Types of Nonimmigrant Visas
There are several types of visas for temporary visitors to the U.S. The type of visa needed is defined by immigration law, and relates to the purpose of your travel.
Visitors to the United States who are interested in staying temporarily are issued a type of visa called a nonimmigrant visa. Nonimmigrant visas fall into several categories. People may enter the United States temporarily for business (B-1) or for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2). There are also specific visa categories for students, crewmen, temporary workers, and journalists. In addition, many countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program that allows foreign nationals to visit the United States without first obtaining a visa.
In order to obtain a nonimmigrant visa, applicants must meet the provisions of theImmigration and Nationality Act. U.S. immigration law assumes that visitors to the United States intend to immigrate to this country. Thus, applicants for nonimmigrant visas must prove that they are not seeking immigration to the United States by demonstrating the following:
• They plan to enter the United States for medical treatment, business, or pleasure.
• They will stay in the United States for a limited and specific time period.
• They have sufficient funds to cover their expenses in the United States.
• They maintain a residence in their native country.
• They have familial, economic, and social ties abroad.
Visitors to the United States should realize that having a nonimmigrant visa does not guarantee entry into the country. They may be denied admission by immigration authorities, who may also determine the length of their stay. When visitors to the United States arrive at the port of entry, their admission to the country will be authorized by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official. He or she will stamp the visitor’s Form I-94: Record of Arrival-Departure and approve the length of the visit. Travelers who would like to extend their visit should contact the USCIS and request Form I-539: Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.
As with most visas, the sooner you apply the better. As a result of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, visa applications are screened even more thoroughly than they were previously—a time-consuming process. It’s a good idea to start the visa application process as soon as you begin making travel plans.
B-1 and B-2 Visitors
For those wishing to travel to the United States temporarily, a nonimmigrant visa called the “visitor” visa is available. There are two types of visitor visas.
• B-1 Visa: This visa is reserved for business travelers. If you plan to visit the United States to attend a professional, educational, or business conference or convention, a B-1 visa would be a good choice. The B-1 visa may also be used for business meetings, contract negotiations, or estate settlements.
• B-2 Visa: This visa is for those seeking recreational travel or medical treatment in the United States. If you are planning to visit the United States for reasons that include tourism, visits with family or friends, social or service activities, rest, or amusement, you should apply for a B-2 visa. The B-2 visa is also for patients who plan to visit the United States for medical treatment.
You may apply for a visitor visa at any U.S. consular office overseas. However, it is recommended that you visit the U.S. embassy or consulate that has jurisdiction over the area where you live. It is quicker and easier to qualify for a visa within your country of permanent residence.
There are currently thirty-five countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Citizens of these countries may travel to the United States without a visa if they meet certain requirements. To be eligible for the VWP, travelers should be visiting the United States for the purpose of business or tourism and stay in the country for fewer than 90 days. They must also be authorized through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before coming to the United States, have a current passport and sufficient funds for the duration of their stay, and travel on an approved carrier.
Detailed information about the Visa Waiver Program is available by accessing the U.S. Department of State’s Web site at http://travel.state.gov. This site provides the most up-to-date information about the VWP program, explains passport and other travel requirements, and lists the participating countries.
F-1 and M -1 Students
There are two nonimmigrant visa categories for students: the “F” visa and the “M” visa. Nonimmigrants coming to the United States for academic or language training programs are issued an “F” visa. An “M” visa is given to those pursuing vocational or nonacademic studies in the United States.
To be eligible for the F-1 or M-1 visa, students must meet certain criteria. First, they must be enrolled full-time in a vocational, educational, or language-training program at a USCIS-approved school. Second, students must display English proficiency or be registered for English language courses. They are also required to have necessary funds to support themselves during their studies and maintain a residence abroad. Students may obtain these funds through a sponsor living in the United States. The sponsor will need to complete Form I-134: Affidavit of Support on the student’s behalf. This form proves that the student has financial support from the sponsor and will not become a “public charge” (meaning dependent on public assistance programs, like food stamps or Medicaid) while living in the United States.
If you are interested in visiting the United States on a student F-1 or M-1 visa, the first step is to apply to a USCIS-approved school. Once you are accepted into a program, your educational institution will provide you with the needed approval documentation, including Form I-20: Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status. You will submit Form I-20 to the Department of Homeland Security as part of your visa application. To begin the student visa application process, you’ll need to contact your local U.S. embassy.
J-1 Exchange Visitors
Travelers are encouraged to visit the United States through the Exchange Visitor Program (J-1). This type of visa was created to promote cultural awareness between countries, allowing visitors to exchange ideas, knowledge, and skills in a variety of fields. J-1 nonimmigrant visas are issued to travelers who have been approved to participate in a sponsoring organization’s U.S. exchange visitor program. Anyone requesting a J-1 visa must have been accepted into an exchange program before applying for a visa. Sponsors of exchange programs provide participants with the documentation needed to apply for a J-1 visa.
H-1B Specialty Occupation Worker
Another type of visa included in the nonimmigrant visa category is the H-1B for specialty occupation workers. U.S. employers may use this visa program to hire foreign workers with specialized knowledge or expertise. Workers coming to the United States on an H-1B visa should have a bachelor’s degree (or the equivalent). Some examples of H-1B occupations include college professors, architects, computer programmers, accountants, and engineers. The U.S. Congress sets an annual limit on the number of workers who may be issued a visa each year for certain nonimmigrant classifications. This limit is referred to as the annual cap. Currently, the H-1B visa has an annual cap of 65,000.
H-2B Temporary Workers
U.S. employers may also hire foreign workers on a temporary basis through the H-2B visa category. These employers may hire seasonal or intermittent workers during their peak production times to increase their labor force. Employers might also add to their workforce temporarily for a one-time occurrence, such as a large building project. Many H-2B workers are hired for manufacturing, construction, health care, landscaping, food service, lumber, and hospitality services jobs.
Current annual caps on H-2B visas are set at 66,000 per year. Half of these visas (33,000) are reserved for workers hired from October 1 through March 31, and the other half are for those working from April 1 through September 30. These limitations were set as a result of the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2005. Starting in 2010, an H-2B petition cannot be filed more than 120 days before the actual start of the job that is identified on the labor certificate. In many cases, workers are able to extend their stays in H-2B status.
L-1 Intracompany Transferees
Yet another type of nonimmigrant visa issued to foreign workers is the L-1 classification. The L-1 visa is intended for those holding positions with companies overseas where they have worked for at least one year. If the company decides to transfer the employee to a U.S.-based branch, subsidiary, parent, or affiliate, a worker may apply for an L-1 visa to work for the company in the United States. Employees in this classification, called intracompany transferees, must stay with the same employer. They also must work in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge position with the company.
E-1 and E -2 Treaty Traders and Investors
Nonimmigrant visas are also available to foreign nationals coming to the United States for the purpose of trade or investment. These workers must live in a country that has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States. A complete list of treaty countries may be found at the Department of State’s Web site at http://travel.state.gov.
E-1 visas are issued to treaty traders coming to the United States to conduct significant trade between the U.S. and the treaty country. Applicants must be executives or supervisors, must be citizens of a treaty country, and must handle “substantial” (large and continuing) trade agreements. E-2 visas are reserved for treaty investors or those who direct and develop the resulting enterprise. Investors are also required to be nationals of a treaty country and have the expertise to manage large investments.
TN Visas for Canadian and Mexican Professionals
As a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (passed in 1993), qualified Canadian and Mexican workers may enter the United States for professional business activities on a TN visa. Those entering the United States on a TN nonimmigrant visa should have a bachelor’s degree or other required credentials. Many TN visa holders work as engineers, lawyers, teachers, accountants, pharmacists, and scientists. Currently, there is no annual cap on the number of TN visas issued each year. A TN visa is valid for up to three years.
Canadian workers do not need to apply for a visa. When they arrive in the United States, they must provide proof of Canadian citizenship and their educational credentials and a letter from their future employer explaining the worker’s position, length of stay, and education credentials. They will be inspected by a U.S. CBP officer, admitted as a TN nonimmigrant, and given Form I-94 as proof of admission. Mexican workers are required to obtain visas and should apply for a TN visa at a U.S. consular office in Mexico. They will also need a letter from their prospective employer and proof of Mexican citizenship and their educational qualifications. Mexican workers will also be issued a Form I-94 showing their TN nonimmigrant status by a U.S. CBP inspector.
If you are engaged to a foreign national and would like to marry in the United States, you will need to file a petition for a K-1 nonimmigrant visa for your fiancé(e). If the petition is approved, your fiancé(e) must apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate office abroad. To be eligible for the K-1 visa, you and your fiancé(e) must be free to marry and have met in person within the past two years. You must also agree to marry within ninety (90) days of your fiancé(e)’s arrival in the United States. If your fiancé(e) has children, you may apply to bring them to the United States if they are under 21 years of age. To begin the application process, you will need to file a petition with your local USCIS Service Center.
After you are married, your fiancé(e) should apply for permanent resident status if he or she wants to live and work in the United States. Your spouse’s permanent resident status will be conditional for the first two years of your marriage.
K-3 and K -4 Spouses and Children of U .S. Citizens Who A re A broad
Following passage of the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (LIFE Act), the spouse and children of a U.S. citizen living abroad may now enter the United States on a nonimmigrant visa. The K-3 and K-4 visas permit the spouse and child (or children) of a U.S. citizen to apply for permanent resident status while living in the United States. While they adjust their status, those on a K-3 or K-4 visa are allowed to find employment in the United States. To be eligible for a K-3 visa, an applicant must be married to a U.S. citizen and seek permanent resident status. The applicant’s spouse must file a relative petition (Form I-130) and send Form I-129F: Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) to the spouse’s U.S. consulate abroad. To be eligible for a K-4 visa, a person must be the unmarried child of the K-3 applicant and under 21 years of age.
V Visas for Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents
The spouse and child (or children) of lawful permanent residents in the United States may also apply to live and work in the U.S. as non-immigrants. This nonimmigrant category (V) allows the spouse and child to stay in the United States while they wait for either an immigrant visa or lawful permanent resident status. To apply for this type of visa, an applicant must either be married to a lawful permanent resident of the United States (V-1) or have a parent who is a lawful permanent resident (V-2). The spouse or parent with lawful permanent resident status must file a relative petition (Form I-130) on behalf of the spouse or child. To begin the application process abroad, applicants should contact their U.S. embassy or consulate. Spouses and children of lawful permanent residents who are already living in the United States will need to file Form I-539: Application to Change Nonimmigrant Status, undergo a medical examination, and pay an application fee. Types of Nonimmigrant Visas