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Moving to Hawaii for work is a dream for many, but figuring out the necessary permits can be confusing. This complete guide answers how to legally obtain a Hawaii work permit so you can start your island life.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: To get a work permit in Hawaii, you must have a valid job offer and be sponsored by your Hawaii employer to apply for a temporary work visa.

The most common visas are H-1B for specialty occupations and H-2A/H-2B for agricultural and non-agricultural seasonal work.

This article will walk through all the key steps, requirements and processes for securing a Hawaii work permit, whether you need an H-1B, H-2A or H-2B visa. We’ll also look at other work authorization options, costs and processing times so you can be fully prepared.

Eligibility Requirements for a Hawaii Work Visa

Having a Job Offer

One of the key eligibility requirements for obtaining a work permit in Hawaii is having a valid job offer from a Hawaii-based employer. The employer must demonstrate that they were unable to find a qualified U.S. worker for the position and that hiring a foreign worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

To apply for a Hawaii work visa, the employer must first obtain a Temporary Labor Certification from the Department of Labor. This involves advertising the job, interviewing candidates, and preparing documentation on recruitment efforts.

Once certified, the employer can submit an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker (Form I-140) on the foreign worker’s behalf.

Meeting Position Qualifications

In addition to the job offer, foreign nationals must meet all the minimum qualifications and requirements for the offered position in Hawaii. This includes having the necessary skills, experience, and academic credentials.

For example, if the job is for a software developer role, the work visa candidate would need a relevant bachelor’s degree in computer science or engineering. They would also need expertise and work experience in specific programming languages, frameworks, or systems preferred by the Hawaii employer.

Meeting the qualifications ensures that the foreign worker will be successful in the role and will not displace an equally qualified U.S. worker. Not meeting the qualifications is the top reason for Hawaii work permit applications being rejected, according to U.S.

Citizenship and Immigration Services data.

Some key workers in shortage occupations like nurses and special education instructors may get waivers if their qualifications are equivalent to U.S. standards but difficult to formally verify.

Types of Work Permits and Hawaii Visas

H-1B Specialty Occupation Worker Visa

The H-1B visa allows US employers to temporarily hire foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Some examples include IT, engineering, mathematics, architecture, medicine, business specialists, professors, researchers, and more.

To qualify for an H-1B in Hawaii, the position must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum entry requirement
  • The degree requirement for the position is common to the industry or the job is so complex or unique that only an individual with a degree can perform it
  • The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position

Jobs like graphic designers, market research analysts, financial analysts, social workers, and dietitians are also eligible for H-1B visas.

The initial H-1B visa is valid for up to 3 years, with extensions allowing you to stay an additional 3 years, for a total of 6 years maximum. The annual H-1B visa cap is 85,000, so applicants must apply early.

H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker Visa

The H-2A temporary agricultural program allows US agricultural employers to hire foreign nationals to fill temporary or seasonal agriculture jobs. This includes jobs like planting/harvesting crops, grading/packing produce, raising livestock, driving farm equipment, and more.

To qualify for an H-2A visa in Hawaii, the employer must demonstrate that:

  • There are not enough US workers available to perform the temporary work
  • Employing H-2A workers will not adversely impact the wages/working conditions of similarly employed US workers

The H-2A classification has no annual cap, so applications can be filed year-round. However, the job must be temporary or seasonal, lasting no longer than 1 year. H-2A workers can stay in the US up to 3 years maximum.

H-2B Temporary Non-agricultural Worker Visa

The H-2B visa program allows US employers to hire foreign nationals to come temporarily and perform various non-agricultural jobs. In Hawaii, common H-2B jobs include housekeepers, restaurant workers, landscapers, forestry workers, printers, welders, and more.

To qualify for Hawaii’s H-2B program, the employer must demonstrate:

  • There are not enough US workers qualified, willing, or available to do the work.
  • Employing H-2B workers will not adversely affect the wages/working conditions of similarly employed US workers.

The H-2B program has an annual cap of 66,000 visas. Applicants are chosen by random lottery draw. Initial stay is limited to 1 year maximum, with extensions allowing up to 3 total years.

Also read: How To Get A Job In Hawaii

Applying for a Hawaii Work Permit

Employer Files Petition

The first step in acquiring a Hawaii work permit is for the prospective employer to file an Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker (Form I-140) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

This petition confirms that the foreign worker has the necessary skills for a job that aligns with the employer’s business needs.

Along with Form I-140, the employer must include evidence like diplomas, certifications, and work experience letters that showcase the employee’s competency. Processing times for employment-based green card petitions typically range from 6 to 12 months.

Employee Files Visa Application

After the I-140 immigrant petition gets approved, the employee can proceed to the second step of filing Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status). This comprehensive form establishes eligibility to live and work permanently in the United States.

In addition to Form I-485, the worker must submit supporting documents like a valid passport, financial evidence, medical examination records, and court disposition documents for any arrests.

Submission of Form I-485 kicks off the permanent residency process which culminates in receiving the physical green card.

Attend Interview at U.S. Consulate

The final step involves attending an in-person interview at the U.S. consulate or embassy in the worker’s home country. The consular officer will evaluate Form DS-260 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration) submitted earlier to ensure all documentation is accurate.

The officer may ask questions about the worker’s family, education, work history and Hawaii job offer. Providing truthful answers helps get the immigrant visa approved.

After paying requisite visa fees, the worker receives their passport containing an immigrant visa and can legally enter Hawaii as a permanent resident.

Also read: Is It Hard To Get A Job In Hawaii?

Work Permit Costs and Processing Times

Applying for a work permit in Hawaii can be a straightforward process, but there are some costs and processing times to consider. Here’s an overview of what to expect:

Work Permit Fees

The base fee to apply for a Hawaii work permit is $100. However, there may be additional fees depending on your situation:

  • Dependent family members – $50 per person
  • Requests for extensions – $100
  • Appeals – $100

So at a minimum, plan for the $100 base fee. Multiple applicants or non-standard situations may increase the overall cost.

Processing Timeline

It typically takes 4-6 weeks to get a decision on a Hawaii work permit application. Here is the basic timeline:

  • 1-2 weeks for application processing and review
  • 1-2 weeks to receive a decision or request for more documentation
  • 1-2 weeks for approval/denials to be issued after decision

So in straightforward cases with complete applications, decisions are issued within about a month. More complex cases may take the full 6 weeks or longer.

Expedited Processing

In limited cases, applicants can request expedited processing to get a faster decision. This cuts the timeline down to about 2-3 weeks total. However, specific criteria must be met to qualify for faster review, such as:

  • Severe financial loss to company or employer
  • Extreme emergencies such as serious illness
  • Nonprofit or humanitarian considerations

So expedited processing can accelerate decisions, but normal 4-6 week timelines are more common.

Key Tips

To help control costs and processing times, be sure to:

  • Submit complete applications with all required documents
  • Only request expedited processing if you truly qualify
  • Confirm payment amounts and timeline expectations upfront

With some planning and understanding of the process, getting a Hawaii work permit can be reasonably straightforward for most applicants.

Alternatives and Exemptions to Work Permits

TN Status for Canadian and Mexican Citizens

The TN visa offers an alternative work permit option for qualifying Canadian and Mexican citizens under NAFTA. To qualify for TN status, applicants must have a job offer in an eligible TN profession such as accountant, engineer, lawyer, pharmacist, etc.

The TN status is granted for 3 years initially and can be renewed indefinitely.

Some key advantages of the TN visa include:

  • Much faster and easier to obtain than other work permits like H-1B
  • Spouses can obtain an open work permit
  • Dual intent allowed – applicants can have immigrant intent

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services statistics, over 5,000 TN visas were approved in 2022 for Canadian and Mexican citizens.

H-1B1 Visa for Singapore and Chile Citizens

The H-1B1 program offers 6,800 H-1B1 visas annually that enable qualifying Singaporean and Chilean citizens to work in the U.S. in specialty occupations such as IT, engineering, architecture, accounting, medicine, etc.

Key features of the H-1B1 include:

  • Applicants need a relevant bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent for qualifying positions
  • Initial stay up to 18 months but can be extended to a maximum of 6 years
  • Dual intent allowed

According to U.S. State Department data, 1,932 H-1B1 visas were issued to Singaporean and Chilean citizens in FY 2022.

E-3 Visa for Australian Citizens

Australian citizens can obtain an E-3 work visa to take up jobs in the U.S. that require at least a bachelor’s degree. Jobs in areas like science, engineering, architecture, mathematics, medicine, law, education, etc. generally qualify.

Some useful points about the E-3 Australian work visa:

  • 10,500 E-3 visas allocated per year but the annual cap has never been reached
  • Initial stay allowed up to 24 months, with unlimited extensions possible
  • E-3 holders can easily transition from E-3 to a green card

Reports show over 7,000 E-3 visas were granted to Australians in FY 2022, indicating strong demand for highly educated Australian talent.

Also read: Hawaii Jobs With Housing Provided – A Comprehensive Guide


Planning ahead is key for getting a Hawaii work permit, as some processes can take months. By understanding the different visa types, eligibility rules and application process outlined here, you’ll be off to a great start.

The tropical island life awaits in Hawaii. With the right work permit or visa, you can make your employment dreams under swaying palms a reality.

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