There are different US Visa Types which a person who wants to visit the United States can apply for. In principle, there are two general categories of US Visas:
- US Non Immigrant Visa
- US Immigrant Visa
What is a Non immigrant Visa?
The United States legal system defines a non-immigrant USA visa as a temporary stay in the country. This means that you will visit the US for a short period of time, for reasons such as tourism, business, and others, but will not stay there permanently.
Those who want to permanently move to the United States to live and work there, need to apply for the US Immigrant Visa.
Non immigrant Visa Types
The category of non immigrant US visa has several types. Which type of visa you need to apply for is based on the purpose of your visit, so whether you are going to the US for business, as a student, for tourism, or others.
Below is the list of visa types as well as the purpose of visit for each one, which determines the one you should apply for:
- A Visa – Diplomats and Foreign Government Officials. The A 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.
- A-2 – NATO1-6 Visa. The A-2 NATO1-6 visa is designed only for foreign military personnel who are about to serve or be stationed within the United States.
- B-1 Visa – Temporary Business Visa. The B-1 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
- B-2 Visa for Tourism. B-2 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.
- BCC Visa – Border Crossing Card. A BCC visa only applies to Mexican citizens. It is a laminated card which allows Mexican citizens to enter the US.
- When it is granted, it is usually valid for 10 years, but you must have a valid Mexican passport to apply for it.
- C Visa – Transit Visa. The C Visa is a US transit visa. 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.
- CW-1 Visa – CNMI Work Visa. 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.
- D Visa for crew members. 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.
- E Visas – E1 Treaty Trader and E2 Treaty Investor Visas. The E visas are for those who have treaties of commerce and navigation in the US. There are two reasons why you can apply for this visa:
- Engage in trade of technology or other activities between the US and the treaty country.
- Direct operations of a company in which you have invested capital.
- E-3 Visa – Work Visa for Australian nationals. E-3 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.
- F and M Visas for students. 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 F-1 visa or the M-1 visa.
- G1-G5 NATO 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.
- H-1B Visa for employees in highly specialized fields. H-1B 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.
- H-1B1 Visa for Chile and Singapore nationals. Based on the US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Chile and Singapore, the H-1B1 visa allows these nationals to live and work temporarily in the US. They can also be accompanied by their spouse and dependent children.
- H-2A Visa for agricultural workers. The H-2A visa is granted to temporary agricultural workers from selected countries in whom the US has some type of interest.
- H-2B Visa for temporary non-agricultural workers. 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.
- H-3 Visa for training oppotunities. 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.
- I Visa for journalists. 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.
- J Visa for exchange visitors. The J visa is targeted to exchange visitors. These include:
- Au pairs
- Temporary Scholars
- Teachers and Professors
- Interns and Summer Work and Travel
- L Visa – Intracompany Transferee Visa. If the company you work for has a branch in the US and you want to transfer there, you will need an L1 visa. It 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.
- O Visa for persons with extraordinary abilities. 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 O1 visa. To get this type of visa, these people have to be essential to the provision of services in their area of expertise.
- P Visa for athletes, entertainers and artists. 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 Visa for cultural exchange program. 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.
- R Visa for temporary religious workers. Temporary Religious Workers who want to practice within the US in religious capacities need to get the R visa type.
- T Visa for victims of human trafficking. T visas are for victims of human trafficking who have severe trauma, but can also assist in investigating crimes related to human trafficking.
- TN/TD Visas for Canada and Mexico citizens who work in NAFTA. 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.
- V Visa for family unity. 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.
- U Visa for crime victims. Those who have been a victim of certain criminal activities and that can aid in the investigation or prosecution of those criminals, are eligible to apply for the U visa.
US Nonimmigrant Visa Application
Submit the DS 160 Form
To apply for any type of a US non immigrant visa, applicants need to first fill the DS-160 form. The DS-160 or Online Non-immigrant Visa Application form is for all types of non-immigrant visas as well as for K visas, which fall under the immigrant visa types.
This form can be found in the Consular Electronic Application Center website and has to be submitted online to the Department of State. All information entered in the DS-160 form must be in English.
Collect the documents
While filling the DS-160 form, you will have to submit several supporting documents such as:
- Standard Required Documents for US Visas.
- Those applying for F, J, and M visas will also have to complete an application in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) and will need to enter their SEVIS ID in the DS-160 form and the name and address of the university you will be attending. Your SEVIS ID is found on your I-20 form or DS-2019 form.
- Those applying for H-1B, H-2, H-3, CW1, L, O, P, R, visas will need to provide information from their I-129 form regarding their employment and purpose of the visit, when completing the DS-160 form
- Those applying for an E-1 or E-1/E-2 Visa also need to submit the DS-156E form completed by their employer.
Show up at the embassy for the interview
After submitting the form, you will be shown a DS-160 barcode page which you need to print and keep to show to the US Embassy. Following this you will need to schedule a visa interview appointment. This is done at your local US Embassy. The information you have entered in the DS-160 form, together with your interview will serve the consular office to make a decision about whether to give you the visa or not.
Pay the fee
Lastly, you will need to pay the application fee, which is determined based on the type of non-immigrant visa and your country of origin.
Wait for processing
After submitting your application and completing your interview, you will have to wait for the Embassy to process and respond to your request to find out your non immigrant visa status. Wait times for each step of the non immigrant visa application are found in the US Visa Department of State. You will need to enter the city where the US Embassy to which you applied is located and it will show you approximate waiting times.
US Nonimmigrant Visa Validity
When you get your US visa sticker affixed to you passport, there is a date that shows when you visa expires. However, that does not mean you can stay in the US until then, just as getting a visa does not grant you with the right to enter the US. It is the US immigration officer of the Department of Homeland Security at the port-of-entry that decides whether you should be allowed to enter and how long you can remain in the US. The expiration date on your visa sticker only means that you can use it to arrive in the US until that time.
This person, who is a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer, will give you a card called Form I-94 in which is stated the period you can remain, and the date in which you must leave.
Extending a US Temporary Visa
Prior to the expiration of you authorized stay, apply for extending the period in which you are permitted to stay in the US, by filing a request with the USCIS on the Form I-539.
You will be eligible to apply for stay extension if you meet the following requirements:
- You have been lawfully admitted into the US with a temporary visa
- your visa is still valid
- you have committed no crimes that make you ineligible for a visa
- you did not violate the conditions of your admission
- you possess a passport that is valid for the whole duration of your stay
Whereas, if you belong to one of the following categories you cannot extend your visa:
- if you entered the US under the Visa Waiver Program
- you are a crew member and entered the US under a D nonimmigrant visa
- you are transiting the UK under a C nonimmigrant visa
- you are transiting without a visa
Consequences of Overstaying a Temporary US visa
Just as someone who enters the US illegally, a person who overstays their visa will also face consequences according to the US immigration law.
Firstly, the US immigration authorities will automatically revoke the visa and the visitor will be deported to their home country if this person gets caught. Whereas, those who leave voluntarily after overstaying with face consequences according to the period they overstayed
Moreover, they will be ineligible to apply for a US visa from any country in the world, aside of their home country.
What consequences you will face due to overstaying, it all depends on the period you stayed in the US upon the expiration of your visa and also the way you return to your country (if you were forced to leave, deported or if your left voluntarily).
Overstaying less than 180 days
If your visa has expired, but you have not left the United States the consequences you are going to face depend on the number of days you overstayed. If you overstayed your visa for less than 180 days and then left without being forced, then you are legally admissible to apply again for a US visa.
However it will be hard to convince the consular officer that you will not overstay your visa again, so you must show strong proof for the reasons behind you overstaying, in order to be able to get another US visa.
Overstaying more than 180 days
On the other case, if you have stayed more than 180 days you face a ban from entering the US, for wither three years, ten year or permanent.
Time Bars for Accruing Unlawful Presence
Three-year travel bar
If you have stayed in the US for more than 180 days you may face severe penalties. However, if you leave without formal removal proceedings (deportation) then you may be barred from reapplying for a US visa for three years from the date you leave the US.
Ten-year travel bar
If you unlawfully remain in the US for more than 365 continuous days, but you leave voluntarily without any proceedings being instituted against you, you will be barred from entering the United States for ten years in a row. After this period, you can reapply for a US visa, but you will still face difficulties to obtain one.
Permanent travel bar
If you have unlawfully remained in the US for more than a year, and you get caught and deported by the US Immigration Authorities, and then again you try to illegally re-enter the country, you will face a lifetime ban. Though you still can reapply for a visa after ten years, you will still have it almost impossible to obtain one.
Exceptions Whose Overstay Won’t Be Held Against Them
There are some people who are exempt from the above listed bars, as following:
- If the overstaying traveler is under the age of 18
- If the traveler has a bona fide pending asylum application on file with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
- If the traveler has been a beneficiary of the family unity program (for close relatives of people who received green cards as farmworkers or under the amnesty program of the 1980s)
- If the traveler had a pending application for either adjustment of status (a green card), an extension of status, or a change of status
- If the traveler has been a battered spouse or child who entered on a nonimmigrant visa and can show a connection between the abuse and the overstay
- If the traveler were a victim of trafficking who can show proof that the trafficking was at least one central reason for the unlawful presence
- If the traveler has received protection via Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), Deferred Action, or Withholding of Removal under the Convention against Torture.
Waiver of the Three- and Ten-Year Time Bars
If you overstay your US Visa but are capable to demonstrate that your spouse or parents who are either lawful permanent residents or US citizens would suffer extreme hardship if you do not get the requested immigration benefit, then a time bar waiver may be applied to you.
However, you must have very strong evidence to prove extreme hardship as, financial, emotional or medical consequences to one of your US family members.
In case you are considering to apply for one of these waivers, you better get a lawyer since they can help you gather the documents and through the other procedures, which are a bit complicated.
Reapplying for a US visa, after overstaying previously
If you have entered the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) with an Electronic System Travel Authorization, and you have overstayed your authorized period of stay for a few days or weeks, then you will have to apply for a visa next time you wish to enter the US. Among other required documents, you will have to prove the non-immigrant intent and that you have strong ties to your country. You should be very convincing to the consular officer, because even their smallest doubts will result in a visa denial for you.
As for internationals that overstayed their visa (who are not eligible for an ESTA), they will have to reapply for a visa if they wish to enter the US again after overstaying. They will too, have to show strong proof to convince the consular officer that they have no intentions of remaining in the US more than they are authorized to, and prove that overstaying previous US visa happened due to strong reasons.