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What is a US Visa, Types of US Visas, and How to Apply

US Visas & Immigration

USA Visa


A US Visa Is a Permit to Apply to Enter the U.S.
If you are a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States, you are generally required to obtain a US visa, which will allow you to present yourself to an immigration official at the U.S. border for entry into the U.S. A visa is normally obtained at a U.S. Consulate outside the United States. It classifies the visit as business, tourism, etc. and is usually valid for multiple visits to the United States during a specified period of time.

A US visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. A visa is issued by a Department of State Consular Office abroad, but a separate U.S. agency, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has authority to deny admission at the port of entry. Also, the period for which you are authorized to remain in the U.S. is determined by the USCIS, not the Department of State Consular Office. At the port of entry, a CBP official must authorize your admission to the U.S.

There are Two Major Types of Visas:

  • An immigrant visa (Green Card) is given to someone who intends to live and work permanently in the United States. In most cases, your relative or employer sends an application to the USCIS for you (the beneficiary) to become an immigrant (“legal permanent resident”) and obtain a Green Card. Certain applicants such as investors, workers with extraordinary ability, and certain special immigrants can petition on their own behalf.

  • A nonimmigrant visa (US visa) is given to someone who lives in another country and wishes to come temporarily to the United States for a specific purpose. Nonimmigrant visas are given to people such as tourists, business people, students, temporary workers, and diplomats.

Who Needs a US Visa?

Anyone who is traveling to the United States to become an immigrant (legal permanent resident, Green Card holder) must have an immigrant visa. In addition, most people who want to travel to the U.S. as nonimmigrants require a visa. Under the Visa Waiver Program, nationals of qualified countries do not require a visa to apply to enter the U.S. as a visitor for business or pleasure if staying for no more than 90 days. In addition, Canadians do not generally require a nonimmigrant (visitor) visa unless they are coming to the United States as a Treaty Trader. Some other categories of aliens do not require visas.

How Do I Apply for a US Visa?

The US visa application process depends on the specific visa you are seeking. For more information, see:

Visa Ineligibility / Waiver

There are categories of persons ineligible to receive visas under U.S. law. In some instances an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as a visitor, may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved. If you are found to be ineligible, the consular officer will advise you of any waivers.

If My US Visa is Denied

For an explanation of the most common circumstance under which a US visa is denied, as well as your right to reapply, see Visa Denied, Visa Refused Under 214b (Nonimmigrant Visa Denials, Visa Refusals).

How Do I Extend a US Visa?

Certain visas may be revalidated in the U.S., while others must be reissued at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad. In any event, you should understand that your permission to remain in the United States is determined by the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94) that you receive from the CBP when you enter the country. If you want to stay longer than the date authorized by your CBP Form I-94, you must apply for an extension with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (the USCIS generally will not extend your stay longer than the validity of your visa).

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