United States Visa Basics
Foreign individuals (sometimes called "aliens" or "foreign nationals") often require visas to move between countries or to engage in certain activities abroad. Visas are official government endorsements, usually stamped in the recipient's passport at an embassy, permitting a foreign national to proceed with his plans in the non-native country.
In the United States, foreign nationals may require either an immigrant or a nonimmigrant visa for entry. The specific visa required will depend on the individual's needs and goals, as well as his status vis a vis the relevant immigration statutes and regulations.
I. IMMIGRANT VISAS
The agency known as US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approves immigrant visas for qualified applicants who wish to enter the US to stay permanently. Once approved by USCIS, the visas themselves are issued by a separate agency known as the US Department of State (DOS), usually at consular posts located around the world. The specific type of immigrant visa issued will vary depending on the individual's status -- such as a family member of a citizen or permanent resident; potential employee of a US company; or foreign national with business or investment interests in the US.
Numerical Limitations on Immigrant Visas
Most immigrant visas are subject to annual numerical limitations. USCIS divides family-sponsored and employment-related visas into limited categories, and grants visas based on a pre-determined allocation among those classifications. For example, spouses and children of lawful permanent residents receive a larger percentage of the visas available annually for family-sponsored immigration than do married children of US citizens, or siblings of US citizens.
The same principal applies to employment-based visas in that "priority workers" (e.g., multinational executive and manager, outstanding professors, and persons of extraordinary ability in various fields) receive a larger proportion of the available employment visas than do mere skilled workers.
The "Green Card" Lottery
In addition to family-based and employment-related visas, the US government annually sponsors a Diversity Visa Lottery, commonly known as a "Green Card" lottery. This lottery is intended to increase the diversity of the US population by granting immigrant visas to immigrants from countries that historically send few immigrants to the United States. Given that the system involves a lottery, and given that more than 200,000 entries are annually received by the US government for only 50,000 available visas, this is a very uncertain method of securing permanent residency in the United States.
Immigrant Visas without Numerical Limits
Immigrant visas not subject to numerical limitation are available to:
- Immediate relatives of citizens,
- Permanent residents returning to the United States, and
- Former American citizens.
The immediate-relative category is the most common of these visa categories even though it covers only spouses and minor children. USCIS will not grant visas for fraudulent marriages entered into in order to receive immigration benefits, and the agency penalizes sham marriages through deportation, criminal imprisonment and fines, and permanent bars to permanent residence.
II. NONIMMIGRANT VISAS
Nonimmigrant visas apply to temporary visitors who intend to eventually return to their home countries. Nonimmigrant admissions far outweigh the number of immigrant visas issued each year. USCIS establishes a wide range of categories for nonimmigrant visas, and each category invokes distinct rights and responsibilities for the holder. Some examples of nonimmigrant visa categories include:
- A-1/A-2 Visa: Diplomats & Foreign Government Officials
- A-3 Visa: Domestic Employee of a A-1/A-2 Visa holder
- B-1 Visa: Business visitors, Domestic Employees, Academics, Researchers and Students
- B-2 Visa: Holiday, tourism, medical treatment
- C-1 Visa: Transiting the United States
- C-1/D Visa: Crewmembers working on air or sea carriers
- E-1/E-2 Visa: Treaty Trader/Investor
- E-3 Visa: Australian professional speciality
- F-1/M-1 Visa: Students: academic & vocational
- G-1/G-4 Visa: Employees of an International Organization
- G-5 Visa: Domestic Employee of a G-1/G-4 visa
- H-1/H-3 Visa: Employment based visas including the H-3 trainee visa
- L-1 Visa: Intra-company transferees
- I Visa: Journalists & Members of the Media
- J-1 Visa: Exchange Visitor, Academics, Au-pairs, Interns
- NATO -1/6 Visa: Foreign Military Personnel stationed in the U.S.
- NATO-7 Visa: Domestic Employee of NATO-1/6 visa holder
- O-1/2 or P-1/3 Visa: Persons with extraordinary ability in Sciences, Arts, Education, Business or Athletics
- Q-1 Visa: International Cultural Exchange
- R-1 Visa: Religious Worker
- Special Concession Visas: DOS Concessions Appended to the B1 category, e.g. Unmarried or Same-Sex Partners; Domestics; Providers of After Sales Service; Employees of Foreign Companies
Some nonimmigrant visas allow the holder to work during his or her stay in the United States. Others allow the visitor to bring family members or to enter the country to join family members.
Getting Legal Help with the Visa Process
The application procedure for both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas can be complicated, involving a large number of forms and necessary documentation. In order to ensure that the application process goes smoothly and has the best chance for a favorable outcome, prospective visa applicants should contact an experienced immigration attorney for key advice and proper guidance.
Ortega-Medina & Associates has over ten years experience dealing with a large variety of visa cases. We have experienced success in many cases that were considered hopeless by other law firms. If we decide to take on a case, it is because we feel it stands a good chance of succeeding. If your visa petition is denied, for any reason other than a determination that you are inadmissible for reasons of criminality or fraud, we will appeal the denial at no additional cost to you and/or attempt to reprocess your case in an alternative visa category. Please contact us so that we can help you determine whether you are an appropriate candidate for this type of visa application.