A visa is a document that governs the entry and exit of an individual through the borders of a country. The United States issues a wide variety of nonimmigrant and immigrant visas which are governed by the Immigration laws of the country. Changes in U.S. laws that govern visa policies in the years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 now affect the amount of time it takes to issue a U.S. visa.
However, a visa doesn’t necessarily permit entry into the U.S. as it only indicates that the visa application made by a foreign national has been reviewed by a consular officer at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad and that officer has deemed the foreign national as eligible for travel to the U.S. for the specific purpose for which the application was made. This visa must then be presented to the immigration officer of the Department of Homeland Security at a U.S. port-of-entry by the foreign national. Only the immigration officer has the authority to permit the foreign national into the country and determine his/her length of stay in the U.S.A.
Citizens of most countries require a visa to enter the United States but there are 35 countries that participate in a visa waiver program with the USA. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens from these designated countries to apply for admission to the United States for 90 days or less as nonimmigrant visitors for business or pleasure without first obtaining a non-immigrant visa.
Non-immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals who seek to enter the United States on a temporary basis as a tourist or on business. These non-immigrant visas are also sometimes issued for medical treatments and types of temporary work. In order to obtain a non-immigrant visa, a foreign national has to apply to the U.S. consulate or embassy located in the country where he/she is based. The most popular types of non-immigrant visas are a tourist visa (B-2) or a business non-immigrant (B-1). If foreign national wants to enter the United States to study or work then the appropriate non-immigrant visa is only issued after certain authorization and documentation requirements are met.
The U.S. also issues immigrant visas to those foreign nationals who have a desire to permanently live and work in the U.S.A. This visa is issued only after a petition sponsoring the foreign national is filed by a relative or an employer with the department of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Certain foreign nationals who display extraordinary abilities or are investors can file their own petitions. After the immigrant visa petition is reviewed by the USCIS it is then forwarded to the appropriate U.S. Consulate or Embassy located in the prospective home country for further processing. If the prospective immigrant meets all the criteria of eligibility then he/she is interviewed at the consulate or embassy. The foreign national is also additionally asked to undergo a physical exam to meet vaccination and other requirements. The intending immigrant is then issued an immigrant visa after which he/she is required to enter the U.S.A within a designated period.
This immigrant visa is then presented by the immigrant at the U.S. point of entry before the expiration date of the visa. Once the visa and the accompanying paperwork have been reviewed and endorsed by the immigration officer, this foreign national becomes a lawful permanent resident of the USA.