properly subdivide access. For example, most, if not all, SpaceX jobs are only for US residents. No such restrictions apply to normal commercial transport pilots.

Permanent employees

If you don't already have a permanent residence, you may be wondering how you can become one. In most cases, someone else - a family member or an employer - will need to petition on your behalf. You cannot apply. There are also strict annual numerical limits for most permanent residence visa categories. Citizens or family members with permanent residence aged 21 and over can apply for you. Unless you have submitted an application from a spouse, the waiting times are measured in years.

We can check the directory of visa categories for immigrants with a view to employing transportation personnel. I'll just go into the categories that apply to a pilot who is not eligible for any other category (let's say you are not an Iraqi who worked for the US government, etc.).

  • DV Category - Diversity Visa - If you are seriously thinking of working in the US, apply every year. It's a lottery. Make sure to apply on the official website. Admission is free.

  • E Category - Sponsored by the employer. The first and most obvious requirement is that the prospective employer must be willing to spend the money (on the order of $ 10,000) on a petition on your behalf. If they find employees who are already entitled to work, there is little incentive to petition.

Assuming that your employer is willing to sponsor an immigrant visa on your behalf, the next step is to get a certificate of employment from the Department of Labor. A pilot would most likely fall under the third preference, provided that a certificate of employment can be obtained. And here's the real highlight: Given the never-ending supply of pilots for commercial transport in the USA and the lack of special requirements for the job (we're not talking about test pilots!), The DOL has no chance of certifying the position. According to the DOL certification process, the employer has to prove that there are not enough qualified workers available who are already approved and qualified for the job. So that's basically where it ends.

Non-resident workers

The third category is the most complex. There are different types of work permits under different programs. All of them have special requirements, so by default a non-resident cannot get a work permit unless he meets the requirements. For example, students with F-1 status are eligible to do work on campus and for certain off-campus jobs if they constitute hands-on training.

The nonimmigrant category (usually letter number with an optional letter suffix, e.g. F-1) is indicated on the visa. Note, however, that the visa is just a document that is required (but not sufficient) to enter the United States.If you are in the United States, you or your employer can adjust your immigration status as long as you meet the relevant requirements.

This will allow us to check the directory of visa categories for nonimmigrants with a view to employing transportation personnel. I will only go into the categories that apply to a pilot who is not eligible for any other category (say you don't work for NATO or the UN, you are not a NAFTA signatory, etc.)

  • Category D - Allows you to work as a pilot, but must be employed by an international airline and cannot stay longer than 29 days. Your employment must be in good faith; It can't be a delusion just so you can work as a domestic pilot most of the time.

And unfortunately that is "it". You may be entitled to work if you are a citizen of any of the countries with which the US has special agreements, usually for humanitarian and similar reasons, but there are few.

As you can see, the FAA regulations aren't even in the picture noted . DHS regulations are a primary concern here.


Impressive. Very thorough, thank you!


Dear Kuba Ober, thank you very much for your efforts to write in a visa of all kinds available for foreigners. Unfortunately, it is a huge disappointment to find out how difficult it is for foreigners to travel to the US, complete their pilot training and keep an eye out for the employment of transportation personnel, which is a great job and dream for me. Not sure if I fully understand how this story will work when I get my PR (Green Card). Will that work? Can I be hired by an airline and work legally?

Cuba Ober

@Moji Once you have a green card, you're done! Since getting a green card is a long process, you may want to stop your training at some point before you get the green card. Your immigration attorney (and you need one) should be able to give you an estimate of when your application will be up to date. see also the visa bulletin. Just to give you an idea: Unmarried children of US citizens who applied in 2007 will not receive their green cards until this year !!


However, I would like to point out that the list of places where you cannot work without being a citizen is actually quite long, especially in the aviation industry which is very security related. Even in my current non-classified job, we allow non-citizens due to export restrictions on government information that would make it all but impossible for a non-citizen to work here without really doing a lot of bad papers, which are almost impossible can be approved even if they are submitted.

Cuba Ober

@reirab That's right, but if you are a permanent resident you can be a citizen in around 5 years. So it is not a permanent ban, so to speak.