The A visa is one of the most beneficial visa to obtain for travelling for non-immigration purposes in the U.S. It is otherwise known as the diplomatic or official visa. It targets diplomats and officials from other countries who want to enter the U.S.
Since there are multiple levels of diplomacy and there can be various officials of government, the U.S made the A visa of 4 types, as follows:
- A-1 visa, which is for Diplomats, Consular Officers, Public Ministers, Ambassadors, and their families
- A-2 visa, which is for other government officials or staff as well as their families
- A-2, NATO1-6 visa, which is for military staff from other countries who will be serving in the U.S
- A-3 visa, which is for government personal employees, attendants, or servants of A-1 and A-2 visa holders, as well as their immediate family.
All these diplomatic visas are designed as such that the people holding them cannot travel with the Visa Waiver Program. Instead, they must apply for the visa and the U.S must approve it before they can travel.
Additionally, each applicant for all A type visas must show a valid purpose of travel. This means that A visa applicants cannot travel to the U.S only for travel purposes. If a government attendant, for example, wants to visit the U.S for touristic purposes, they cannot get an A-3 visa. Instead, they must apply for the visitor visa. Applicants must have a reason which is related to government work in order to be allowed to get an A visa. This rule does not apply only for the Head of State or Government (for example the President), who can get an A type visa for any purpose of travel.
This article will go through the A-1 visa, what it is, its eligibility requirements, application process, and other details.
What is the A-1 Visa?
As mentioned, the A-1 vis is the visa which only government workers can obtain. This includes the following government positions:
- Head of State such as the President
- Consular officer who will serve in their country’s consulate or embassy within the U.S
- Ministers or cabinet members of a foreign country going to the U.S for government purposes
- European Union (EU) or African Union (AU) representatives of government
This also includes the close families of those groups, such as their spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old. The A-1 visa is the only non-immigrant U.S visa which allows high government officials to enter the U.S for purposes which relate to the development of diplomatic relations between the U.S and a foreign country. Because of this, local government officials are not eligible for the A-1 visa.
The A-1 visa allows its holders to engage in a variety of activities within the U.S. The most prominent privileges that A-1 visa holders have are as follows:
- A-1 visa holders can travel in and out of the U.S for unlimited times, as long as their visas are valid
- They cannot be tried by any U.S court in the U.S government, despite the crime
- Their visas are processed faster than any other non-immigrant visa
However, depending on your intents within the country, your A-1 visa might be revoked. This can include instances such as:
- If you are planning to overthrow the U.S government through unlawful means or terrorism
- If you are planning to commit crimes, engage in espionage, or export good or sensitive information which are prohibited in the U.S
- If the Secretary of State determines that there are negative foreign policy consequences when you enter the U.S
Additionally, A-1 visa holders are not allowed to start employment in the U.S. They are in the country for government purposes, so the U.S government will not allow them to work. Also, A-1 visa holders cannot enroll in study or academic programs, since it does not give them time to focus on their primary purpose of visit.
What are the requirements of the A-1 visa?
To qualify for the A-1 visa, there are certain requirements that government officers must meet. If they are not in an eligible government position, then they must look for other types of visas which can help them achieve their goals to visit the U.S. The following people are eligible for the A-1 visa:
- High level officials such as head of state or ministers, as well as judicial officers and legislative leaders
- Ambassadors or consular officers which visit the U.S for diplomatic purposes
- All representatives of foreign states which have diplomatic relations with the U.S
- Representatives of countries which do not have diplomatic relations with the U.S could be allowed to get the A-1 visa if it is determined that visiting the U.S is in the interest of the country
Other than meeting the requirements for the positions within the government, each applicant must also show the purpose of their visit. The purpose must qualify as being government related, or the applicants will not be eligible to apply for an A-1 visa.
How to apply for the A-1 visa?
The application process for the A-1 visa is quite straightforward and has less procedures than other non-immigrant visas. However, the application cannot be started unless the person applying has a diplomatic passport. So if you have just been appointed in a government position which qualifies you for the A-1 visa, you must get your diplomatic passport before applying.
If you are within the U.S on another type of visa, you can send your A-1 visa applications to the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but if you are outside the U.S, you must go through a U.S embassy or consulate located in your country of residence.
After you get your diplomatic passport, the application procedure for the A-1 visa is as follows:
Fill out Form DS-160
Form DS-160 is an online application form used for non-immigrant visas. Depending on the visa you are applying for, it will have the appropriate fields you need to fill. It collects your main personal information as well as information on your purpose of visit. At the end of your application, when you submit it, you will get a visa confirmation code or page. You must save this, since you will need it for later in the application process.
Submit the necessary documentation
Together with your Form DS-160, you will also need to submit a folder with documents to the U.S Embassy or USCIS, depending on where you are applying from. These documents are necessary for your A-1 visa application to be complete:
- A valid diplomatic passport. The passport must have a validity period of more than 6 months after your intended departure from the U.S.
- Your Form DS-160 confirmation page which you will get when you complete the form.
- One photograph meeting the Photo Requirements
- Diplomatic note written from your country’s government. The note must include:
- Your full name
- Date of birth
- Position within the government
- Purpose of travel
- Description of your duties and job position
- Intended travel period
- Names, dates of birth, and relationship with your dependents, if they intend to travel with you
- Names, dates of birth, and job positions of attendants or servants, if you need them to travel with you
Besides the Form DS-160 and the supporting documents, applicants of the A-1 visa will not need to go through other procedures. Visa interviews which are usually held for other types of U.S visas, but are not required for the A-1 and A-2 visas. However, the U.S Embassy is allowed to require an interview if they see a reason for it.
How long is the processing time for the A-1 visa?
After you submit your A-1 visa application, the processing times are extremely short. There are many cases when the visa response is immediately given on the same day when you submit your application. The U.S Embassy officer will stamp your passport and you can then begin to make travel arrangements for the U.S if you are applying from another country.
What is the validity of the A-1 visa?
Once you obtain the A-1 visa, the U.S Embassy can give you a period of validity only for your intended travel dates or for an indefinite time. So if you are travelling between September 1 and October 1, then the Embassy might choose to have your visa valid only for that 1 month. However, if you are given the visa for an indefinite period of time, you are allowed to stay in the U.S as long as the U.S government recognizes your position in the government as qualifying for an A-1 visa.
In case you resign, you are not required to immediately go back to your country of residence. The Department of State (DOS) takes some time to update their records, and when they recognize your resignation, you are required to return.
If your period of validity is coming to an end, you can request an extension by submitting it to the DOS. You must also have a letter from your government outlining the reasons as to why you need an extension of stay.
Additionally, you can also request a change of status while you are in the U.S. To do this, you must submit Form I-566, Interagency Record of Request – A, G or NATO Dependent Employment Authorization or Change/Adjustment to/ from A, G or NATO Status. This form must be submitted to the DOS. If your dependents are also applying for a change of status, you must include them in the form.
Can I get a Green Card with an A-1 visa?
Getting a Green Card with an A-1 visa is quite difficult, but not impossible. In order to become a lawful permanent resident of the U.S, A-1 visa holders will have to give up their diplomatic status. This means that they will not have the privileges that they had with an A-1 visa. To do this, they need to file Form I-508 – Waiver of Rights, Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities.
Afterwards, A-1 visa holders can apply to get a Green Card through marriage, investment, or if they can prove that they cannot return to their home country safely.
Can my dependents accompany me with an A-1 visa?
As mentioned, A-1 visa holders can have their spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old to come in the U.S. In addition, they can also bring their immediate family or close relatives too. The dependents are allowed to work after getting an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS, and they are also allowed to study and enroll in an academic program in the U.S.