Visa policy of the United States

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A US visa specimen
Entry passport stamp for the United States issued to a citizen of Singapore by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

The visa policy of the United States deals with the requirements which a foreign national wishing to enter the United States must meet to obtain a visa, which is a permit to travel to, enter, and remain in 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 while different rules apply to Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.[1]

Overview[edit]

Entry visas[edit]

A foreign national wishing to enter the U.S., Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands must obtain a visa unless he or she is

Mexican citizens may travel to the U.S. without a passport under limited circumstances if holding a Border Crossing Card and seeking to enter the U.S. for less than 72 hours while remaining in the "border zone".[2][3][4]

While there are about 185 different types of visas,[5] 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, often known as 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.[5] First, the employer files an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requesting a particular type of category visa for a specific individual.[5] 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.[5] The individual then applies for a visa and is usually interviewed at a U.S. embassy or consulate in the native country.[5] If the embassy or consulate gives the visa, the individual is then allowed to travel to the U.S.[5] 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 for admission to the U.S.[5] If approved, the individual may then enter the U.S.[5]

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.[6] 50,000 additional visas are available each year under the visa lottery program. In the last few years more than 9 million people have participated in the visa lottery.[7]

Exit visas[edit]

Exit visas are not required.

However, the U.S. government has required all foreign and U.S. nationals departing the US by air for Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or countries in the Caribbean other than the French West Indies to hold a valid passport (or certain specific passport replacing documents) since October 1, 2007. Even though travelers might not require a passport to enter a certain country, they will require a valid passport booklet (booklet only, U.S. Passport Card not accepted) when attempting to depart the U.S. in order to satisfy the U.S. immigration authorities.[8] Exemptions to this requirement to hold a valid passport booklet include:

  • U.S. Permanent Resident/Resident Alien Card (Form I-551);
  • U.S. Military ID Cards when traveling on official orders;
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Card;
  • NEXUS Card;
  • U.S. Travel Document:
    • Refugee Travel Document (Form I-571); or
    • Permit to Re-Enter (Form I-327)
  • Emergency Travel Document (e.g. Consular Letter) issued by a Foreign Embassy or Consulate specifically for the purpose of travel to the bearer's home country.
  • Nationals of Mexico holding one of the following documents:
    • (expired) Matricula Consular; or
    • Birth Certificate with consular registration; or
    • Certificate of Nationality issued by a Mexican consulate abroad; or
    • Certificate of Military Duty (Cartilla Militar); or
    • Voter's Certificate (Credencial IFE or Credencial para Votar).

Visa policy map[edit]

  The United States and its territories
  Visa free countries
  Visa Waiver Program countries
  Visa required for entry to the US

Visa exemption[edit]

General exemption[edit]

Four countries and one British Overseas Territory have visa exemption access to the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands, including three that are linked with Compacts of Free Association.[9] Citizens of these jurisdictions are generally not required to apply for visas or pre-approval registrations prior to arrival.

  •  Bermuda - British Overseas Territories citizens with a connection to Bermuda can enter the United States visa-free under most circumstances if their intended stay is less than six months.[10] To qualify, they must present a Bermudian passport which fulfills 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 Dependent 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".[14]

Citizens of the following countries, linked with the U.S. by the Compacts of Free Association, do not require a visa to enter, reside, study, and work indefinitely in the United States:

Visa Waiver Program[edit]

Currently, 38 countries have been selected by the US 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 if arriving by air or cruise ship[17]) to visit the United States, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands:[18]

Notes
  1. ^ – The following categories of British nationals are all 'United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes' and, therefore, European Union citizens: British Citizens, British Subjects with the right of abode in the UK, and British Overseas Territories Citizens deriving their status from a connection with Gibraltar. However, only British Citizens and British Overseas Territories Citizens deriving their status from a connection with Gibraltar are eligible to participate in the VWP.[19]
  2. ^ – Citizens with Taiwanese national ID number only.

Visitors may stay for 90 days in the United States which also includes the time spent in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the islands in the Caribbean if the arrival was through the United States.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is not a visa. Rather, obtaining a travel authorization from ESTA is a prerequisite to travelling by air or sea to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.[22] 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 change.[23] VWP does not apply if a passenger is not arriving on an approved air or sea carrier.

The United States Department of Homeland Security extended the scope of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act. As of January 2016, visa waivers do not apply where a person has previously traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after 1 March 2011 or for those who remain nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria in addition to the nationality that would otherwise entitle them to a visa waiver. Instead, they are now required to go through the process to obtain a visa.[24] Certain categories such as diplomats, military, journalists, humanitarian workers or legitimate businessmen may have their visa requirement waived by the Secretary of Homeland Security.[25]

Other arrangements[edit]

Citizens of the following country can travel without obtaining a visa for the United States only under certain conditions:

  •  Bahamas – Bahamian 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 Bahamian 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 pre-clearance facilities located in Nassau or Freeport International airports are required to be in possession of a valid visa to enter the United States.[26]

British Overseas Territories citizens (BOTCs) by virtue of their connection to one of the following territories may elect to travel with their British citizen passports with valid ESTA, or can alternatively use their BOTC passports to enter the U.S. in certain circumstances.

  •  British Virgin Islands - British Overseas Territories citizens by virtue of their connection to the British Virgin Islands may travel without a visa to the United States Virgin Islands with their British Virgin Islands passport. They may also continue travel to other parts of the United States if they present a Certificate of Good Conduct issued by the Royal Virgin Islands Police Department indicating no criminal record.[27][28]
  •  Cayman Islands – British Overseas Territories citizens with a connection to the Cayman Islands may travel without a visa to the U.S. To qualify, 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 25 Cayman Islands dollars and valid for one entry.[29][30] 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.[31] 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.[32] 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 or a travel document 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 travelers 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.

Visa waiver programs of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands[edit]

Although the visa policy of the U.S. also applies to the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in general, both territories have additional visa waiver programs for certain nationalities.[33][34] The Guam–CNMI Visa Waiver Program, first enacted in October 1988 and periodically amended, permits nationals from twelve countries in Asia, Europe and Oceania to enter the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam as tourists for up to 45 days without the need of obtaining a U.S. visa or an ESTA. A parole agreement enacted in 2009 provides two more countries visa-free access to the territories for 45 days:[35][36][37][38][39]

1 - under a separate parole agreement.
2 - for the Northern Mariana Islands only.
3 - Must present a valid Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card on arrival.
4 - for holders of Taiwanese passports with a National ID number. Must present a valid Taiwanese national identity card on arrival. Must travel on a nonstop flight from Taiwan.
5 - for holders of British Citizen and British National (Overseas) passports only. British Nationals (Overseas) must present a valid Hong Kong permanent identity card on arrival in order to be eligible for the waiver.

Travelers with B-1/B-2 visa or ESTA are admitted to the territories in accordance with the terms of ESTA or visa.

Travelers utilizing the program or the parole are required to complete an I-736 form, hold a machine-readable passport and nonrefundable return ticket, and are not permitted to travel onwards to the contiguous United States. 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, and all visitors departing Guam or Northern Mariana Islands are inspected regardless of final destination.[40]

American Samoa[edit]

American Samoa entry stamp

U.S. visa policy does not apply to the territory of American Samoa, as it has its own visa requirements and maintains control of its own borders. Hence, neither a U.S. visa nor an ESTA can be used to enter American Samoa. U.S. citizens and nationals may enter and remain indefinitely, while nationals from the following countries are not required to obtain a visa for visits not exceeding 30 days:[41][42]

1 - for British citizens only.

Nationals of other countries require a visa, which cannot be obtained from an U.S. diplomatic mission, but from the Attorney General's Office of American Samoa.[43]

Alaska[edit]

Residents of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in Russia who are members of the indigenous population do not require a visa to visit Alaska if they have relatives (blood relatives, members of the same tribe, native people who have similar language and cultural heritage) in Alaska. Entry points are in Gambell and Nome.[44]

Individuals must be invited by a relative in Alaska, must notify local authorities at least ten days before traveling to Alaska, and must leave Alaska within 90 days.[44]

The agreement establishing this policy was signed by Russia and the United States on 23 September 1989. The United States made it effective as of 17 July 2015.[44]

Summary of visa exemptions[edit]

Country or territory Overland Air/Cruise ship All means of transport
United States
and Puerto Rico
United States
Virgin Islands
Guam Northern Mariana
Islands
American Samoa
 Canada Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
 Marshall Islands Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
 Micronesia Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
 Palau Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
 Bermuda Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
 Australia Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes Yes Yes
 Brunei Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes Yes Yes
 Japan Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes Yes Yes
 New Zealand Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes Yes Yes
 Singapore Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes Yes Yes
 United Kingdom[Note 1] Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes Yes Yes
 South Korea Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes Yes No
 Taiwan[Note 2] Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes Yes No
 Andorra Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Austria Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Belgium Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Denmark Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Finland Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 France Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Germany Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Iceland Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Ireland Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Italy Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Liechtenstein Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Luxembourg Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Monaco Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Netherlands Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Norway Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Portugal Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 San Marino Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Slovenia Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Spain Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Sweden Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
  Switzerland Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization Yes
 Chile Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization No
 Czech Republic Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization No
 Estonia Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization No
 Greece Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization No
 Hungary Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization No
 Latvia Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization No
 Lithuania Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization No
 Malta Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization No
 Slovakia Yes electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization electronic authorization No
 Bahamas No preclearance No No No No
 British Virgin Islands No police certificate Yes No No No
 Cayman Islands No police certificate No No No No
 Turks and Caicos Islands No police certificate No No No No
 Hong Kong[Note 3] No No No Yes Yes No
 Malaysia No No No Yes Yes No
 Nauru No No No Yes Yes No
 Papua New Guinea No No No Yes Yes No
 Russia No No No Yes Yes No
 China No No No No Yes No
  1. ^ U.S., Puerto Rico, USVI and American Samoa waivers for British citizens only. Guam-CNMI waiver for British citizens and British Nationals (Overseas) only. BN(O)s must hold valid Hong Kong Permanent Identity Cards.
  2. ^ For holders of Taiwan passports containing a National ID number only. Must hold a National ID card if utilizing Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program.
  3. ^ Must in conjunction hold a Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card.

Visa refused to nationals of certain countries[edit]

Visa refused (indefinitely suspended)[edit]

On March 6, 2017, President Donald Trump signed a new Executive Order that will suspend the issuance of visas to citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. The policy would be in effect on March 16, 2017.[45][46]

The following persons with citizenship in these six countries would not be affected by the Executive Order:[47]

  • Green Card holders;
  • Those travelling on a national passport issued by a country other than one of the designated countries (also known as having multiple citizenship);
  • Holders of valid visas or paroles;
  • Persons who have been granted asylum, refugee status, withholding of removal, advance parole, or protection under the Convention Against Torture.

The Executive Order supersedes the previous one, and existing visas are no longer considered as revoked.[45]

Citizens of the six countries would still be able to secure a visa after the implementation date if the consular officer is satisfied that they qualify for a waiver. The waivers may be granted to persons who:[47]

  • were holding nonimmigrant visas for long-term activities in the United States (such as study visas or work visas);
  • have "significant contacts", "significant business obligations" or "significant professional obligations" in the United States;
  • have immediate family members who legally reside in the United States (either as U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, or holding nonimmigrant visas);
  • are exchange visitors sponsored by the U.S. government, employees of the U.S. government, or dependents of employees of the U.S. government;
  • are infants, young children, adoptees, or in need of urgent medical care in the United States;
  • are travelling on official capacities relating to the U.S. government or an international organization;
  • are permanent residents of Canada, provided that they apply for the visa within Canada.

On March 15th, 2017, Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland issued temporary injunction orders against the Executive Order, suspending the visa ban hours before it went into effect. The judges cited that the ban violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Trump announced that he intends to take it "as far as it needs to go", hinting that the injunction will be challenged at the Supreme Court of the United States.[48] On March 30, 2017. the temporary injunction order issued by the Federal judge in Hawaii was converted into a preliminary injunction order, suspending the Executive Order indefinitely.[49]

Admission refused (Superseded)[edit]

The Presidential executive order signed on 27 January 2017 introduced an entry ban for the citizens of the following countries for a period of 90 days, which expires on 27 April 2017. The executive order bans entry of immigrants and non-immigrants travelling on passports issued by countries that were mentioned under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015.[50][51] The order exempts diplomats and members of international organizations (such as the United Nations) from the ban.[52] U.S. diplomatic missions will not conduct interviews or process existing visa applications for holders of passports of these country until the ban is lifted.[53] However, Iraqi citizens who are applying for Special Immigrant Visas will be processed as normal.[52] [54][55][56]

Several lawsuits were filed, challenging the executive order across the country. Federal senior judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington James Robart issued a temporary restraining order on the enforcement of the executive order 13769 in the case State of Washington v. Donald J. Trump on February 3, 2017. From February 4, 2017, the ban was de facto lifted and nationals of the following countries are allowed to enter the United States:[54][55]

State Sponsors of Terrorism:

Countries of Particular concern (designated by the Obama administration):

The guideline of the executive order had been modified. Prior to the suspension, the ban applied to holders of any kind of U.S. immigrant or nonimmigrant visas from these countries except the following:[52]

The Executive Order was superseded by another which also bans the ability to acquire visas for nationals of all countries above except Iraq.

Outlying islands[edit]

Visits to the United States Minor Outlying IslandsBaker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Palmyra Atoll, Wake Island and Navassa Island – are severely restricted. Most of the islands are closed off, and prospective visitors require special permits, usually from the US army.[57][58][59][60][61][62][63][64][65][66][67][68][69][70][71][72]

Qualification process[edit]

The typical process for issuing a United States visa, possibly including a Visas Mantis check

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.

Visitor visa statistics[edit]

  United States
  Visa exempt nationalities
Issued B-1,2 visas in fiscal 2015:
Over 400 thousand Over 100 thousand Over 50 thousand Over 25 thousand Over 10 thousand Over 5 thousand Under 5 thousand

In fiscal 2016 most B-1,2 visas were issued to the nationals of the following countries (listed over 40,000 visas):[73]

In fiscal 2014 most reasons to refuse a visa were cited as "failure to establish entitlement to nonimmigrant status", "incompatible application" (most overcome), "unlawful presence", "misrepresentation", "criminal convictions", "smugglers" and "controlled substance violators". Smaller number of applications were rejected for "physical or mental disorder", "prostitution", "espionage", "terrorist activities", "falsely claiming citizenship" and other grounds for refusal including "presidential proclamation", "money laundering", "communicable disease" and "commission of acts of torture or extrajudicial killings".[76]

Admission statistics[edit]

  United States
Number of non-immigrant admissions for tourist and business purposes into the United States in fiscal year 2015:
Over 2 million Over 1 million Over 500 thousand Over 250 thousand Over 100 thousand Over 15 thousand Under 15 thousand

Highest number of non-immigrant admissions for tourists and for business purposes into the United States in fiscal year 2014 and 2015 was from the following countries (listed over 700,000 admissions):[77][78]

Country FY2015 FY 2014
 Mexico 01 Increase 19,175,345 01 Increase 18,889,281
 Canada 02 Increase 11,671,122 02 Increase 11,289,743
 United Kingdom 03 Increase 4,691,874 03 Increase 4,549,934
 Japan 04 Decrease 3,750,667 04 Decrease 3,933,941
 Brazil 05 Increase 2,383,822 06 Increase 2,275,588
 China 06 Increase 2,309,654 07 Increase 2,001,302
 Germany 07 Decrease 2,208,145 05 Increase 2,283,086
 France 08 Decrease 1,915,725 08 Increase 1,966,335
 South Korea 09 Increase 1,742,422 09 Increase 1,576,328
 Australia 10 Increase 1,399,615 10 Increase 1,389,358
 Italy 11 Decrease 1,229,115 11 Increase 1,282,485
 India 12 Increase 1,175,153 12 Increase 1,111,738
 Spain 13 Decrease 953,969 13 Increase 955,737
 Colombia 14 Increase 928,424 14 Increase 924,916
 Argentina 15 Increase 765,576 16 Increase 730,089
 Netherlands 16 Decrease 749,826 15 Increase 766,936
Total (worldwide) 17 Increase 69,025,896 17 Increase 67,519,113

Classes of visas[edit]

Nonimmigrant visas[edit]

A visa[edit]

"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). Certain foreign officials require an A visa regardless of the purpose of their trip. 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).[82]

B-1 and B-2[edit]

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.[83] Holders may also attend short non-credit courses. Mexican citizens are eligible for Border Crossing Cards.[84]

From November 29, 2016, all holders of Chinese passports who also hold 10-year B visas are required to enroll in the Electronic Visa Update System (EVUS) before travelling to the United States. This requirement may be extended to other nationalities in the future.[85][86]

Validity period[edit]
  United States
US B visa validity period:[87]
120 months 60 months 24-48 months 12 months Under 12 months
Adjusted Visa refusal Rate[edit]
  United States
  Visa exempt countries
US B visa refusal rate in 2016, over than:
Under 3% 3% 5% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50%

The Adjusted Refusal Rate is based on the refusal rate of B visa applications. B visas are adjudicated based on applicant interviews; the interviews generally last between 60 and 90 seconds.[93] Due to time constraints, adjudicators profile applicants.[93] Certain demographics, such as young adults, those who are single and/or unemployed, almost never receive visas.[93] Adjudicators are evaluated on how fast they carry out interviews, not the quality of adjudication decisions.[94] The validity of B visa decisions is not evaluated.[94]

To qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, a country must have had a nonimmigrant visa refusal rate of less than 3% for the previous year or an average of no more than 2% over the past two fiscal years with neither year going above 2.5%.[95] In addition, the country must provide visa-free access to United States citizens and has to be either an independent country or a dependency of a VWP country (which has precluded Hong Kong and Macau from participating in the program.) (Until 4 April 2016, Argentina charged $160 to U.S. citizens to enter.)

In the table below, eligible countries are in bold, with their flag depicted and linked to their relevant individual article on Wikipedia. The Adjusted Visa Refusal Rate for B visas were as follows:

Overstay rate[edit]

A number of visitors overstay the maximum period of allowed stay on their B-1/B-2 status after entered the U.S. on their B-1/B-2 visas. The Department of Homeland Security publishes annual reports that list the number of violations by passengers who arrive via air and sea. The table below excludes statistics on persons who left the United States later than their allowed stay or legalized their status and shows only suspected overstays who remained in the country.

The top 20 visa-required nationalities by the number of suspected in-country B-1/B-2 overstays in 2016 were:[100]

The top 10 nationalities by in-country B-1/B-2 visa overstay rate are:[101]

Use for other countries[edit]

US tourist visas that are valid for further travel are accepted as substitute visas for national visas in following countries:

  •  Albania — 90 days;
  •  Antigua and Barbuda — 30 days; USD 100 visa waiver fee applies.
  •  Argentina — 90 days; online registration required, for nationals of China only.
  •  Belize — 30 days; USD 50 visa waiver fee applies.
  •  Canada — up to 6 months; only citizens of  Brazil, Bulgaria and  Romania may apply the Eletronic Travel Authorization (eTA) for visa-free visit or transit (arriving by air).
  •  Chile — 90 days; for nationals of China only.
  •  Colombia — 90 days; for nationals of China, India, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  •  Costa Rica — 30 days or less if the visa is about to expire; must hold a multiple entry visa.
  •  Dominican Republic — 90 days;
  •  El Salvador — 90 days; not applicable to all nationalities.
  •  Georgia — 90 days within any 180-day period;
  •  Guatemala — 90 days; not applicable to all nationalities.
  •  Honduras — 90 days; not applicable to all nationalities.
  •  Jamaica — 30 days; not applicable to all nationalities.
  •  Mexico — 180 days;[102][103]
  •  Montenegro — 30 days;
  •  Nicaragua — 90 days; not applicable to all nationalities.
  •  Panama — 30/180 days; must hold a visa valid for at least 2 more entries.
  •  Peru — 180 days; for nationals of China and India only.[104]
  •  Philippines — 7 days; for nationals of China and India only.
  •  Sao Tome and Principe — 15 days;
  •  Serbia — 90 days;
  •  Taiwan — certain nationalities can obtain an online travel authority if holding a valid US visa.
  •  Turkey — certain nationalities can obtain an electronic Turkish visa if holding a valid US visa.

C visa[edit]

C-1 visa is a transit visa issued to individuals who are travelling in "immediate and continuous transit through the United States enroute to another country". The only reason to enter the United States must be for transit purposes. A subtype C-2 visa is issued to diplomats transiting to and from the Headquarters of the United Nations and is limited to the vicinity of New York City. A subtype C-3 visa is issued to diplomats and their dependents transiting to and from their posted country.[105]

D visa[edit]

D visa is issued to crew members of sea-vessels and international airlines in the United States. This includes commercial airline pilots and flight attendants, captain, engineer, or deckhand of a sea vessel, service staff on a cruise ship and trainees on board a training vessel. Usually a combination of a C-1 visa and D visa is required.[106]

E visa[edit]

Treaty Trader (E-1 visa) and Treaty Investor (E-2 visa) visas are issued to citizens of countries that have signed treaties of commerce and navigation with the United States.[107] They are issued to individuals working in businesses engaged in substantial international trade or to investors (and their employees) who have made a 'substantial investment' in a business in the United States.[108] The variant visa issued only to citizens of Australia is the E-3 visa (E-3D visa is issued to spouse or child of E-3 visa holder and E-3R to a returning E-3 holder).[109]

EB visa[edit]

F visa[edit]

These visas are issued for foreign students enrolled at accredited US institutions. F-1 visas are for full-time students, F2 visas are for spouses and children of F-1 visa holders and F-3 visas are for "border commuters" who reside in their country of origin while attending school in the United States.[110] They are managed through SEVIS.[111]

G visa[edit]

The G visas are issued to diplomats, government officials, and employees who will work for international organizations in the United States. The international organization must be officially designated as such.[112] The G-1 visa is issued to permanent mission members, G-2 visa is issued to representatives of a recognized government traveling temporarily to attend meetings of a designated international organization, G-3 visa is issued to individuals representing non-recognized governments, G-4 visa is for those who are taking up an appointment and G-5 visa is issued to personal employees or domestic workers of G1-G4 visa holders.[113] G1-G4 visas are also issued to family members.[114]

Those working specifically for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization require a NATO visa. NATO–1 visa is issued to permanent representatives of NATO and their staff members, NATO-2 visa is issued to a representative of member state to NATO or its subsidiary bodies, advisor or technical expert of the NATO delegation visiting the United States, a member of the NATO military forces component or a staff member of the NATO representative, NATO-3 visa is issued to official clerical staff accompanying the representative of a NATO member state, NATO-4 visa is issued to foreign national recognized as a NATO official, NATO-5 visa is issued to a foreign national recognized as a NATO expert and NATO-6 visa is issued to a member of the civilian component of the NATO. All NATO visas are issued to immediate family members as well. NATO-7 visas are issued to personal employees or domestic workers of a NATO-1 – NATO-6 visa holders.[114]

H visa[edit]

H visas are issued to temporary workers in the United States.

Specialty Occupations, DOD Cooperative Research and Development Project Workers, and Fashion Models

The discontinued H-1A and H-1C visas existed during periods when the US experienced a shortage of nurses existed from 1989. The H-1A classification was created by the Nursing Relief Act of 1989 and ended in 1995. The H-1C visa was created by the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Area Act of 1999 and expired in 2005. Currently nurses must apply for H-1B visas.[115]

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. There is a required wage, which is at least equal to the wage paid by the employer to similarly qualified workers or a prevailing wage for such positions in the geographic regions where the jobs are located. This visa also covers fashion models of distinguished merit and ability.[116][117] H-1B1 visa is the variant issued to citizens of Singapore and Chile.

Temporary Agricultural Workers

The H-2A visa allows a foreign national entry into the US for temporary or seasonal agricultural work for eligible employers under certain conditions (seasonal job, no available US workers).[118]

Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers

The H-2B visa allows a foreign national entry into the US for temporary or seasonal non-agricultural work for eligible employers under certain conditions (seasonal job, no available US workers).[119]

Nonimmigrant Trainee or Special Education Exchange Visitor

The H-3 visa is available to those foreign nationals looking to "receive training in any field of endeavor, other than graduate medical education or training, that is not available in the foreign national’s home country" or " participate in a special education exchange visitor training program that provides for practical training and experience in the education of children with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities.".[120]

Family members

H-4 visa is issued to immediate family members of H visa holders. They are also eligible for employment.[121]

I visa[edit]

The I-1 visa is issued to representatives of the foreign media, including members of the press, radio, film, and print industries travelling to temporarily work in the United States in the profession.[122]

J visa[edit]

J-1 visa is issued to participants of work-and study-based exchange visitor programs.[123] 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. Spouses and dependents of J-1 exchange visitors are issued a J-2 visa.[124]

Exchange visa categories are:

Exchange Visitor Pilot Programs exist for citizens of Australia,[139] Ireland,[140] New Zealand[141] and South Korea.[142]

K visa[edit]

A K-1 visa is a visa issued to the fiancé or fiancée of a United States citizen to enter the United States. A K-1 visa requires a foreigner to marry his or her U.S. citizen petitioner within 90 days of entry, or depart the United States. Once the couple marries, the foreign citizen can adjust status to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States (Green Card holder).[143] K-2 visa is issued to unmarried children under the age of 21.[144] Foreign same-sex partners of United States citizens are currently recognized by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and accordingly can be sponsored for K-1 visas and for permanent resident status.[145]

K-3/K-4 visas are issued to foreign spouses and children of US citizens.[146]

L visa[edit]

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).[147] L-2 visa is issued to dependent spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age of qualified L-1 visa holders.

M visa[edit]

The M-1 visa is a type of student visa reserved for vocational and technical schools. Students in M-1 status may not work on or off campus while studying, and they may not change their status to F-1. The M-2 visa permits the spouse and minor children of an M-1 vocational student to accompany him or her to the United States.[110]

O visa[edit]

O visa is a classification of non-immigrant temporary worker visa granted to an alien "who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics (O-1A visa), or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements," (O-1B visa) and to certain assistants (O-2 visa) and immediate family members of such aliens (O-3 visa).[148]

P visa[edit]

P visas are issued to individuals or team athletes, or member of an entertainment group including persons providing essential support services (P-1 visa), artists or entertainers (individual or group) under a reciprocal exchange program (P-2 visa) and artists or entertainers (individual or group) visiting to perform, teach or coach under a program that is culturally unique.[149] P-4 visas are issued to spouses, or children under the age of 21, of a P-1, P-2, or P-3 alien and who is accompanying, or following to join.

Q visa[edit]

Q visa is issued to participants in an international cultural exchange program.[149]

R visa[edit]

R-1 visa is issued to temporary religious workers. They must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years.[150] R-2 visa is issued to dependent family members.[151]

S visa[edit]

S visas are nonimmigrant visas issued to individuals who have assisted law enforcement as a witness or informant. There is a limit of 200 S visas a year.[152] A law enforcement agency can then submit an application for resident alien status i.e., a green card on behalf of the witness or informant once the individual has completed the terms and conditions of his or her S visa.[153]

TN visa[edit]

NAFTA Professional (TN) visa allows citizens of Canada and Mexico whose profession is on the NAFTA list[154] and who must hold a bachelor's degree to work in the United States on a prearranged job. Canadian citizens usually do not require a visa to work under the TN status (unless they live outside Canada with non-Canadian family members) while Mexican citizens require a TN visa. Spouse and dependent children of a TN professional can be admitted into the United States in the TD status.[155]

U and T visas[edit]

U-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa which is set aside for victims of crimes (and their immediate family members) who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.[156] Subtypes of this visa are U-2 issued to spouses of U-1, U-3 issued to children of U-1, U-4 issued to parents of U-1 under the age of 21 and U-5 issued to unmarried siblings under the age of 18 of U-1 who is under 21.

T-1 visa is issued to victims of severe forms of human trafficking. Holders may adjust their status to permanent resident status.[157] Subtypes of this visa are T-2 issued to spouses of T-1, T-3 issued to children of T-1, T-4 issued to parents of T-1 under the age of 21 and T-5 issued to unmarried siblings under the age of 18 of T-1 who is under 21.

V visa[edit]

The V visa is a temporary visa available to spouses and minor children (unmarried, under 21) of U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPR, also known as green card holders). It allows permanent residents to achieve family unity with their spouses and children while the immigration process takes its course. It was created by the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act of 2000.[158] The Act is to relieve those who applied for immigrant visas on or before December 21, 2000. Practically, the V visa is currently not available to spouses and minor children of LPRs who have applied after December 21, 2000.[159]

List of US visa types[edit]

All US visa types and subtypes are listed below:[160][161]

Immigrant visas[edit]

Nonimmigrant visas[edit]

[163][164][165]

* 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.

Most visas are named after the paragraph of the Code of Federal Regulations that established the visa.[166]

Visa denial[edit]

Section 221(g) of the 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 history
  • Security fears
  • Public charge (charge means burden in this context)
  • Illegal entrants or immigration violators
  • Failure to produce requested documents
  • Ineligible for citizenship
  • Previously removed from the US
  • The spouse of a US Citizen is almost always denied a visitor's (B1/B2) visa on the grounds that the spouse might want to stay in the United States. However, the spouse of a US Citizen is able to immigrate to the US without much of a hurdle.

Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (also cited as 8 United States Code § 1184(b))[167] 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 non-immigrant status. This means there are two sides to a 214(b) denial. Either

  1. The applicant didn’t convince the consular officer that he didn’t intend to stay in the US permanently, or
  2. 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.[168]

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.[169] Modi is the only person ever denied a visa to the U.S. under this provision.[170]

Exceptions[edit]

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.[171] The FBI had aided the men in the visa application process hoping that they would provide information regarding yakuza activities in the US.[171]

See also[edit]

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