There are two categories of U.S. visas: immigrant and nonimmigrant. Immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals who intend to live permanently in the United States. Nonimmigrant visas are for foreign nationals wishing to enter the United States on a temporary basis - for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, study, or other similar reasons.
An immigrant visa is issued to a foreign national who intends to live and work permanently in the United States. In most cases, a relative or employer sponsors the individual by filing an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Certain applicants such as workers with extraordinary ability, investors, and certain special immigrants can petition on their own behalf. The application is later forwarded to the appropriate U.S. Consulate or Embassy overseas for continued processing and issuance of the immigrant visa to the intending immigrant, if eligible. An intending immigrant must present the immigrant visa at a U.S. port-of-entry prior to the expiration of the immigrant visa. An intending immigrant becomes a lawful permanent resident once the immigrant visa and accompanying paperwork is reviewed and endorsed by a CBP Officer. For specific information regarding immigrant visa classifications and requirements, refer to the USCIS website or the Department of State website.
Nonimmigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States on a temporary basis for tourism, business, medical treatment and certain types of temporary work. The type of nonimmigrant visa needed is defined by immigration law, and related to the purpose of the travel. Generally, an individual applies directly to the U.S. consulate or embassy abroad for a tourist (B-2) or business nonimmigrant (B-1) visa. However, foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States to study or work may require certain authorization and documentation prior to applying for a nonimmigrant visa. For an alphabetical listing all of the nonimmigrant visa classifications and specific requirements refer to the USCIS website. or the U.S. Department of State website.
Issuance of a visa does not guarantee entry to the United States. A visa simply indicates that a U.S. consular officer at an American embassy or consulate has reviewed the application and that officer has determined that the individual is eligible to enter the country for a specific purpose. The CBP Officer at the port-of-entry will conduct an inspection to determine if the individual is eligible for admission under U.S. immigration law.
Visa Free Travel
U.S. policy permits citizens of certain countries as identified below to travel to the United States without a visa. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) permits nationals from designated countries to apply for admission to the United States for 90 days or less as nonimmigrant visitors for business or pleasure without first obtaining a U.S. nonimmigrant visa.
At the time of application for admission, a VWP applicant must:
Be in possession of a round-trip ticket that will transport the individual out of the United States to any other foreign port or place as long as the trip does not terminate in contiguous territory or an ; except that the round trip ticket may transport the traveler to contiguous territory or an , if the traveler is a resident of the country of destination or if arriving at a land border, provide evidence of financial solvency and a domicile abroad to which the traveler intends to return;
- Be arriving on designated carrier that is signatory to a Visa Waiver Program Agreement, if applicable;
- Have a machine-readable passport valid for 6 months beyond the period of intended stay, or essentially 9 months (90 days + 6 months). The Department of State's 6-month list extending the validity of certain foreign passports can be found on the Department of State website. (A traveler with an expired passport is ineligible for VWP admission); and,
- Complete an Arrival/Departure Form I-94W. Travelers arriving at a land border will be required to pay the required Form I-94W processing fee.
In addition, VWP visitors may not file an application to change status to an immigrant or another nonimmigrant classification or extend their stay beyond the 90-day timeframe. VWP applicants waive their right to proceedings before an Immigration Judge, unless they make an asylum application.
Visa Waiver Program Frequently Asked Questions
For additional information about the Visa Waiver Program, refer to the Department of State website.