There is a multitude of reasons you might have questions about the U.S. visa process. Maybe you want to come to the U.S. to visit a loved one or a family member. Perhaps you are going to be working temporarily in the U.S. and sending money back to your family abroad during your time in the states. Maybe you’re just going to be taking a leisure trip to the U.S.
Regardless of the reasons, there can be strict requirements for people who want to visit the U.S. or live and work here, even for a short period of time.
Knowing what to expect ahead of time can be helpful to avoid often unpleasant obstacles.
The following are some of the key things to keep in mind when it comes to the visa process in the U.S.
An Overview of a Visa
A visa is something some nationals of foreign countries will need if they plan to enter the U.S. The visa is placed in their passport. When you have a visa, you can come through a port of entry, a land border or an airport.
Even with a visa, this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be allowed to enter the U.S., however. You can request permission to enter from the Department of Homeland Security and the Customs and Border Protection inspector.
Even though a visa doesn’t show that you’re going to automatically be admitted to the U.S., it does show that you’ve met certain standards from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Visa Waiver Program
If you’re from certain countries, you may qualify for the Visa Waiver Program. Under this program, if you’re planning to stay in the U.S. no more than 90 days for business or tourism, you may be eligible just to use your passport.
You can’t have violated any past nonimmigrant visa terms to be eligible for this. For example, if you overstayed a visa in the past, then you aren’t eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.
There are quite a few countries on the list for this program including Australia, France, Japan, Switzerland, New Zealand and many others.
Types of Visas
There are two primary types of visas issued to people who want to come to the U.S. The first is the nonimmigrant visa and the second is the immigrant visa.
The nonimmigrant visa is for people who want to visit the U.S. for purposes of tourism. Someone would apply for a nonimmigrant visa if they were coming to the U.S. for a vacation, to visit family or to seek medical treatment, as examples.
Immigrant visas are for people who plan to move to the U.S. from a foreign country. In most cases, if someone is seeking an immigrant visa, they need to be sponsored by someone, such as a relative in the U.S. or a potential employer. Nonimmigrant visas are broken down into separate categories including family-based visas, intercountry adoption visas, and employment-based visas.
There are also special immigrant visas. These can be issued to translators from Iraq or Afghanistan, Iraqui nationals who were employed by the U.S. government and religious workers.
Another classification is the diversity visa. Diversity visas are available to people from certain designated countries.
Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa
A nonimmigrant visa is typically going to have an easier application process than an immigrant visa.
Even within the nonimmigrant visa category, there are different classifications. A B-1 visa is for someone who is coming to the U.S. to do business. This could include going to a conference, negotiating a contract, or consulting.
A B-2 visa is for tourists, people who are coming for medical treatment, or for similar reasons.
If you’re coming to the U.S. as a student or for particular types of jobs, you may need to go through a different application process. For example, there is the Student and Exchange Visitor Program for international students. To be eligible for this you have to have already been accepted by a school. There’s also the F-1 visa which is for full-time academic students and the M-1 visa for full-time vocational studies.
The first step if you’re interested in a U.S. visa is to determine which category you fall into and go from there because each has its own set of requirements and application procedures.