Millions of people enter and leave the United States every year. It is a popular tourism and immigration destination. However, if you are not a resident of the United States, you will most likely need a visa to enter the country.
A US visa is a stamp that you get on your travel document, more specifically your passport, which means that you are eligible to enter the United States. Having a US Visa does not necessarily mean that you will enter the US, as this is at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Customs and Borders Protection (CPB) Inspectors.
Check if You Need To Apply for a US Visa
Citizens of Visa Waiver Countries and citizens of Bermuda and Canada can travel to the US for temporary stays of 90 days or less without a visa if they travel for tourism or business purposes. The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 39 countries to visit the US for business or travel purposes for 90 days. Anyone who wants to visit the United States for longer periods of time needs to obtain a US visa.
However, foreigners of these countries must get an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) from the US Customs and Borders Protection’s (CBP). This authorizing document categorizes the traveler as a citizen of a participating country in the VWP agreement.
All the travelers are also required to have an electronic passport with biometric information which has a machine-readable zone on its biographic page.
Use this tool to determine whether you need to apply for a US visa:
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Who Needs to Apply for a US Visa?
In the following list, there are the 156 countries whose nationals must have a visa to enter the territory of the USA:
|Angola||Antigua and Barbuda||Argentina|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Botswana||Brazil|
|Central African Republic||Chad||China|
|Colombia||Comoros||Congo Democratic Republic|
|Costa Rica||Cote d’Ivoire||Croatia|
|Dominica||Dominican Republic||East Timor|
|Federated States of Micronesia||Fiji||Gabon|
|Panama||Papua New Guinea||Paraguay|
|Qatar||Republic of Congo||Republic of Korea|
|Republic of Kosovo||Romania||Russia|
|Rwanda||Saint Kitts and Nevis||Saint Lucia|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Samoa||Sao Tome and Principe|
|Seychelles||Sierra Leone||Solomon Islands|
|Somalia||South Africa||South Sudan|
|Tonga||Trinidad and Tobago||Tunisia|
|Uganda||Ukraine||United Arab Emirates|
Non-VWP Citizens Who are Exempt from US Visa Application
Citizens of Canada and Bermuda enjoy the freedom of traveling temporarily to the US without having to possess a nonimmigrant visa or any other pre-entry authorization, such as ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).
- Canadian citizens – are free to enter and stay in the US, even to work there (they might even use an NEXUS Card or an Enhanced Driver’s License for identification, instead of a passport)
- Bermudian citizens – are exempt from visa requirements, for stays less than 6 months in the US
Benefiting from the agreement “the Compacts of Free Association” with the US, citizens of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau are released from visa requirement for entering, staying, studying, or getting employed in the US without limit.
US Visa Application
The US visa application follows a similar and straightforward procedure for all types of visas. However, there are differences depending on the visa category and type you want to get. To apply for an American visa you must apply online to schedule an appointment with the US embassy or consulate in your home country.
For a detailed overview of the steps that you need to follow in order to get a US Visa, you can visit the article.
Applying from different countries
To learn the specifics of applying for a US visa from different world countries, you can visit the respective guides:
- How to apply for a visa for USA from the UK?
- How to apply for a USA visa from Canada?
- How to apply for a visa for USA from Australia?
- How to apply for a USA Visa in Dubai?
- How to apply for USA Visa in Abu Dhabi?
- How to apply for a US visa from Qatar?
- How to apply for a US visa in Philippines?
- How to apply for a US visa in India?
US Visa Types
Here are the main types of US visas:
- Visitor Visas. The US visitor visas are issued to those who want to go to the United States to visit for a maximum of six months and are divided into:
- Student Visas. The F and M visas are for academic and vocational purposes. Depending on your school and your field of study, you will have to get either the F1 or the M1 visa. These are the categories of the US student visas:
- Exchange Visitor Visas. The exchange visitor visas are targeted to those who participate in exchange programs and some type of practical training and employment within the United States. These visas are divided into:
- Temporary Work Visas. These visas are issued for temporary work in the United States. Here are the categories of work visas:
- H1B visa. For persons who have been employed in highly specialized fields.
- H1B1 visa. For nationals of Chile and Singapore.
- H-2A visa. Granted to temporary agricultural workers from selected countries in whom the US has some type of interest.
- H-2B visa. Given to other types of temporary seasonal workers, who do non-agricultural work.
- H-3 visa. Obtained by those who want to take advantage of training and education opportunities.
- L1 visa. Issued to intracompany managers or executives.
- People who have what is called an extraordinary ability in Arts, Science, Business, Education, or Athletics and want to temporarily work in their field of expertise need an O visa. There are three types of O visas:
- P visas. are issued to sportspersons and their coaching teams.
- Temporary Religious Workers who want to practice within the US in religious capacities need to get the R1 visa type.
- TN/TD visas. are for citizens of Canada or Mexico who will be working in the NAFTA organization.
- E3 visas. For nationals of Australia. who will be working in specialty occupations.
- I visa. For representatives of foreign media and journalists part of the press, film, radio, or print industries, who are visiting the US to work or participate in educational media activities.
- Treaty Trader and Investor Visas. The E visas are called Treaty Trader and Treaty Investor visas respectively, are for those who have treaties of commerce and navigation in the US. There are two types of this visa:
- Diplomatic and Official Visas. Categories of official and diplomatic visas are the following:
- The A1 visa is for diplomats or foreign government officials who are travelling to the US on official duties or representing their government.
- The A2 NATO1-6 visa is designed only for foreign military personnel who are about to serve or be stationed within the United States.
- If you have been employed in an international organization in the United States, you will need to get a G-1 to G-5 visa. Those who will work for NATO, will get the NATO visa.
- Visas for Victims of Crime and Human Trafficking. The following visas are part of this type of visa:
- Transit and Crewmember Visas. Here are the categories of this type of visa:
- Immediate Relative & Family Sponsored Visas. Here are the categories of the Immediate relative and Family Sponsored visas:
- The F2A and F2B visas are for the families of Lawful Permanent Residents, more specifically their spouses, minor children, or unmarried sons and daughters aged 21 and above.
- IR-2 visa – for unmarried children under 21 years old
- IR5 visa – for parents of US Citizens who are at least 21 years old
- F1 – for unmarried sons and daughters and their minor children
- F3 visa – for married sons and daughters and their minor children
- F4 visa – for brothers and sisters of US Citizens, and their spouses and minor children.
- The IR3, IH3, IR4, IH4 visas are for children from other countries who will be adopted by US citizen parent(s)
- The SQ visa is for Iraqi or Afghan citizens who will be working for or on behalf of the US government and get Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs).
- Fiance and Spouse Visas. Here are the categories:
- Employer-Sponsored Visas. The following visas are issued for immigrant employees:
- The EB1 visa is called an Employment First Preference Priority Workers visa.
- Employment Second Preference Professionals Holding advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability visas are for those who have labor certification and a job offer in the US.
- The Employment Third Preference Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers visa are for those who have an approved Petition for Alien Worker filed by their employers.
- Eb-5 visa for immigrant investors.
- The SI visa is for Iraqi and Afghan Translators or Interpreters working with the US military and who meet certain requirements.
- The SQ visa is for Iraqi or Afghan citizens who will be working for or on behalf of the US government and get Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs).
- Other Types of Immigrant Visas.
- The Diversity Immigrant Visas are for persons who are deemed to be “diversity immigrants” meaning that they come from countries that have low immigration rates to the US.
- The SB visa or Returning Resident Visa is for permanent US residents who for reasons beyond their control have remained outside the country for more than a year or their re-entry permit is not valid anymore. The SB visa grants them entry into the US again.
- Nonimmigrant visas. Issued for temporary visits to the United States such as for tourism, business, employment, family visit, and studying.
- Immigrant visas. Issued to people who will move permanently to the United States under immigrant investor schemes or family reunion.
What is the Difference Between a Nonimmigrant Visa and an Immigrant Visa?
The main difference between nonimmigrant and immigrant visas is the length of time that the visa holder is allowed to stay in the US. Nonimmigrant visas are temporary, which means that they expire and the visa holder must return to their home country immediately.
Immigrant visas are otherwise known as Green Cards and they are permanent. Once the visa holder has an immigrant visa, they can move to the US and stay there as long as they want to without having a deadline to return to their home country.
How Long Can I Stay in the United States With a Visa?
Since US nonimmigrant visas are temporary, they have an expiration date. This date depends on the type of visa. There are visas which are valid for only 3 months, and some that are valid for 3 years.
You must check the type of visa you want to apply for and see how long it is valid once you get it. US immigrant visas do not have an expiration date so with such a visa, you can stay in the United States permanently.
What to do When my US Visa Expires?
If your US visa expires, you have the chance to renew it through a similar procedure to the initial US Visa application process. All US visas have a date of issue and a date when they will expire stamped on the passport. It is necessary to renew the US visa only if the expiration date of the visa has passed.
Can I Bring my Children to the US?
Almost all US visas allow parents to bring their children to the United States. The children must be minors though, so under 18 or 21 years old depending on the type of visa the parent has. Adult children are usually not allowed to get visas if their parents get one unless they are unable to take care of themselves and are dependent on their parents.
Can I Bring my Parents to the United States?
Most visas do not allow bringing parents to the United States since they are not considered immediate dependents. However, you must look through the Immediate Relative or Family Based Immigrant Visas which might allow you to sponsor your parents or siblings for an immigrant visa.
Keep in mind, that due to the high costs of healthcare in the United States it is recommended that your parents have the appropriate health insurance coverage for their period of visit in the US.
Does a Visa Guarantee Entry Into the US?
Possessing a valid US visa does not guarantee entry into the US. The border patrol at any US point of entry is responsible for anyone who enters the country.
That is why when you arrive in the United States, you will first have to go through immigration and customs who will check your documents and background and make a decision about whether they should grant you entry to the United States. Those officials have the authority to detain and question you, and they also have the right to stop you from going into the United States. They can also make arrangements for you to return to your home country.
There are various reasons that can be used to not allow you entry into the United States, but most of them are concerned with any threat to the security and safety that you might pose to US residents and other visitors.
What Happens if I Do Not Get a US Visa?
There are multiple reasons that USCIS or the US Embassy could deny your petition or visa application. You could be ineligible or you might have had a criminal past so you will not qualify to enter the USA.
If you do not get a visa, then you have two options: either appeal to USCIS or the US Embassy or apply for a new visa. It is usually recommended to apply for a new visa rather than appeal since the US Embassy will have a valid reason as to why they denied your visa and you could correct it when you reapply.
For more on this issue, visit the US Visa Denial article.
What Does a US Visa Look Like?
When you are granted a visa for USA, it will look at the picture below. You should check whether it has your correct information that matches the data in your passport, and all the parts that are in the sample visa. If it does not contain all the information, you should contact the US Embassy that has issued it.
Can I Enter the US Without a Valid Visa?
Unfortunately, once your visa has expired and is not valid anymore, you will not be allowed to enter the United States. If you try to enter the United States with an expired visa, the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) will make you return to your home country.
You must get an extension of the visa you have had or apply for a new visa to be allowed to re-enter the United States.
Though the United States Authorities have not made health insurance mandatory for short-term travelers to the country, as a US visa holder, it is highly recommended that every traveler gets travel insurance before their trip to USA.
How Do I Become a US Citizen With a US Visa?
Getting a United States citizenship is a long process. If you have a US nonimmigrant visa, then it is very difficult since you are not allowed to apply directly for the citizenship. You must first get a US immigrant visa. Some US nonimmigrant visas are dual intent ones which means that once you fulfill the requirements you can change your status and get the immigrant visa.
When you have an immigrant visa, then you must maintain it for 5 years to be allowed to apply for a United States citizenship. For details on how to get a US citizenship, visit the article here.
Travelling Abroad as a US Visa Holder
Travelling to Europe
Those who are living in the United States, might need a Schengen visa to travel to Europe. In case you need to apply for a Schengen visa, you should have a Schengen visa travel insurance coverage for your entire stay in Europe.
Travelling to the UK
US visa or Green Card holders who wish to travel to the United Kingdom, will probably have to obtain a UK visa.
What is USCIS?
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the main immigration authority for US visas. They accept and process applications, as well as make decisions about giving petitions from US employers to hire foreign workers.
USCIS issues documents related to visas and keeps detailed records about all immigrants in the United States. USCIS is more relevant for nonimmigrant employment visas as well as all immigrant visa petitions which they process and adjudicate.