The process of obtaining a visa for entry to the US can be quite a complicated affair. It is hardly surprising then that immigration lawyers the world over have established thriving practices which are centered on ‘guiding’ foreign nationals through this complex and time consuming process. Moreover ever since the terror attacks of 9/11, US immigration law has also undergone many changes and this has made the process of obtaining a US visa even more tedious. Always check for changes and updates before making any move.
All the various US visas that are issued for work, study and also immigration to the US require personal interviews at local US consulates and embassies where the applicant is based. The wait times for these interviews and the supporting documents that are required for each visa application differ in every individual case from country to country. If you intend to relocate to the US to work or to study, it is advisable that you start the process of applying for your appropriate US visa well in advance of the date of your intended departure to the US.
There are more than 20 different types of non-immigrant visas and even more types for immigrant visas. The type of visa that one is required to have in order to stay in the US varies depending on the purpose and the length of the stay. One must determine what type of visa is required in order to stay under one’s circumstances and the needs.
A visitor’s visa is often the best way to visit the USA for reconnaissance purposes.
This is a visitor visa that is issued to a foreign national to enter the US temporarily for the purpose of business.
B-2 Visa is issued to those who enter the US for the purpose of vacation, tourism or medical treatment. However, if you are from a country which has a Visa Waiver Program with the US, no visa is required for a trip under 90 days. See below for more information.
There are certain conditions to be fulfilled for traveling under the Visa Waiver Program.
- Your passport should have a validity that extends for six months after your expected stay in the US.
- You should have a machine readable passport with an integrated electronic chip.
- You have to arrive by air or by sea on an approved carrier and you have to be in possession of a return or an onward ticket to any foreign destination after your stay in the US.
- You have to demonstrate that you intend to stay for less than 90 days in the US and have sufficient funds to do so. If you intend to change your status from traveler to student while in US or if you plan to work in the US, you cannot use the VWP but have to go back to your home country and make the appropriate application at your local U.S. consulate or U.S. embassy.
If you are not a citizen of country that participates in the Visa waiver program and if you want to just visit the US in order to explore the various possibilities that it offers you would have to apply for an ordinary tourist or B2 visa.
In order to apply for a visitor visa you must be able to prove to consular staff at your local US consulate or embassy that you intend to enter the US for pleasure or on short term business (B1 visa of the same category), you plan to remain in the US for only a specified period of time, you have sufficient resources to fund your trip, you have compelling social and economic ties at your place of residence to which you have binding ties that you do not wish to relinquish.
US Immigration Law presumes that every applicant who applies for a US visa is an intending immigrant so the visa applicant has to convince the consular officer who interviews the applicant that he /she has no intention of violating the terms of the visa. Issuance of a visa doesn’t however guarantee admittance to the US – entry is determined by the immigration officer at the US port-of-entry. The immigration officer at the port of entry also stamps the B2 visa holder’s I-94 Arrival and Departure card specifying the amount of time the visa holder can remain in the country. This period is generally six months though extensions are possible.
The Visa Waiver Program
Citizens of the 36 countries listed below are able to travel to the USA for tourism or business for stays of 90 days without needing to obtain a visa. This program is known as the Visa Waiver Program and it was instituted in 1986 to facilitate travel between the US and certain countries. Eligible citizens of Visa Waiver countries can also apply for the requisite visa if they want to work or study in the US. Before they travel to the US these VWP travelers have to apply for authorization through the Electronic System of Travel Authorization (ESTA) three days before their journey. These travelers are then screened at their port of entry to the US and are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program. For more info on ESTA, visit https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Andorra, Iceland, Norway, Australia, Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Italy, San Marino, Belgium, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, Latvia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Denmark, Lithuania, South Korea, Estonia, Luxembourg, Spain, Finland, Malta, Sweden, France, Monaco, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Hungary, Greece and New Zealand are the thirty six countries who participate in the visa waiver program with the USA.
The US H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa which allows a US company to employ a foreign national who is engaged in a ‘specialty occupation’ for a period up to six years. A foreign national cannot individually apply for this visa but has to be sponsored by the US company who will submit a petition on the individual’s behalf to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security. This classification requires a labor attestation which is issued by the Secretary of Labor.
A specialty occupation is defined as one that requires a high degree of specialized knowledge. An individual who is to be sponsored for this visa is expected to have the equivalent of a job-relevant 4 year US Bachelor’s degree. If the candidate does not have this qualification it can be met by having a 3 year degree and 3 year’s relevant post graduate experience.
L1 Intra-Company Transfer Visa
The L visas are used to transfer employees from foreign locations to a US parent office, affiliate, subsidiary or branch office of a company. These visas are of two types, the L1A visa which is used for executive and managerial staff and the L1B visa which is used for specialist knowledge staff.
This visa has certain conditions attached to it and before the company can petition for the visa, it has to ensure that the employee has been working for the subsidiary of the company outside the US for at least a year within the last three years. If the candidate is transferring under the managerial criteria then the individual should be transferring to the US office to manage a major division or to fulfill a key position in the US office. If the candidate is transferring under the specialized worker criteria, the candidate should have in-depth experience of the employer’s particular, products, processes, procedures and practices.
H Visas and Others
There are various H visas which are issued by the US for various other categories of workers. These include H-1C visas which are issued for foreign nurses who come to the US to provide nursing services in medically under-served areas. These visas are issued for a temporary period of up to three years.
H-2A visas are issued to temporary or seasonal agricultural works while the H-2B visa classification is used to petition for foreign works who are needed on a seasonal basis or are needed for a peak load or intermittent need or a one time occurrence. This category is governed by stringent rules as the US company has to first prove that there are no unemployed US workers who are willing or able to do that job. For this, the company has to advertise in the local papers and only if no local workers can be found can the company then file a petition for a foreign worker. An H-2B visa holder is allowed to bring his/her spouse and children (unmarried and under the age of 21). H-4 dependents but they are not allowed to work in the US.
H3 visas are issued to trainees who are neither medical trainees nor academic trainees.
If you are already in the US with a lawful status, you need not to do anything as long as the visa is valid. If the consulate of your country in the US keeps the record of their citizens living in the US, it may be a good idea to notify them of your contact info change. (They are resourceful and helpful in case of emergency situations.)
Visa to Retire
Generally, E2 visas are used by those who wish to retire in the US.
The E2 investor visa is an avenue used by individuals who want to retire in the US. It is not easy to retire in the US if you do not have a close family relative who can sponsor you for your green card (the immigrant visa). Even this process takes a lot of time as it is subject to country specific processing times. However individuals who are desirous of retiring in the US, then sometimes try to buy a US based business under the E2 visa category. However, this visa requires stringent conditions which have to be met before it can be issued and there are always chances that the visa could be denied. Moreover it has to be renewed periodically.
If you are visiting the USA on a tourist visa and want to take a short course of less than 18 hours a week then you can do so on a tourist visa (B2). However if you are planning to take on a full time course then you need to apply for an F-1 or M-1 (vocational studies) student visa. These student visas usually allow multiple entries and are issued by the U.S. consulate or embassy located in the home country of the student.
In most countries student visa applicants need to be interviewed by U.S. consular officers and many consulates have their own procedures and policies for issuing student visas. Students must consult their home country Embassy websites for more details. Also make sure that the attending school is able to issue the I-20 form. Without the I-20, your visa will be terminated. Visas are for you to enter the country; the I-20 proves that you are there for the purpose of studying.
J Visas are issued for cultural exchange programs and internships.
J visas are visas that are issued for a period of 18 months through approved J visa programs. The J visas aims to bring exchange visitors to the US in an effort to foster international relations. These exchange programs have to be designated by the United States Information Agency. This Exchange Visitor Program is administered by the Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The website of the Exchange Visitor Program has a list of all the programs covered, the eligibility requirements and regulations that govern the J visa. At the end of this exchange program J visas are expected to return to their home country in order to utilize the skills that they have learned in the USA.
Before you can qualify as a J visa holder you have to be accepted in an exchange program by your US based sponsor. The sponsor will then provide you the information necessary for issuance of the J visa.