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 US, you will most likely need a visa to enter the country.
What is a US Visa?
A US visa is generally 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.
You might have a US Visa but if the inspectors of these departments do not see you as fit to enter the country for reasons that might remain at their discretion, you will be denied entry into the US.
Who Needs to Apply for a US Visa?
Citizens of Visa Waiver Countries and citizens of Bermuda and Canada do not need a visa to visit the US. The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 38 countries to visit the US for business or travel purposes for 90 days. Anyone who wants to visit the US for longer periods of time needs to obtain a US visa.
To determine whether you can travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program, you can use our free ESTA eligibility checking tool.
US Visa Types
Getting a visa for the USA is a lengthy procedure and what kind of visa you get depends on why you want to enter the country. There are two types of visas for the United States:
- Non-immigrant visas– which mean that you are eligible to enter the US and stay there temporarily
- Immigrant visas – which grant you permission to live in America permanently
Both non-immigrant and immigrant visas also have sub-categories which are determined on the basis of the purpose of your visit.
USA Non-immigrant Visas
The following table provides the types of Non-immigrant visas.
The A1 visa is for diplomats or foreign government officials who are travelling to the US on official duties or representing their government.
The only person who can enter the United States for any purpose of the visit is the Head of State or Government such as the President or the Prime Minister, for example.
The A2 NATO1-6 visa is designed only for foreign military personnel who are about to serve or be stationed within the United States.
The B1 visa could be granted to those who want to enter the US for amateur or professional athletes, domestic employees/nannies or for business purposes such as:
- Attending conferences or conventions in their field
- Negotiate contracts
- Consult with associates
- Settle estates
B2 visas are given to people for the following reasons:
- Medical Treatment
- Tourism and vacations
- Visits to relatives or friends
- Enrollment in short non-credit bearing courses (not for official degrees)
- Participation in music, sport, or social events, if they do not receive payments from them.
The C Visa is a Transit Visa USA. This means that you are passing through the US, but your final destination is in another location.
If you are passing through the US, but want to stop for a layover to see friends, family, or visit places, you will not be allowed to do so with a C visa, but will need the appropriate visa for those purposes.
People who have a B-type Visa and those whose visa is waived are also allowed to transit through the US.
Employers from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) can apply for CW-1 visas to be able to employ foreign workers who do not necessarily fit into other employment visa categories.
The employees who are granted a visa for this purpose are termed as CNMI-only transitional workers.
The D visa is for crew members who will work on a sea vessel or international airline in the United States and they need the visa to be able to operate within the country.
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:
E3 visas are only for nationals of Australia who will be working in specialty occupations. If a person from Australia qualifies for an E-3 visa, then so does the spouse and the children; however, for the spouse, a marriage certificate should be presented.
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 these visas:
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.
H1B visas are for persons who have been employed in highly specialized fields. This means that they have an advanced degree or a job that cannot necessarily be done without having extensive training.
Based on the US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Chile and Singapore, the H1B1 visa allows these nationals to live and work temporarily in the US. They can also be accompanied by their spouse and dependent children.
The H-2A visa is granted to temporary agricultural workers from selected countries in whom the US has some type of interest.
Whereas the H-2A is for temporary agricultural workers, the H-2B visa is given to other types of temporary seasonal workers, who do non-agricultural work.
Similar to the H-2A, it is only granted to individuals if they are of interest to the US and only for selected countries.
The US has unique education and training opportunities that might not be found in other countries. For those who want to take advantage of these training and education opportunities which are not counted towards an academic degree, the H-3 visa needs to be obtained.
The I visa is 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.
The J visa is targeted to exchange visitors. These include:
- Au pairs
- Temporary Scholars
- Teachers and Professors
- Interns and Summer Work and Travel
If the company you work for has a branch in the US and you want to transfer there, you will need an L visa. The L1 visa is called an intra-company transfer visa, and the condition is that you must have been employed at that company for at least 1 year within the past 3 years.
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. To get this type of visa, these people have to be essential to the provision of services in their area of expertise.
There are three types of O visas:
There are three types of P visas:
- P-1 – is for individual or team athletes or members of entertainment groups
- P-2 – is for artists of entertainers that will perform in the US as individuals or in a group
- P-3 – is for artists and entertainers who will perform, teach, or coach in the US. as individuals or in a group
Q Visas are for people who are visiting the US as part of an international cultural exchange program. This means that they will share their history, culture, and tradition in the US.
This visa is also for those who will do some type of practical training and employment within the US.
Temporary Religious Workers who want to practice within the US in religious capacities need to get the R1 visa type.
T visas are for victims of human trafficking who have severe trauma, but can also assist in investigating crimes related to human trafficking.
- T-1: is for the victims of human trafficking
- T-2: is for spouses of T-1 visa holders
- T-3: is for children of T-1 visa holders
- T-4: is for parents of T-1 visa holders
- T-5: is for unmarried siblings (under 18 years old), of T-1 visa holders who are
under 21 years old
TN/TD visas are for citizens of Canada or Mexico who will be working in the NAFTA organization. The visa is not for permanent residents of Canada or Mexico. There are two types of NAFTA visas:
- TN visas – for Canadians.
- TD visas – for Mexicans.
The V visa allows families who are in the process of waiting for the completion of their immigration process, to be reunited with their family in the US.
US Immigrant Visas
Immigrant visas are in 3 categories:
- Immediate Relative and Family Sponsored visas
- Employer Sponsored visas
- Other types of immigrant visas
Immediate Relative & Family Sponsored Visas
- 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 K1 visa is for persons who are engaged to a United States citizen and plan to marry them. The foreign citizen (fiancé) in this case is required to marry the US citizen within 90 days of arrival in the country.
If the fiancé has children, they are eligible for K-2 visas.
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).
K3 visas are for spouses of US citizens who are in the process of obtaining permanent immigration status. This visa is made to shorten the separation of the couple until the spouse from the foreign country receives approval for immigration.
Children of the K-3 visa applicants are eligible to receive K-4 visas
Employer Sponsored Visas
The EB1 visa is called an Employment First Preference Priority Workers visa. It is for those people who are beneficiaries of an approved Immigration Petition for Foreign Workers and must be:
- People with extraordinary abilities in arts, sciences, business, education, or athletics
- Professors and researchers
- Managers or executives
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.
This group of visas is for immigrant investors in the US who will do the following:
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 US 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.
How to Apply for a US Visa?
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.
You apply online through:
- the Consular Electronic Application Center, or
- by using the services of a third party company such as TravelAssist.
Why do we advise to apply through TravelAssist?
- TravelAssist’s staff will fill in the form DS-160 to book your US visa appointment with the US Embassy/Consulate.
- They will provide you with a complete list of required documents for your US Visa application and will check your prepared application file to make sure your application has the highest possible prospect of success.
- The staff of TravelAssist will offer 24/7 online support regarding your US visa application.
- If your US visa application is successful TravelAssist will get you your visa quickly.
- In the event of denied entry to the US, they offer Travel Protection that will cover your financial expenses.
- TravelAssist is a specialized company in processing US visa applications and has helped over 20,000 people enter the United States. They provide end-to-end visa assistance to help you successfully enter the United States.
Applying for a USA visa from UK
UK residents who do not hold citizenship of Visa Waiver country and are not citizens of Canada or Bermuda are required to apply for a visa for USA from the UK.
Applying for a USA visa from Canada
Canadians do not need a visa nor an ESTA to travel to the US, however, Canadian residents who are not citizens of one of the 38 Visa Waiver Countries, should apply for a USA visa from Canada to visit the US.
Applying for a USA visa from Australia
Australian citizens do not normally need a visa for USA. But, Australian residents who are not citizens of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program, are required to apply for a visa for USA from Australia.
Applying for a USA visa from UAE
UAE is not part of the Visa Waiver Program, therefore its citizens do not qualify for visa-free travel to the United States.
To learn how to apply for a US visa in UAE visit the following articles:
Applying for a US visa from Qatar
Qatari citizens, as well as residents, might have to apply for a US visa. To learn how to apply for a US visa from Qatar, read our article.
Applying for a US visa from the Philippines
Filipino citizens are not exempt from the US visa application requirement. For more information visit: “How to apply for a US visa in Philippines?“.
What Are the Required Documents for a US Visa?
After you have decided about the type of USA visa that you should apply for, you must find out what the required documents for a USA visa are and start gathering the documents that are required. There are some standard documents that the embassy or consulate of the USA requires regardless of the US visa you wish to obtain and there are some other documents that are specific only to the particular type of visa that you are applying for.
How Much Does it Cost to Apply for a USA Visa?
Although we have provided the visa application fees for all US visas in this article, there are some additional fees that you must familiarize yourself with. To learn more about US visa fees, visit the 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.
Reading and Understanding a Visa
The US visa number is a unique identifier of every individual who has a US visa. The visa will have a lot of information on it, including the visa number. It could be placed anywhere, but it is distinct because it is the only red number on it.
The place or color of it does not change whether it is a nonimmigrant visa number or an immigrant visa number. The example above shows what a US visa looks like and you can clearly see the number on it.
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.
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.