Visa policy of the United States
Visitors to the United States must obtain a visa from one of the United States diplomatic missions unless they come from one of the visa exempt countries or Visa Waiver Program countries. The same rules apply to Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Visa exemption
- 3 Qualification process
- 4 Classes of visas
- 4.1 A-1, A-2, and A-3
- 4.2 B-1 and B-2
- 4.3 F visa
- 4.4 J-1
- 4.5 H-1B
- 4.6 L-1 Intracompany Transferee
- 4.7 TN Visa (TN-1) for Canadians/Mexicans to work in the United States
- 4.8 K Visas for immediate relatives
- 4.9 V visas and LIFE Act for spouses of legal permanent residents (Green Card holders)
- 4.10 Electronic System for Travel Authorization
- 5 List of the various types of visa
- 6 Visa denial
- 7 Exceptions
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
United States Visas were issued to 8.9 million foreign nationals visiting the United States and to 482,000 immigrants in 2012. A foreign national wishing to enter the U.S. must obtain a visa unless he or she is
- a citizen of one of the thirty-eight Visa Waiver Program countries
- a citizen of Canada, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, or the Republic of Palau
- a British Overseas Territories Citizen from Bermuda or the Cayman Islands
- a citizen of the Bahamas or a British Overseas Territories Citizen from the Turks and Caicos Islands (if traveling directly to the U.S. from their respective countries with a valid passport and police certificate issued within six months of time of travel certifying they do not have a serious criminal record)
- a U.S. permanent resident
- eligible for visa-free travel under other laws.
There are separate requirements for Mexican citizens.
While there are about 185 different types of visas, there are two main categories of U.S. visas:
- Nonimmigrant visa - for temporary visits such as for tourism, business, work or studying.
- Immigrant visa - for people to immigrate to the United States. At the port of entry, the immigrant visa holder is processed for a permanent resident card (I-551, a.k.a. green card). Upon endorsement (CBP admission stamp) it serves as temporary I-551 evidencing permanent residence for 1 year.
In order to immigrate, one should either have an immigrant visa or have a dual intent visa, which is one that is compatible with making a concurrent application for permanent resident status, or having an intention to apply for permanent residence.
Entering the U.S. on an employment visa may be described as a three-step process in most cases. First, the employer files an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requesting a particular type of category visa for a specific individual. If the employer's application is approved, it only authorizes the individual to apply for a visa; the approved application is not actually a visa. The individual then applies for a visa and is usually interviewed at a U.S. embassy or consulate in the native country. If the embassy or consulate gives the visa, the individual is then allowed to travel to the U.S. At the border crossing, airport, or other point of entry into the U.S., the individual speaks with an officer from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ask to admission to the U.S. If approved, the individual may then enter the U.S.
Contrary to a popular misconception, a U.S. visa does not authorize the alien's entry to the United States, nor does it authorize the alien's stay in the U.S. in a particular status. A U.S. visa only serves as a preliminary permission given to the alien to travel to the United States and to seek admission to the United States at a designated port of entry. The final admission to the United States in a particular status and for a particular period of time is made at the port of entry by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. For aliens entering the U.S. in a nonimmigrant visa status these details are recorded by the CBP officer on the alien's Form I-94 (Form I-94W for citizens of the Visa Waiver Program countries entering the U.S. for short visits), which serves as the official document authorizing the alien's stay in the United States in a particular non-immigrant visa status and for a particular period of time. Another type of U.S. visa is lottery visa. 50,000 additional visa numbers are available each year under the section of visa lottery. In the last few years more than 9 million people have participated in the visa lottery 
Citizens of the following countries, linked with the USA by the Compacts of Free Association, do not require a visa to enter, reside, study, and work indefinitely in the United States:
Citizens of the following country do not require a visa to visit the United States and can study and work under special simplified procedure:
Visa Waiver Program
Currently, 38 countries have been selected by the U.S. government for inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program and their citizens do not need to acquire a US visa (but are required to get an electronic authorization) to visit the United States (including Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands):
Citizens of the following countries and territories can travel without obtaining a visa for the United States under certain circumstances:
- Bermuda – British Overseas Territories citizens by virtue of their connection to Bermuda can enter the United States visa-free provided they are bona-fide visitors - no I-94 is required. To qualify, they must not have had a criminal conviction or ineligibility, violated U.S. immigration laws in the past and must not be arriving the United States from outside the Western Hemisphere. In addition, they must present a Bermudian passport which fulfils the following criteria: the front cover has printed on it "Government of Bermuda", the holder's nationality must be stated as either "British Overseas Territory Citizen" or "British Dependant Territories Citizen", the passport must contain one of the following endorsement stamps: "Holder is registered as a Bermudian", "Holder Possesses Bermudian Status" or "Holder is deemed to possess Bermudian status".
- Bahamas – citizens do not require a visa to enter the United States if they apply for entry at one of the Preclearance Facilities located in Nassau or Freeport International Airports. Bahamian citizens must not have had a criminal conviction or ineligibility, violated U.S. immigration laws in the past and must be in possession of valid, unexpired passport or a Bahamian Travel Document indicating that they have Bahamian citizenship. In addition to a passport, all applicants 14 years of age or older must present a police certificate issued by the Royal Bahamas Police Force within the past six months. All Bahamians applying for admission at a port-of-entry other than the Preclearance Facilities located in Nassau or Freeport International Airports are required to be in possession of a valid visa to enter the United States.
- Cayman Islands – whilst residents of the Cayman Islands, as British Overseas Territories Citizens, are eligible automatically to register as a full British citizen under Section 4(A) of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, thereby able additionally to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, they can alternatively enter visa-free using their Cayman Islands passports. To qualify under the latter method, their Cayman Islands passports must confirm their British Overseas Territories citizenship and be endorsed by the Cayman Islands Passport and Corporate Services Office with a Cayman-U.S. visa waiver, issued at a cost of $15–25 and valid for one entry. They must travel directly between the Cayman Islands and the United States and their Cayman Islands passport must also have a validity of at least six months beyond their intended departure date from the United States. If Cayman Islanders elect to enter the U.S. using the Cayman-U.S. visa waiver, they are not required to apply for an ESTA online, since they are not entering under the VWP.
- Turks and Caicos Islands – British Overseas Territories Citizens by virtue of their connection to the Turks and Caicos Islands can enter the United States visa-free for short business and pleasure. To qualify, they must not have had a criminal conviction or ineligibility, not violated U.S. immigration laws in the past and must arrive in the United States on a direct flight from the territory. In addition, they must present a Turks and Caicos Islands passport which states that they are a British Overseas Territory Citizen and have the right to abode in the Turks and Caicos Islands. In addition to a valid, unexpired passport, all travellers 14 years of age or older must present a police certificate issued by the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force within the past six months. All British Overseas Territories Citizens of the Turks and Caicos Islands who apply for admission at a port-of-entry that does not have direct air service to/from the territory, are required to be in possession of a valid visa to enter the United States.
Guam and Northern Mariana Islands Visa Waiver Program
The U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have a specific Guam-Northern Mariana Islands Visa Waiver Program too. Under this program, first enacted in October 1988 and periodically amended, nationals from several additional countries in Asia and the Pacific islands are permitted to enter the Northern Marianas and Guam as tourists without a visa for up to 45 days. Travel is not permitted onwards to the mainland United States, and because of special visa categories for the Northern Mariana Islands foreign workers, traveling between Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands still requires a full immigration inspection. In addition to the citizens of Australia, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and the United Kingdom who are also eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (but do not require ESTA for Guam and Northern Mariana Islands), citizens of the following countries and territories are eligible only for the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program:
- Russia - despite not being included in the new Guam-CNMI visa waiver program, as part of a parole arrangement, Russian citizens in possession of a machine-readable passport, a completed Form I-736 (Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Information form) and Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) and a non-refundable and non-transferable return ticket can visit both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands visa-free for up to 45 days.
- China - Chinese citizens in possession of a machine-readable passport, completed Form I-736 (Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Information form) and Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record) may enter the CNMI only visa-free for up to 45 days (travel to Guam still requires applying for a visa in advance).
The visa waiver does not apply to American Samoa.
Nationals of the following countries arriving for tourism purposes only do not require a visa (they are issued with a 30 day entry permit on arrival): Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
Visits to the United States Minor Outlying Islands – Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Palmyra Atoll and Wake Island – are severely restricted. Most of the islands are closed off, and prospective visitors require special permits, usually from the US army.
Applicants for visitor visas must show that they qualify under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The presumption in the law is that every nonimmigrant visa applicant (except certain employment-related applicants, who are exempt) is an intending immigrant unless otherwise proven. Therefore, applicants for most nonimmigrant visas must overcome this presumption by demonstrating that:
- The purpose of their trip is to enter the U.S. for a specific, intended purpose;
- They plan to remain for a specific, limited period; and
- They have a residence outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties which will ensure their return at the end of their stay.
All visit, business, transit, student, and exchange visitor visa applicants must pay a US$160 application fee (up from $140 as of April 2012) to a US Consulate in order to be interviewed by a Consular Officer who will determine if the applicant is qualified to receive a visa to travel to the U.S (additionally, the officer may also ask the United States Department of State for a Security Advisory Opinion, which can take several weeks to resolve). The application fee is increased to $190 for most work visas (up from $150 as of April 2012) and can be even higher for certain categories. If the applicant is rejected, the application fee is not refunded. Amongst the items included in the qualification decision are financial independence, adequate employment, material assets and a lack of a criminal record in the applicant's native country.
The immigration visa process is even more stringent and costly. After all processing fees have been paid, most immigration visa applicants pay well over 1000 U.S. dollars to become permanent residents in the United States and may be forced to wait several years before actually immigrating to the U.S.
Classes of visas
A-1, A-2, and A-3
A visas are issued to "representatives of a foreign government traveling to the United States to engage in official activities for that government." A visas are granted to foreign government ambassadors, ministers, diplomats, as well as other foreign government officials or employees traveling on official business [A-1 Visa]. The A visa is also granted to immediate family members of such foreign government officials, defined as "the principal applicant's spouse and unmarried sons and daughters of any age who are not members of some other household and who will reside regularly in the household of the principal alien" [A-2 Visa] and which "may also include close relatives of the principal alien or spouse who are related by blood, marriage, or adoption who are not members of some other household; who will reside regularly in the household of the principal alien; and who are recognized as dependents by the sending government [A-3 Visa].
B-1 and B-2
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The most common non-immigrant visa is the multiple-purpose B-1/B-2 visa, also known as the "visa for temporary visitors for business or pleasure." Visa applicants sometimes receive either a B-1 (temporary visitor for business) or a B-2 (temporary visitor for pleasure) visa, if their reason for travel is specific enough that the consular officer does not feel they qualify for combined B-1/B-2 status.
These visas are issued for foreign students enrolled at accredited US institutions. They are managed through SEVIS.
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The Exchange Visitor Program is carried out under the provisions of the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, officially known as the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 (Pub.L. 87–256, 75 Stat. 527). The purpose of the Act is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges. The Exchange Visitor Program is administered by the Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
In carrying out the responsibilities of the Exchange Visitor Program, the Department designates public and private entities to act as exchange sponsors. Sponsoring organizations facilitate the entry of foreign nationals into the United States as exchange visitors to complete the objectives of one of the exchange visitor program categories, which are:
- Au Pair
- Student, College/University
- Student, Secondary
- Government Visitor
- International Visitor (reserved for Department of State use)
- Professor and Research Scholar -
- Short-term Scholar (maximum duration of participation in this category is six months; no program extensions are permitted)
- Specialist (maximum duration of participation in this category is one year)
- Summer work/travel
- Trainee (maximum duration of participation in this category is 18 months, except for agriculture programs (limited to 12 months) and hospitality training programs (limited to a maximum duration of 12 months, with any hospitality training program longer than six months required to have at least three departmental rotations).
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The H-1B classification is for professional-level jobs that require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a specific academic field. In addition, the employee must have the degree or the equivalence of such a degree through education and experience. Before the H-1B petition can be filed with USCIS the employer must fill a "Labor Condition Application" (LCA) with the Department of Labor demonstrating that it is paying the required wage for this position in the geographic region where the job is located. The required wage for the position is the higher of the "actual wage" that is paid to other employees in this position or the "prevailing wage" which can be determined using nearly any source, including the employer's own wage survey.
When the employer submits the LCA, the law specifically limits the approval process so that LCAs may only be rejected if they be "incomplete or obviously inaccurate" (8 U.S.C. 1182 (n)).
In the case of "H-1B-dependent employers" (usually those with more than 15% of their workers on H-1B visas), the law requires these employers to recruit U.S. workers in "good faith" (8 U.S.C. 1182(n) (1)(G)).
As a general rule, a person who is in one non-immigrant status may not change status or change employers in that status until he or she applies with USCIS for such a change, and such change is granted. However, a provision called "H-1B portability" permits certain individuals already in the United States in H-1B status to commence employment for a new employer once a new employer's H-1B petition is filed with USCIS.
To obtain an H-1B visa, the employer must show that it will pay the higher of the prevailing local wage or the wage it pays other U.S. citizens who have similar education and experience.
L-1 Intracompany Transferee
The L-1 classification is for international transferees who have worked for a related organization abroad for at least one continuous year in the past three years and who will be coming to the United States to work in an executive or managerial (L-1A) or specialized knowledge capacity (L-1B).
To qualify as an international executive, the employee must meet the following requirements:
- Direct the management of the organization or a major component or function;
- Establish the goals and policies of the organization, component, or function;
- Exercise wide latitude in discretionary decision-making; and
- Receive only general supervision or direction from higher-level executives, the board of directors, or stockholders of the organization.
To qualify as an international manager, the employee must meet the following requirements:
- Manage the organization or department, subdivision, function or component of the organization;
- Supervise and control the work of other supervisory, professional or managerial employees, or manage an essential function within the organization, or a department or subdivision of the organization;
- The authority to hire and fire, or recommend hire/fire and other personnel actions (such as promotion and leave authorization), or if no employees are directly supervised, functions at a senior level within the organizational hierarchy or with respect to the function managed; and
- Exercises discretion over the day-to-day operations of the activity or function for which the employee has authority.
To qualify as a specialized knowledge transferee, the employee must meet the following requirements:
- Possess knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets; or
- An advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures of the company.
An employee has specialized knowledge if the knowledge is different from that generally found in the particular industry. Possible characteristics of an employee who possesses specialized knowledge include knowledge that is valuable to the employer's competitiveness in the market place; knowledge of foreign operating conditions as a result of special knowledge not generally found in the industry; has worked abroad in a capacity involving significant assignments which have enhanced the employer's productivity, competitiveness, image or financial position; possesses knowledge which normally can be gained only through prior experience with that employer; or possesses knowledge of a product or process which cannot be easily transferred or taught to another individual. A lengthy discussion by the Administrative Appeals Office about L-1B requirements can be found in a decision from August 2007 known only by its file number, LIN 06 003 52015.
TN Visa (TN-1) for Canadians/Mexicans to work in the United States
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General Information about TN Status
Since the effective date of January 1, 1994, (NAFTA) facilitates travel to and employment in the United States (U.S.) of certain Canadian and Mexican workers. NAFTA created TN classification for eligible Canadian and Mexican professional workers and affected terms of Canadians' admissions to the U.S. under other classifications. A TN position must require services of a NAFTA professional whose profession is noted in Appendix 1603.D.1(see attached Appendix 1603.D.1); the TN employee must possess the credentials required as well as proof of qualifying citizenship. TN status allows unlimited multiple entries to the U.S. for the period of service required by the U.S. employer (includes foreign employers), up to a maximum of three years, and can be extended indefinitely as long as the temporary purpose of the employment continues.
There is no annual cap on TN work permits (unlike the H-1B visa).
Self-Employment in the U.S. Not Permitted
TN: Members of Appendix 1603.D.1 professions who are self-employed outside the U.S. may pursue business relationships from outside the U.S. (e.g. contracts for services) with U.S.-based companies and obtain TN status to engage in these prearranged activities in the U.S. However, under TN classification an alien is not permitted to come to the United States to engage in self-employment in the United States, nor to render services to a corporation or other entity in which he/she is a controlling owner or shareholder. Other NAFTA Admissions Categories Nationals Canada and Mexico may also seek admission as B-1 (business visitor), E-1 (treaty trader), E-2 (treaty investor), or L-1 (intra-company transferee) nonimmigrants under NAFTA. This bulletin does not address those alternatives.
TN Processing and Admissions Procedure
TN Processing and Admissions Procedure
Canadians may apply for TN-1 classification directly at a U.S. Class "A" port-of-entry, at a U.S. airport handling international traffic, or at a U.S. pre-flight/pre-clearance station in Canada. Visa might be required under certain circumstances (see below).
Professionals of Canada or Mexico may work in the U.S. under the following conditions:
- Applicant is a citizen of Canada or Mexico;
- Profession is on the NAFTA list;
- Position in the U.S. requires a NAFTA professional;
- Mexican or Canadian applicant is to work in a prearranged full-time or part-time job, for a U.S. employer (see documentation required);
- Professional Canadian or Mexican citizen has the qualifications of the profession.
Canadian citizens are visa exempt and do not need consular visas to travel or apply for admission to the U.S. TN-1 applicants at land ports-of-entry must also pay a modest I-94 fee. However, a Canadian residing in another country with a non-Canadian spouse and child would need a visa to enable the spouse and child to be able to apply for a visa to accompany or join the NAFTA Professional, as a TD visa holder. Canadians applying for a visa will follow the same documentation requirements as Mexican Citizens. Each U.S. Embassy or Consulate website has its own procedures to schedule an interview appointment, pay the fees and any other instructions.
For the Canadian Citizens that require a visa, and Mexican Citizens, it is required to fill an Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application, Form DS-160.
Other requirements are:
- A passport valid for travel to the U.S. and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the U.S. (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions).
- One (1) 2 in. x 2 in. photograph according to the photo requirements. A photograph is not required if you are applying in Mexico.
- The applicant’s employer in the U.S. must provide an employment letter that includes the following:
- Indicate that the position in question in the U.S. requires the employment of a person in a professional capacity, consistent with the NAFTA Chapter 16, Annex 1603, Appendix 1603.d.1.
- Part-time employment is permitted. Self-employment is not permitted. The letter or contract providing a detailed description of the business activities may be provided from the U.S. or foreign employer, and should state the following:
- Activity in which the applicant shall be engaged and purpose of entry;
- Anticipated length of stay;
- Educational qualifications or appropriate credentials demonstrating professional status;
- Evidence of compliance with DHS regulations, and/or state laws; and
- Arrangements for pay.
Although not required, proof of licensure to practice a given profession in the U.S. may be offered along with a job offer letter, or other documentation in support of a TN visa application.
Spouses and unmarried children under 21 of Canadian and Mexican professionals obtain TD status. They can be included on the application of the TN principal (no separate filing fees) and admitted for the same duration of stay. TD nonimmigrants may study in the US under this classification, but are not authorized for employment. Canadian dependents' eligibility may be adjudicated at a US port-of-entry. Although Mexican family members are automatically included in TN petitions filed at the Nebraska Service Center, they must file separate application for TD visas at US consulates. Note: Dependents are not required to be Canadian or Mexican citizens.
K Visas for immediate relatives
Even though these visas are issued to people who have the intent to immigrate permanently to the United States, they are still technically classified as nonimmigrant visas (temporary). U.S. citizens may petition the USCIS for a K temporary visa for fiancés, spouses and unmarried dependent children of said fiancés and spouses. In the case of fiancés, the K-1 visa will allow them to stay in the U.S. for 90 days to marry the petitioning citizen and apply for adjustment of status to legal permanent resident. If the marriage is not concluded within that time, the fiancé will be subjected to removal proceedings. Compliance with the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) IMBRA limits the number of K1 fiancé visa petitions a sponsor can file or have approved without seeking a waiver of the limits. Additionally, the child of a fiancé may receive a derivative K-2 visa from his or her parent's fiancé petition. The child may travel with the fiancé or travel later within one year from the date of issuance of the K-1 visa to the parent. A separate petition is not required if the children accompany or follow the fiancé within one year from the date of issuance of the K1 visa. If it is longer than one year from the date of visa issuance, a separate visa petition is required. In the case of spouses, the K-3 visa is valid for two years and may be extended indefinitely as long as the marriage on which it is based is not dissolved. The holders of K-3 and K-4 status are eligible for work authorization and may leave and re-enter the United States as long as their visas are still valid.
V visas and LIFE Act for spouses of legal permanent residents (Green Card holders)
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Adjustment of status is the final step of what is commonly called the green card or LPR process, i.e. that of becoming a legal permanent resident (LPR). It requires that the foreign national in question file an I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status, most often based on a preexisting and approved or approvable I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker or I-130 Petition for Alien Relative. Due to comprehensive immigration reform in 2002, I-485 applications and I-130 or I-140 petitions may be filed concurrently given the immediate availability of an immigrant visa number. The application must be filed with an I-693 Medical Examination of Alien issued by a licensed Civil Surgeon and a G-325A Biographic Information form, which documents provide a complete medical and immunological history as well as a record of the foreign national's places of employment and residence for the last five years. The USCIS then sets a date for the foreign national to have their fingerprints, picture and signature recorded for their FBI background check and entry in the USCIS database. A usually perfunctory interview with a USCIS officer is required in the vast majority of cases.
A pending adjustment of status application entitles the applicant to work and travel authorization in the forms of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card and Advance Parole documents that must be renewed on a yearly basis. The application may be considered abandoned if the applicant does not attend a biometrics appointment or interview. Applications may also be denied for any of the following reasons:
- The underlying immigrant petition is denied or withdrawn
- The applicant is found to have entered or resided in the United States illegally (although this may be waived for one who originally entered with a valid visa and is an immediate relative of the US citizen-petitioner)
- The applicant is judged as undesirable on the grounds of prior criminal convictions, affiliation with unsuitable political parties or organizations (e.g. former members of the Communist Party), poor character or have debilitating health problems, as well as other grounds.
If an adjustment application is approved, a permanent residency card (green card) valid for ten years is issued to the applicant. After five years LPRs are eligible to apply for naturalization, except that an LPR who obtained their green card through marriage may apply for naturalization after only three years if he or she is still living with the same spouse who originally filed the petition for the LPR.
Legal permanent residents (LPR)s, have some restrictions on their rights. If they marry a foreign born spouse, the green card holder may have to remain separated for years from his spouse or family while the paper work needed to get immigration authorization grinds through the system. The option of returning to their original home to immediately effect a reunion with their spouse and family is often not attractive.
INA 245(i) was initially enacted by Congress in 1994, with an expiration of November 1997. INA 245(i) allowed otherwise ineligible 'adjustment of status' applicants to apply for and receive green cards in the United States by paying a $1,000 fine.
In late 1997 amid much controversy, the law was extended to allow Immigrant Visa Petitions or Labor Certifications filed before January 14, 1998 to be 'grandfathered', essentially extending the time limit for 'adjustment of status.'
With INA 245(i) set to expire on January 14, 1998, a mechanism was implemented to unite families—effectively expediting entry of spouses and their children into the United States—by creating a nonimmigrant classification for families of LPRs through the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act of 2000 (the LIFE Act), signed into law by President Clinton on December 21, 2000 as Public Law 106-553.
The LIFE Act extended, until April 30, 2001 the "grandfathering deadline" of the previous amendment to Section 245(i) of the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA), giving applicants who failed to meet the previous 1997 INA deadline, a second extension in which to file an Immigrant Visa Petition or Labor Certification.
This extension to applicants for Immigrant Visa Petitions or Labor Certifications who filed prior to April 20, 2001, who were physically present in the United States, allowed them to be 'grandfathered', as was permitted with the previous extended deadline of INS 245(i), and gives applicants the opportunity to transfer their eligibility later.
Section 1102 of President Clinton's LIFE Act of 2000 amended section 101(a)(15) of the Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a) (15)) adding a new nonimmigrant classification, paragraph ('V' visa), for certain spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (LPRs), who have waited at least three years for the availability of an immigrant visa number in the family-based second (F2A) preference category in accordance with the State Department's monthly Visa Bulletin.
Section 1102 also added section 214 (o) to the Act (8 U.S.C. 1184(o)) in order to provide the terms and conditions of V nonimmigrant status and employment authorization, and makes conforming amendments to sections 214 (b) and 214 (h) of the Act (8 U.S.C. 1184 (b) and 1184 (h)) to include reference to the V non-immigrant classification.
Prior to the passage of the LIFE Act of 2000, aliens who were married to a U.S. Citizen and living abroad had to obtain an immigrant visa 'outside of the United States' prior to admission.
Following President Clinton's signing and enactment of the LIFE Act of 2000, spouses of U.S. Citizens and their children who were beneficiaries of pending or approved visa petitions could be admitted initially as nonimmigrants and adjust to immigrant status later while in the United States.
This amnesty allowed aliens already present in the U.S. to obtain 'V' non-immigrant status while remaining in the United States. In addition spouses and unmarried children under 21 years old could apply for visa abroad and for admission to the United States as a 'V' nonimmigrant.
The 'K' nonimmigrant classification in the LIFE Act of 2000 was limited to a fiancee or fiancee of a U.S. citizen seeking to enter the U.S. to complete a marriage within 90 days of entry, and the fiance/fiancee's child.
However, changes were made to the LIFE Act of 2000 and effective August 14, 2001 at Subsection 1103(a), which amended section 101(a)(15)(K) of the Act, and implemented a new "K" non-immigrant classification.
Subsection 1103(a) redesignates the "K" non-immigrant classification as section 101(a)(15)(K)(i) of the Act, adds a classification for the spouse of a U.S. Citizen at section 101(a)(15)(K)(ii), and classifies the children of aliens at section 101(a)(15)(K)(iii) of the Act.
The new section 101(a)(15)(K)(ii) of the Act has three requirements for an alien to obtain this nonimmigrant classification.
- The alien must already be married to a U.S. Citizen who has filed a relative visa petition on his or her behalf with the Service for purposes of an immigrant visa.
- That same U.S. citizen spouse must be petitioning on that alien's behalf to obtain a nonimmgrant visa.
- The alien must be seeking to enter the United States to wait the "availability of an immigrant visa.
More information on the LIFE Act of 2000, the August 14, 2001 and other amendments can be perused online at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, or by contacting a local Services field office.
Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), more commonly known as Green Card holders, are foreigners who do not have U.S. citizenship but are permitted to live and work there. Those who have opted to get married to non U.S. citizens are unable to bring their spouses and families directly to the U.S.. The foreign spouse of a U.S. Green Card holder must wait for approval of an 'immigrant visa' from the State Department before legally entering the U.S.. Due to a backlog in processing, such visas can sometimes take upwards of five years to be approved. In the interim, the foreign born spouse and family cannot enter the U.S. on any other visas, or as visitors. LPRs always have the option to return to their country of citizenship, but if they want to stay in the U.S. and stay married to their "foreign" family they are in a unique situation:
- Temporary visitors and non-immigrants coming to the U.S. on temporary visas for work, business or studies (including on H1, L1, B, and F1 visas) can sponsor their dependent spouses to travel along with them and return with them when they leave.
- American Citizens have more options and can sponsor their spouses to come to the U.S. in non-immigrant status and then convert to an immigrant status under the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act (the "LIFE Act")
The V visa page has more details on the V visa as enacted by the LIFE Act.
Electronic System for Travel Authorization
The new Electronic System for Travel Authorization is not a visa. Rather, obtaining a travel authorization from ESTA is a prerequisite to travelling to the US under the Visa Waiver Program. ESTA authorization, once obtained, is valid for two years unless during that time the person obtains a new passport or his/her answers to any of the eligibility questions changes.
List of the various types of visa
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (March 2014)|
|IR-1||Spouse of U.S. citizen|
|IR-2||Child of U.S. citizen|
|IR-3||Orphan from a non-Hague country (i.e., not a party to the Hague Adoption Convention) adopted abroad by U.S. citizen|
|IR-4||Orphan from a non-Hague country to be adopted in the United States by U.S. citizen|
|IR-5||Parent of U.S. citizen at least 21 years of age|
|IH-3||Orphan from a Hague country adopted abroad by U.S. citizen|
|IH-4||Orphan from a Hague country to be adopted in the United States by U.S. citizen|
|CR-1||Spouse of U.S. citizen (conditional status)|
|CR-2||Child of U.S. citizen (conditional status)|
|IW-1||Certain spouses of deceased U.S. citizens|
|IW-2||Child of IW-1 IB-1|
|IB-2||Self-petition child of U.S. citizen|
|IB-3||Child of IB-1|
|VI-5||Parent of U.S. citizen who acquired permanent resident status under the Virgin Islands Nonimmigrant Alien Adjustment Act|
|Vietnam Amerasian Immigrants|
|AM-1||Vietnam Amerasian principal|
|AM-2||Spouse/Child of AM-1|
|AM-3||Natural mother of AM-1 (and spouse or child of such mother), or person who has acted in effect as the mother, father, or next-of-kin of AM-1 (and spouse or child of such person)|
|SC-1||Certain persons who lost U.S. citizenship by marriage|
|SC-2||Certain persons who lost U.S. citizenship by serving in foreign armed forces|
|Family-Sponsored Immigrants: First Preference|
|F11||Unmarried son or daughter of U.S. citizen|
|F12||Child of F11|
|B11||Self-petition unmarried son or daughter of U.S. citizen|
|B12||Child of B11|
|Family-Sponsored Immigrants: Second Preference (Subject to Country Limitations)|
|F21||Spouse of permanent resident|
|F22||Child of permanent resident|
|F23||Child of F21 or F22|
|F24||Unmarried son/daughter of permanent resident|
|F25||Child of F24|
|B21||Self-petition spouse of permanent resident|
|B22||Self-petition child of permanent resident|
|B23||Child of B21 or B22|
|B24||Self-petition unmarried son/daughter of permanent resident|
|B25||Child of B24|
|Family-Sponsored Immigrants: Second Preference (Exempt from Country Limitations)|
|FX1||Spouse of permanent resident|
|FX2||Child of permanent resident|
|FX3||Child of FX1 or FX2|
|BX1||Self-petition spouse of permanent resident|
|BX2||Self-petition child of permanent resident|
|BX3||Child of BX1 or BX2|
|Family-Sponsored Immigrants: Third Preference|
|F31||Married son or daughter of U.S. citizen|
|F32||Spouse of F31|
|F33||Child of F31|
|B31||Self-petition married son or daughter of U.S. citizen B32|
|B33||Child of B31|
|Family-Sponsored Immigrants: Fourth Preference|
|F41||Brother or sister of U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years of age|
|F42||Spouse of F41|
|F43||Child of F41|
|Employment-Based Immigrants: First Preference (Priority Workers)|
|E11||Person with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics|
|E12||Outstanding professor or researcher|
|E13||Multinational executive or manager|
|E14||Spouse of E11, E12, or E13|
|E15||Child of E11, E12, or E13|
|Employment-Based Immigrants: Second Preference (Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees or Persons of Exceptional Ability)|
|E21||Professional holding advanced degree or person of exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business|
|E22||Spouse of E21|
|E23||Child of E21|
|Employment-Based Immigrants: Third Preference (Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers)|
|E32||Professional holding baccalaureate degree|
|E34||Spouse of E31 or E32|
|E35||Child of E31 or E32|
|EW3||Other workers (subgroup numerical limit)|
|EW4||Spouse of EW3|
|EW5||Child of EW3|
|Employment-Based Immigrants: Fourth Preference (Certain Special Immigrants)|
|BC-1||Certain international broadcasters|
|BC-2||Spouse of BC-1|
|BC-3||Child of BC-1|
|SD-1||Minister of religion|
|SD-2||Spouse of SD-1|
|SD-3||Child of SD-1|
|SE-1||Certain employees or former employees of the U.S. Government abroad|
|SE-2||Spouse of SE-1|
|SE-3||Child of SE-1|
|SF-1||Certain former employees of the Panama Canal Company or Canal Zone Government|
|SF-2||Spouse or child of SF-1|
|SG-1||Certain former employees of the U.S. Government in the Panama Canal Zone SG-2|
|SH-2||Spouse or child of SH-1|
|SJ-2||Spouse or child of SJ-1 (certain foreign medical graduates)|
|SK-1||Certain retired international organization employees|
|SK-2||Spouse of SK-1 SK-3|
|SK-4||Certain surviving spouses of deceased international organization employees SL-1|
|SM-1||Person recruited outside the United States who has served, or is enlisted to serve, in the U.S. Armed Forces for 12 years (became eligible after October 1, 1991)|
|SM-2||Spouse of SM-1|
|SM-3||Child of SM-1|
|SM-4||Person recruited outside the United States who has served, or is enlisted to serve, in the U.S. Armed Forces for 12 years (eligible as of October 1, 1991)|
|SM-5||Spouse or child of SM-4|
|SN-1||Certain retired NATO-6 civilian employees|
|SN-2||Spouse of SN-1|
|SN-3||Certain unmarried sons or daughters of NATO-6 civilian employees|
|SN-4||Certain surviving spouses of deceased NATO-6 civilian employees|
|SR-1||Certain religious workers (subgroup numerical limit)|
|SR-2||Spouse of SR-1|
|SR-3||Child of SR-1|
|Employment-Based Immigrants: Fifth Preference (Employment Creation - Investors) (Conditional Status)|
|C51||Employment creation outside targeted area|
|C52||Spouse of C51|
|C53||Child of C51|
|T51||Employment creation in targeted rural/high unemployment area (subgroup numerical set-aside)|
|T52||Spouse of T51|
|T53||Child of T51|
|R51||Investor pilot program, not in targeted area|
|R52||Spouse of R51|
|R53||Child of R51|
|I52||Spouse of I51|
|I53||Child of I51|
|Other Numerically Limited Categories: Diversity Immigrants|
|DV-2||Spouse of DV-1|
|DV-3||Child of DV-1|
|A-1||Ambassador, public minister, career diplomat or consular officer, and immediate family|
|A-2||Other foreign government official or employee, and immediate family|
|A-3||Attendant, servant, or personal employee of A-1 or A-2, and immediate family|
|B-1||Temporary visitor for business|
|B-2||Temporary visitor for pleasure B-1/B-2|
|C-1||Person in transit|
|C-2||Person in transit to United Nations Headquarters district under Section 11 (3), (4), or (5) of the Headquarters Agreement|
|C-3||Foreign government official, immediate family, attendant, servant or personal employee, in transit|
|CP||Continued Presence: Issued by federal law enforcement to victims of crime actively cooperating in an investigation or prosecution of a federal crime|
|D||Crewmember (sea or air)|
|E-1*||Treaty trader, spouse and children|
|E-2*||Treaty investor, spouse and children|
|E-3*||Treaty traders and investors: Australian Free Trade Agreement|
|F-1||Student (academic or language training program)|
|F-2||Spouse or child of F-1|
|F-3||Border commuter student (academic or language training program)|
|G-1||Principal resident representative of recognized foreign member government to international organization, staff, and immediate family|
|G-2||Other representative of recognized foreign member government to international organization, and immediate family|
|G-3||Representative of nonrecognized or nonmember foreign government to international organization, and immediate family|
|G-4||International organization officer or employee, and immediate family|
|G-5||Attendant, servant, or personal employee of G-1 through G-4, and immediate family|
|GB||Temporary visitors: for business, visa waiver, Guam|
|GT||Temporary visitors: for pleasure, visa waiver, Guam|
|H-1B*||Temporary worker of distinguished merit and ability performing services other than as a registered nurse|
|H-1C||Nurse in health professional shortage area|
|H-2A||Temporary worker performing agricultural services unavailable in the United States H-2B|
|H-3||Temporary workers and trainees: industrial trainees|
|H-4*||Temporary workers and trainees: spouses and children of H-1, H-2, and H-3 workers|
|I||Representative of foreign information media, spouse and children|
|J-2||Spouse or child of exchange visitor|
|K-1*||Fiance(e) of U.S. citizen|
|K-2*||Child of fiance(e) of U.S. citizen|
|K-3*||Spouse of U.S. citizen awaiting availability of immigrant visa|
|K-4*||Child of K-3|
|L-1*||Intracompany transferee (executive, managerial, and specialized personnel continuing employment with international firm or corporation)|
|L-2*||Spouse or child of intracompany transferee|
|M-1||Vocational student or other nonacademic student|
|M-2||Spouse or child of M-1|
|M-3||Border commuter student (vocational or nonacademic)|
|N-8||Parent of SK-3 special immigrant|
|N-9||Child of N-8 or of SK-1, SK-2 or SK-4 special immigrant|
|NATO-1||Principal permanent representative of member state to NATO (including any of its subsidiary bodies) resident in the U.S. and resident members of official staff; Secretary General, Assistant Secretaries General, and Executive Secretary of NATO; other permanent NATO officials of similar rank, and members of immediate family|
|NATO-2||Other representatives of member states to NATO (including any of its subsidiary bodies) including representatives, advisers, and technical experts of delegations, and members of immediate family; dependents of members of a force entering in accordance with the provisions of the NATO Status-of-Forces Agreement or in accordance with provisions of the "Protocol on the Status of International Military Headquarters"; members of such a force if issued visas|
|NATO-3||Official clerical staff accompanying a representative of member state to NATO (including any of its subsidiary bodies), and members of immediate family|
|NATO-4||Officials of NATO (other than those classifiable as NATO-1), and members of immediate family|
|NATO-5||Experts, other than officials classifiable as NATO-4, employed in missions on behalf of NATO, and their dependents|
|NATO-6||Members of a civilian component accompanying a force entering in accordance with the provisions of the NATO Status-of-Forces Agreement; members of a civilian component attached to or employed by an Allied Headquarters under the "Protocol on the Status of International Military Headquarters" set up pursuant to the North Atlantic Treaty; and their dependents|
|NATO-7||Attendant, servant, or personal employee of NATO-1 through NATO-6 classes, and immediate family|
|O-1*||Person with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics|
|O-2*||Person accompanying and assisting in the artistic or athletic performance by O-1|
|O-3*||Spouse or child of O-1 or O-2|
|P-1*||Internationally recognized athlete or member of an internationally recognized entertainment group|
|P-2*||Artist or entertainer in a reciprocal exchange program|
|P-3*||Artist or entertainer in a culturally unique program|
|P-4*||Spouse or child of P-1, P-2, or P-3|
|Q-1||Participant in an international cultural exchange program|
|Q-2||Irish Peace Process trainee|
|Q-3||Spouse or child of Q-2|
|R-1||Person in a religious occupation|
|R-2||Spouse or child of R-1|
|S-5||Informant possessing information on criminal activity|
|S-6||Informant possessing information on terrorism|
|S-7||Spouse, married or unmarried son or daughter, or parent of S-5 or S-6|
|SIJS||Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: Qualifying children present in the U.S. who are declared dependents of a juvenile court and who would be harmed if returned to their home country|
|TD||Spouse or child of TN|
|T-1||Victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons|
|T-2||Spouse of T-1|
|T-3||Child of T-1|
|T-4||Parent of T-1 under 21 years of age|
|U-1||Victim of criminal activity|
|U-2||Spouse of U-1|
|U-3||Child of U-1|
|U-4||Parent of U-1 under 21 years of age|
|V-1*||Spouse of lawful permanent resident awaiting availability of immigrant visa|
|V-2*||Child of lawful permanent resident awaiting availability of immigrant visa|
|V-3*||Derivative child of V-1 and V-2|
|WB||Temporary visitors: visa waiver, business|
|WT||Temporary visitors: visa waiver, pleasure|
* Persons with H-1B visas, H-4 visas (as immediate family members of H-1B visa holders), K visas, L visas, and V visas are permitted to have dual intent under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Federal regulations also appear to recognize dual intent O visas, P visas, and E visas.
Section 221(g) of Immigration and Nationality Act defined several classes of aliens ineligible to receive visas.
Grounds for denial may include, but are not limited to:
- Health grounds
- Criminal grounds
- Security grounds
- Public charge (charge means burden in this context)
- Illegal entrants or immigration violators
- Failure to produce requested documents
- Ineligible for citizenship
- Previously removed from US
- The spouse of a US Citizen is almost always denied a visitor's (B1/B2) visa on grounds that the spouse might want to stay in the United States. However, the spouse of a USC is able to immigrate to the US without much hurdle.
Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (also cited as 8 United States Code § 1184(b)) states that most aliens must be presumed to be intending to remain in the US, until and unless they are able to show that they are entitled to nonimmigrant status. This means there are two sides to a 214(b) denial. Either
- The applicant didn’t convince the consular officer that he didn’t intend to stay in the US permanently, or
- The applicant didn’t convince the consular officer that he was qualified for the visa for which he had applied.
An example of a denial based upon the first ground would be an applicant for an F-1 student visa who the consular officer felt was secretly intending to remain in the US permanently.
An example of a denial based upon the second ground would be an H-1B applicant who couldn’t prove he possessed the equivalent of a US bachelor’s degree in a specialty field—such an equivalency being a requirement for obtaining an H-1B visa.
In order to thereafter obtain a visa applicants are recommended to objectively evaluate their situation, see in what way they fell short of the visa requirements, and then reapply.
In 2005, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (then Chief Minister of Gujarat) was denied a diplomatic visa to the United States. In addition, the B-1/B-2 visa that had previously been granted to him was also revoked, under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act which makes any foreign government official who was responsible or "directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom" ineligible for the visa. Modi is the only person ever denied a visa to the U.S. under this provision.
There are cases when a US visa has been granted to aliens who were technically ineligible. Japanese mafia (yakuza) leader Tadamasa Goto and three others were issued visas for travel between 2000 and 2004 to undergo liver transplant surgery at UCLA Medical Center. The FBI had aided the men in the visa application process hoping that they would provide information regarding yakuza activities in the US.
- Electronic System for Travel Authorization
- European Union visa lists
- Security Advisory Opinion
- Department of Homeland Security
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
- Visa Waiver Program
- "Visa Information - USA". Timatic. IATA. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
- "Visa Statistics". US Department of State Visa Statistics.
- Border Countries: Canada, Mexico and Bermuda
- Grossman, Neil; Golden, Howard; Thurnell, Tracy (April 1, 2009). "GRIST InDepth: Hiring noncitizens - an immigration law primer for US employers" (PDF). Mercer.
- What is a Visa? U.S. State Department
- FAQs on the Arrival-Departure Record (I-94 Form) & Crewman Landing Permit (I-95 Form). U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Accessed May 1, 2008
- "How to get visa for America". What is USA News. 4 April 2014. Retrieved 2013-12-21.
- "U.S. Embassy in Majuro, Marshall Islands: Non-Immigrant Visas". Majuro.usembassy.gov. 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "U.S. Embassy in Kolonia, Micronesia". Kolonia.usembassy.gov. 2012-05-06. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Embassy of the Republic of Palau in Washington". Palauembassy.com. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
- Citizens of Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, South Korea, Greece, Taiwan and Chile are required to present electronic passports.
- Joined on October 1, 1991.
- Joined July 29, 1996.
- Joined on July 29, 1993.
- Joined on February 28, 2014.
- Joined on November 17, 2008.
- Including Greenland and Faroe Islands.
- Including Åland Islands.
- Joined on July 1, 1989.
- Joined on July 15, 1989.
- Joined on April 5, 2010.
- Joined on April 1, 1995.
- Joined on Julu 29, 1989.
- Joined on December 15, 1988.
- Joined on July 29, 1991.
- Joined on July 29, 1989.
- Including Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten.
- Joined on August 9, 1999.
- Including Azores and Madeira.
- Joined on September 30, 1997.
- Joined on November 1, 2012.
- Citizens with Taiwanese national ID number only.
- Joined on July 1, 1988.
- Full British citizens only. Details about the Visa Waiver Program
- "Consulate General of the United States in Hamilton, Bermuda:Bermuda Visa Exemptions". Hamilton.usconsulate.gov. 2011-06-28. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "U.S. Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas: Non-Immigrant Visas" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Embassy of the United States in Kingston, Jamaica: Non-immigrant Visas[dead link]
- "Cayman Islands Government: New U.S. Travel Requirements". Gov.ky. Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Passport Office issues advisory[dead link]
- "Embassy of the United States in Nassau, Bahamas: Turks and Caicos Visa Exemptions" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program
- Trip Essentials
- Visa Requirements
- "Important update in entry requirements parole for citizens of the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China for the CNMI only" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-12.
- "Intracompany Transfers". Usvisalawyers.co.uk. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
- 'Same-Sex Marriage and Spousal Visas,' http://www.usvisalawyers.co.uk/article23.html, accessed October 1, 2013.
- 'Travelling to the US without a visa,' http://www.usvisalawyers.co.uk/article6.htm, accessed October 8, 2013.
- "Students and Exchange Visitors". Retrieved 2011-09-11.
- "Immigration Classifications and Visa Categories - ARCHIVE as of 2010-Jan-28. Page no longer available.". United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Archived from the original on 2009-04-21. Retrieved 2010-01-28.
- "Types of Visas for Temporary Visitors". Retrieved 2011-09-11.
- "Types of Visas for Temporary Visitors". Retrieved 2011-09-11.
- Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 USC Sec. 1158
- "A 214(b) Denial: What It Means, What You Can Do". Usvisalawyers.co.uk.
- "No entry for Modi into US: visa denied". The Times of India. 18 March 2005. Retrieved 3 February 2012.
- Mann, James (2 May 2014). "Why Narendra Modi Was Banned From the U.S.". Retrieved 3 June 2014.
- Charles Ornstein and John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times After livers, cash to UCLA May 31, 2008
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Visas of the United States.|
- U.S. Visa, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State.