For most people around the world, wanting to go to the US means that they need a visa. The reasons for wanting to go differ from just visits for tourism or business, working, studying, or permanently moving there. The country attracts a wide range of people who have various goals and want to achieve “the American dream”. However, there are many barriers and one of them is getting a visa.
This article will go through the details about how to complete your US visa application process and how to get US visa depending on the different types of visas that exist.
What is a US visa?
A US visa is usually a stamp that you get in your passport or a document given by a US consulate or embassy in your country of residence. The visa means that you are eligible to enter the US and that you meet the requirements of the particular visa that you have been given.
The US visa allows you to make travel arrangements to the US and board a plane to travel. Airlines always check whether you have the appropriate visa before you are allowed to board, so if you have a US visa, it means that you have achieved the requirements that the particular visa has.
Does a US visa Guarantee Entry Into the US?
A US visa is just a document making it possible for you to prove eligibility for entering the US and it allows you to make travel arrangements. However, it 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 US, you will first have to go through immigration and customs who will check your documents and background and make a decision about whether you should be allowed to enter the US. Those officials have the authority to detain and question you, and they also have the right to stop you from going into the US. 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 US, 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 are the types of visas?
There are many US visas that one can get depending on the purpose of your visit. There are US work visas, US visitor visas, as well as student visas. However, overall US visas are divided into two major groups:
US nonimmigrant visas are those which do not give the holder the right to stay in the US permanently. So if you have a nonimmigrant visa, you are allowed to stay in the US until the visa expires, and then you can either go back to your home country or apply for permanent residence if the visa you have is a dual intent visa. A dual intent visa is a nonimmigrant visa which allows you to apply for permanent residence.
Example of US nonimmigrant visas include the US visitor visas; work visas such as H-1B visa, H-2A visa etc.; and visas for academic purposes J-1 visa, F-1 visa, etc. These visas have various purposes and range from tourism, work, and studying.
US immigrant visas are those that allow you to stay in the US permanently. The US immigrant visa requirements are much different from the nonimmigrant US visa requirements. When you get an immigrant visa, then you are not required to return to your home country, but can choose to stay in the US and live there permanently or go back periodically for work or studying. The benefit of permanent or immigrant US visas are that you do not need to worry about your visa expiring and having to apply again.
Example of US immigrant visas include the K-1 visa, K-3 visa, and other types of Green Cards such as the EB-1, EB-2, etc.
US Non-Immigrant Visa Application
The nonimmigrant American visa application follows a straightforward application procedure. There are differences depending on the visa you want to get however. If you are applying for a US work visa, then you will most likely have to first get certifications from the Department of Labor and have an approved Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The US visa application is done at a US Consulate or Embassy in your country of residence following these simple steps:
- Fill in Form DS-160.
- Pay your application fee.
- Schedule visa interview.
- Compile the document file.
- Attend the visa interview.
Fill in Form DS-160
Form DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application is the US visa application form that you must fill out if you are applying for a US nonimmigrant visa. The form can be found online on the website of the US consulate from which you are applying. It contains sections specific to various types of visas, so you must first choose what visa you are applying for.
It then has questions regarding your background, personal information, employment history and other details which are submitted as part of your application. When you complete the form and submit it, it will generate a confirmation page and code which you need to save and bring for your interview.
Pay your application fee
One way through which the US makes some money is through visa application fees. This means that there is no free visa and some are more expensive than others. So one of the requirements of US visa is to pay the fees. Visa application fees range from $160 to more than $250 and there are also fees associated with filing other forms if you will be working in the US.
In addition to visa application fees, you could also be asked to pay visa issuance fees. Visa issuance fees are determined by the relationship that the US has with your home country. This means that some applicants will have to pay them and some will not. Their amount varies from country to country.
To be able to proceed with your application, you must pay all the necessary fees and retain the receipts for proof.
Schedule visa interview
All nonimmigrant visa applicants between 14 and 79 years old are required to go through a US visa interview. To have this mandatory interview, you must schedule an appointment with the US consulate or embassy from which you are applying. Since they might have a high workload and the wait time can range from days to weeks, you must make sure to schedule your interview as early as possible. The moment that you submit your Form DS-160, you should make an appointment for your interview. You will then get an interview confirmation letter which you must bring on the day of the interview.
Compile the document file
In addition to your application form or Form DS-160, you must also submit documents required for US visa which prove to the US consulate that you meet the requirement for the nonimmigrant visa you are applying. The main mandatory documents that you must have with you when you go to attend your interview are:
- A valid passport
- Your Form DS-160 confirmation page and code
- A photograph meeting the Photo Requirements
- Your interview appointment letter
- Receipts which prove you have paid your fees
Besides these documents, you must also have others depending on the visa you are applying for. Each US nonimmigrant visa has different documents that it requires, so to find out which ones you need, you must visit the specific article for that visa.
Attend the visa interview
The final step in the US nonimmigrant visa application process is the visa interview. You must attend it on the day that it was scheduled and you must be on time with all your supporting documents. The official who will interview you will ask questions about your background and other relevant details based on the visa you have applied for. If you are going to the US to work, then the interview might be longer than if you were going only for a visit.
After the visa interview, you must wait for your application to be processed. Processing times depend on the type of visa you applied for, but they can range from a few days to a few months. When your visa is processed, you will find out whether you were approved or denied. You should only make travel arrangements after your visa is approved and not run the risk of making expenses in case it is denied.
US Immigrant Visa Application Process
The second type of US visas, the immigrant visas have a different type of US visa application requirements. They too start at a US consulate or embassy and you have to follow these guidelines for application for US visa which is of an immigrant type.
File the petitions
If you are applying for an immigrant visa based on family reunion or employment, the family or employer in the US must submit a petition for you at USCIS. This petition will be reviewed by the responsible authority and you must only wait to find out whether it will be approved or not. You cannot take any further steps without an approved petition, since if it is denied, all your efforts and payments will not be counted.
If your petition is approved, you will be directed to the National Visa Center (NVC), which will require you to go through more steps in order to get to your visa interview. You will receive a letter from the NVC which will have important information that guides you through the application process. Amongst that important information are your NVC Case Number, Beneficiary ID Number, and Invoice ID Number.
Choose an agent
The agent will serve as your point of contact for your visa matters. You must formally and legally select an agent to be able to proceed with the immigration visa application. You can choose yourself as an agent or you can choose an attorney, friend, family member, or sponsoring employer.
To choose your agent you must file Form DS-261, Choice of Address and Agent to the NVC which will take at least 3 weeks to be processed.
Pay the fees
There are at least two fees associated with applying for a US immigrant visa:
- Immigrant Visa Application Processing Fee
- Affidavit of Support Fee
They can be paid by credit card or check and you will need to complete this step online based on the guidance found in your NVC letter. You will also need your NVC Case Number and Invoice ID Number to proceed with this step.
Submit visa application
The first part of the visa application is your submission of Form DS-260, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration. This form is similar to the Form DS-160 for nonimmigrant visas, but the main difference is that it only counts as a first step. You do not complete your immigrant visa application until you are invited for the interview and your date is current. To file for the Form DS-260 you will need your NVC Case Number, Beneficiary ID Number, and Invoice ID Number. At the end when you submit it, you will get a confirmation page and number.
Submit supporting documents
In addition to the form, you must also submit the following supporting US visa documents:
- Copy of your valid passport
- A photo based on the Photo Requirements
- Receipts that you have paid the fees
- Your Form DS-260 confirmation page and number
- Proof of financial stability of your petitioner
- Other supporting documents (birth certificates, marriage certificates, court and prison records, etc).
Besides these documents, depending on the type of immigrant visa you are applying for, you might be asked to submit additional ones. Note that all documents must be in English and those that are not must be accompanied by an official and notarized translation. You must submit these documents to the NVC based on the information you have received on the letter.
Attend your interview
Based on your current date, the NVC will schedule your visa interview with you and any accompanying family members. This is usually done one month in advance to give applicants time to prepare documents and prepare for the interview. At the interview, you will be asked questions by an official and it will be determined whether you are eligible and meet all the requirements for a US immigrant visa.
What to do When my US Visa Expires?
If your visa expires, you have the chance to renew it through a similar procedure to the initial application process. All visas have a date when they were issued and a date when they will expire stamped on the passport. It is necessary to renew the visa only if the expiration date of the visa has passed.