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.

What does it mean to have a visa?

There are three types of visas: immigrant, nonimmigrant and dual intent.

By definition, you are an immigrant if you come to the US and plan to remain permanently, or for an indefinite period of time, therefore making the United States your primary place of residence. Immigrant visas are generally family or employment-based.

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. There are a few kinds of nonimmigrant visas, such as visitor, student or diplomat.

Dual intent visas waive the major requirement of nonimmigrant visas: proving you do not plan to remain in the US. Individuals with dual intent visas wish to immigrate the the US at some point in the future, but are not currently on a track to do so.

Learn more about the three types of visas.

How do you choose a visa?

Choosing a visa type depends on your intent and qualifications:

Visitor and Business Visas

For people who wish to visit the US for a short time, be it for business or pleasure, a B-1 or B-2 visa may be needed.

If you are visiting for less than 90 days and your country participates in the US Visa Waiver Program, you may not need to apply for a visa at all.

Family Visas

US citizens and permanent residents can sponsor certain family members to immigrate to the US. Additionally, US citizens can apply for visas and green cards for foreign fiancé(e)s and spouses.

Work Visas

Visas obtained through employment are usually temporary work visas, though some work visa holders do go on to seek employment-based green cards.

There are multiple classes of temporary work visas, which are based on your profession and/or your skill level. The most popular temporary work visa is the H-1B visa.

Student Visas

Before foreign students can enroll in a US school, they must obtain a US student visa. There are three types of student visas, with the F-1 visa being the most common.

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

Special Visas

Finally, there are a few kinds of visas that don’t fit neatly into any of the above categories.

The popular Diversity Immigrant Visa Program allots visas and a path to a US green card to residents of countries with low rates of immigration to the US.

Other special visas include U visas, which are reserved for immigrants who have been the victim of a serious crime, and T visas, which are for victims of human trafficking.

Applying for a visa

We suggest you do extensive personal research before applying for a visa, and consult with an immigration attorney if you have specific questions.

Try your best to do your part in the process: carefully read and completely fill out all necessary forms, keep copies of everything submitted to USCIS, and obtain certified translations of documents which are in a language other than English. Proactively staying on top of your case can help your visa application from being delayed or even denied.


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