Types of Visas
In this section you will find the types of visas available.
The B-1/B-2 visitor visa is for people traveling to the United States temporarily for business (B-1) or for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2). Generally, the B-1 visa is for travelers consulting with business associates, attending scientific, educational, professional or business conventions/conferences, settling an estate or negotiating contracts. The B-2 visa is for travel that is recreational in nature, including tourism, visits with friends or relatives, medical treatment and activities of a fraternal, social or service nature. Often, the B-1 and B-2 visas are combined and issued as one visa: the B-1/B-
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is available to citizens of a specified list of countries. These countries are designated for inclusion in the VWP based upon having low rates of immigration violations as well as meeting other security-related protections.
Citizens of the designated countries are permitted to travel to the United States for up to 90-days to engage in activities that would be appropriate within the categories of visitor for business or visitor for pleasure (B-1/B-2). The list of designated countries is available on the U.S. Department of State (DOS) Website. The VWP facilitates routine travel for business or pleasure by eliminating the need to apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate prior to entry. However, it contains strict prohibitions on obtaining extensions or changes of status within the United States.
If you want to work in the United States temporarily as a nonimmigrant, under the United States’ immigration law, you need to apply for a specific visa based on the type of work you will be doing. Most temporary worker categories require that your prospective employer or agent file a petition, which must be approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the United States before you can apply for a work visa.
H-1B (specialty occupation)
The H1B visa classification permits a foreign national to work in the United States for a temporary period. It is available for offers of employment that are in a specialty occupation*. A person may hold H1B status for a maximum of six years, and it may be issued in increments of up to three years by the USCIS. An employee may receive extensions of H1B status beyond six years in certain circumstances, if s/he is in the process of applying for employment-based permanent residence (commonly referred to as the “green card”). H1B visas are numerically limited, with a total of 85,000 visas available each fiscal year (20,000 of these visas are restricted to individuals who have received master’s degrees or higher from U.S colleges or universities). This limitation is referred to as the H1B cap
H-2A (seasonal agricultural workers)
An H-2A visa allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs for which U.S. workers are not available. An H-2A nonimmigrant classification applies to you if you seek to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature in the United States on a temporary basis. A U.S. employer (or an association of U.S. agricultural producers named as a joint employer) must file a Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, on your behalf.
H-2B visa (skilled and unskilled workers)
This visa is required if you are coming to the United States to perform a job which is temporary or seasonal in nature and for which there is a shortage of U.S. workers. Your employer is required to obtain a Department of Labor certification confirming that there are no qualified U.S. workers eligible for the type of employment on which your petition is based.
An H-3 visa is required if you are coming to the United States to receive training from an employer in any field of endeavor, other than graduate education or training, for a period of up to two years. You can be paid for your training and “hands-on” work is authorized. Training cannot be used to provide productive employment and cannot be available in your home country.
If you are the principal holder of a valid H visa, your spouse or unmarried children (under age 21) may receive an H-4 visa to accompany you to the United States. However, your spouse/children are not permitted to work while in the United States.
L-1 (intra-company transferees)
The L-1 intra-company transferee classification is appropriate for the transfer of specified types of employees within multinational companies. This category permits a U.S. company to temporarily transfer certain employees from a properly affiliated foreign company. The employee must be offered employment in either an executive / managerial position or in a specialized knowledge position to qualify for this classification. Executive / managerial transferees are given the L1A designation. Specialized knowledge transferees are given the L1B designation. Large employers may be eligible to file blanket L-1 petitions with the USCIS, rather than filing individual petitions for each employee.
To qualify for an L-1 visa, you must be at the managerial or executive level, or have specialized knowledge and be destined to a position within the U.S. company at either of these levels, although not necessarily in the same position as held previously. In addition, you must have been employed outside the United States with the international company continuously for one year within the three years preceding your application for admission into the United States.
If you are the principal holder of a valid L visa, your spouse or unmarried children (under age 21) may receive this derivative visa. Due to a recent change in the law, your spouse may seek employment authorization. Your spouse must enter the United States on his/her own L-2 visa and then submit an application for employment authorization, in order to obtain a work permit. Your children are not authorized to work in the United States.
Type O visas are issued to people with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business and athletics, or extraordinary achievements in motion picture and television production, and their essential support personnel.
P (artists, entertainers)
Type P visas are issued to certain athletes, entertainers, artists and essential support personnel who are coming to perform in the United States.
A Q visa is required if you are traveling to the United States to participate in an international cultural exchange program for the purpose of providing practical training, employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of your home country. You must have a petition filed on your behalf by the program sponsor and the petition must be approved by USCIS.
The TN category is a potential option for citizens of Canada and Mexico who wish to work in the United States. There is no numerical limit or cap on the number of TN visas that may be issued. This category is for professionals, who are offered employment in a specific occupation listed in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
E-2 Investor Visa
The E-2 nonimmigrant classification allows a national of a treaty country (a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation) to be admitted to the United States when investing a substantial amount of capital in a U.S. business. Certain employees of such a person or of a qualifying organization may also be eligible for this classification. (For dependent family members, see “Family of E-2 Treaty Investors and Employees” below.)
See U.S. Department of State’s Treaty Countries for a current list of countries with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation.
The E-2 investor visa is a long-term, renewable work visa granted to business investors from countries that have signed a bilateral investment treaty with the United States. The duration of the visa is determined by the terms of the treaty between the U.S. and investor’s country of citizenship.
The investor should form a U.S. company, which will operate the business that the investor will purchase or establish, and which will act as the investor’s visa sponsor. Both the U.S. business and the individual investor, or employee, must qualify for E-2 visa status.
Family of E-2 Treaty Investors and Employees
Treaty investors and employees may be accompanied or followed by spouses and unmarried children who are under 21 years of age. Their nationalities need not be the same as the treaty investor or employee. These family members may seek E-2 nonimmigrant classification as dependents and, if approved, generally will be granted the same period of stay as the employee. Spouses of E-2 workers may apply for work authorization by filing Form I-765 with fee. If approved, there is no specific restriction as to where the E-2 spouse may work.
E-1 Trader Visa
The E-1 nonimmigrant classification allows a national of a treaty country (a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation) to be admitted to the United States solely to engage in international trade on his or her own behalf. Certain employees of such a person or of a qualifying organization may also be eligible for this classification. (For dependent family members, see “Family of E-1 Treaty Traders and Employees” below.)
Business people who conduct a substantial volume of trade in goods or services with the U.S. can potentially qualify for the E-1 trader visa. It is available to citizens from countries that have signed a treaty with the U.S. regulating trade and commerce. Both the business and the individual must qualify for the visa.
EB-5 Visa – Immigrant Investor Visa (EB-5 Green Card)
Under the EB-5 Visa Program, a $500,000 investment in a “Regional Center” enables foreign investors to qualify for the Green Card without the constraints of having to set-up and manage a U.S. business. This immigration option allows investors to live in any U.S. state and engage in a business, employment, or any activity of the investor’s choice, or just retire.
A so-called Regional Center is a legal entity, organization, or a municipal or state agency that has been designated as a Regional Center by USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), which enables foreign nationals to qualify for permanent residence based on their investment in the Regional Center.
Regional Centers focus on specific geographic areas within the United States where they seek to promote economic growth through increased export sales, improved regional productivity, creation of new jobs, and increased domestic capital investment.
The United States welcomes foreign citizens who come to the U.S. to study. Before applying for a visa, all student visa applicants are required to be accepted and approved by their school or program. Once accepted, educational institutions will provide each applicant the necessary approval documentation to be submitted when applying for a student visa.
An F1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for those wishing to study in the U.S. You must file an F1 visa application if you plan on entering the US to attend a university or college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, language training program, or other academic institution. This is the most common type of student visa. If you wish to engage in academic studies in the United States at an approved school, such as an accredited U.S. college or university, private secondary school, or approved English language program then you will need an F-1 visa. You will also need an F-1 visa if your course of study is more than 18 hours a week.
If you plan engage in non-academic or vocational study or training at a U.S. institution then you will need an M-1 visa.
The R visa type is for individuals seeking to enter the United States to work in a religious capacity on a temporary basis, as defined in The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) §101(a)(15)(R). An R-1 is a foreign national who is coming to the United States temporarily to be employed at least part time (average of at least 20 hours per week) by a non-profit religious organization in the United States (or an organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination in the United States) to work as a minister or in a religious vocation or occupation.
To qualify, the foreign national must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years immediately before the filing of the petition.
A prospective or existing U.S. employer must file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, on behalf of an R-1 worker. An R-1 visa cannot be issued at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad without prior USCIS approval of Form I-129. Visa exempt workers must present the original Form I-797, Notice of Action, at a port of entry as evidence of an approved I-129 R petition. .
Two groups of family based immigrant visa categories, including immediate relatives and family preference categories, are provided under the provisions of United States immigration law, specifically the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas (Unlimited): These visa types are based on a close family relationship with a United States (U.S.) citizen described as an Immediate Relative (IR). The number of immigrants in these categories is not limited each fiscal year. Immediate relative visa types include:
Family Preference Immigrant Visas (Limited): These visa types are for specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). There are fiscal year numerical limitations on family preference immigrants, shown at the end of each category. The family preference categories are:
Family First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children, if any. (23,400)
Family Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of LPRs. At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters. (114,200)
Family Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children. (23,400)
Family Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age. (65,000)
Note: Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration.
The fiancé(e) K-1 nonimmigrant visa is for the foreign-citizen fiancé(e) of a United States (U.S.) citizen. The K-1 visa permits the foreign-citizen fiancé(e) to travel to the United States and marry his or her U.S. citizen sponsor within 90 days of arrival. The foreign-citizen will then apply for adjustment of status to a permanent resident (LPR) with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Because a fiancé(e) visa permits the holder to immigrate to the U.S. and marry a U.S. citizen shortly after arrival in the United States, the fiancé(e) must meet some of the requirements of an immigrant visa. Eligible children of K-1 visa applicants receive a K-2 visa. A fiancé(e) visa (or K-1 visa) is technically a nonimmigrant visa.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is administered on an annual basis by the Department of State to provide for a new class of immigrants known as “diversity immigrants” (DV immigrants). The Act makes available 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The annual DV program makes permanent residence visas available to persons meeting the simple, but strict, eligibility requirements. Applicants for Diversity Visas are chosen by a computer-generated random lottery drawing. The visas, however, are distributed among six geographic regions with a greater number of visas going to regions with lower rates of immigration, and with no visas going to citizens of countries sending more than 50,000 immigrants to the US in the past five years. Within each region, no one country may receive more than seven percent of the available Diversity Visas in any one year.
U.S. Citizenship is obtained either by birth, derivation or naturalization. U.S. citizens may live and work in the U.S. permanently, and cannot lose this status by extended travel abroad. U.S. citizens have many benefits and privileges, including the privilege of voting in U.S. elections. U.S. citizens may petition for the permanent resident status of their parents, spouses, children and siblings. The requirements are generally, 5 years in permanent resident status [Three years may be sufficient for those married to U.S. citizens.] Physical presence, continuity of residence, and good moral character standards. Satisfactory exam results in U.S. government, history, and civics as well as the ability to speak, read, and write English [Some exceptions to the testing requirements exist based upon age and duration of permanent residency, as well as medical limitations.