US Immigration Guide: Applying for a Visa

A visa authorizes you to come to a US port or inspection point to apply to be admitted to the US for the specific purpose detailed in writing in your visa. A visa does not give you the right to enter the US, but only the right to apply to be admitted at an inspection point.

The good news is that once you have a visa you can officially and legally begin the process of becoming an immigrant.

By definition, you are an immigrant if you come to the US and plan to remain permanently, or for an indefinite period of time, making the United States your primary place of residence. Ironically for a country that proclaims itself as a nation of immigrants — a statement which is essentially true except for Native Americans  – the United States has become increasingly selective about who can legally live in the country. This of course opens up a wide ranging discussion of history (the closing of the frontier), politics (labor unions and job protection) and taxes (the popular perception that immigrant populations are a tax burden on existing citizens).

An immigrant visa is the visa given to a person by a US consul after qualifying for permanent residence. After arriving in the US, you will get the coveted green card. There are various applications for residence including those based on employment, family relations and refugee status. Many of these forms are available Free on the Legal Language Website.

You are a nonimmigrant if you come to the US for a limited period of time and intend to return to another country after your stay in the US ends. The term “nonimmigrant” can also refer to a type of visa issued to a nonimmigrant, such as visitor, student or diplomat.

A nonimmigrant visa allows you to remain within the United States for a particular purpose and it is only valid for the purpose for which it was originally issued. For example, a student visa cannot be used for entry as a visitor, nor can you have a visitor visa to enter and study. Of course the most common violation of the nonimmigrant visa is when visitors or students engage in business or work for hire. Our best advice here is: don’t. What will be at risk is your future ability to live, let alone work, in the US

Remember, a visa is not a guarantee of entry into the United States, or an open invitation to engage in any or all activities.

You are subject to inspection at the port of entry by US Immigration officials who have authority to deny admission. Therefore, we advise that you should always carry with you the evidence submitted to the consular officer when the visa was obtained.

By the way, something new has been added to the US Visa options — the Diversity Visas Lottery Program. This program issues 55,000 permanent resident immigrant visas by random selection. It is designed to encourage immigration from countries that are considered to be “low immigration countries”.

If you are interested, we have included important details on the Lottery Program registration elsewhere. We also have posted the full text of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, Section 202(b), which gives the rules for chargeability, and Section 203(c), which determines the eligibility of regions for the lottery.