Foreign nationals who intend to visit the U.S. on a temporary basis are required to apply for a nonimmigrant temporary US visa. These documents are used to classify a wide range of U.S. visitors, from professional athletes, to foreign spouses and their children. This page was designed to help various visa seekers learn more about the different types of US Visas available and determine whether or not to consult an immigration attorney. Read on to find out more about the following types of US Visas:
It is important to note that while this page discusses certain concepts relating to immigration law, it is not intended as a substitute for speaking with an experienced attorney. The list of visas available to U.S. visitors is vast, and the application process can vary for each. If you have questions about which visa applies to your unique situation, contact our office for to see if we can help.
US Visas Basics
In general terms, a nonimmigrant seeking a visa is a person who intends their visit to the U.S. as temporary. These types of visas, unlike immigrant visas, are less subject to numerical caps and are issued more frequently. In the event that a foreign national is found inadmissible, a waiver of inadmissibility can be obtained more easily than in the case of an immigrant visa.
The bulk of this page is dedicated to briefly describing the different types of non-immigrant visas that foreign nationals are the most interested in learning about, be they executives in charge of establishing a new American office, or students seeking a higher education. In some cases, the applicant can petition for a US Visas on his or her own behalf. However, many situations require a foreign national to have a sponsor — often a family member or employer.
In most cases, each US Visas description on this page includes a brief overview of the application process. However, it is important to remember that no website can adequately discuss all of the variables in each individual’s immigrants’ unique situation.
The K-1 visa is granted to the fiancé of a U.S. citizen. In order to obtain a K-1 visa, the applicant must prove there is a bona fide intention of marrying a U.S. citizen within 90 days of entry into the country. The applicant must also seek to enter the U.S. solely to conclude a valid marriage. Same sex couples are eligible to receive K-1 Visas.
In order for the foreign national to apply, the U.S. citizen files a Petition for Alien Fiancé (Form I-129F) on the fiancé’s behalf. This is done through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The agency typically won’t grant a visa if it appears the couple has not met in person within the previous two years. Other reasons for a denial of visa include a foreign national who isn’t eligible to marry (underage), or has been found to have committed a crime against a minor.
Once approved, USCIS forwards the petition to the U.S. Department of State National Visa Center. The foreign fiancée then applies for the K-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or consulate. If the K-1 visa is approved, the foreign national must travel to the U.S. within the time allotted by the visa (usually six months). Following the marriage, the visa holder may apply for adjustment to lawful permanent status.
For more information, visit our K-1 fiancé visa page.
The F-1 visa, also referred to as the academic student visa, applies to foreign students who wish to study full time in the U.S. The list of educational institutions where an F-1 can be applied includes universities, seminaries, high schools, conservatories and elementary schools. In some cases, F-1 students are permitted to work in career-training jobs, particularly if the work is related to the student’s area of study.
For more information, visit our student F-1 visa page.
NAFTA TN Visa
The NAFTA Professional TN Visa was developed as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which created special immigration and trade relations between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
A professional with TN nonimmigrant status, whether Canadian or Mexican, is allowed to stay in the country for up to three years. Federal law defines professionals as workers requiring “at least a baccalaureate degree or appropriate credentials demonstrating status as professional.”
Qualifying professionals include accountants, lawyers, architects, biologists, mathematicians and medical professionals, among others. It is important to keep in mind, however, that each category of professional outlined in the code features minimum qualifications too numerous to explore in depth on this page. If you would like more information about your specific field, visit our main NAFTA Professional TN Visa page.
This visa allows for temporary employment in the U.S. and generally applies to specialty occupations. Like many other non-immigrant visas, the H1-B applicant must have a U.S. employer-sponsor who is willing to file the appropriate petition on the worker’s behalf. For detailed information, visit our main H1B Visa for Professional Workers page.
Federal law and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) define a specialty occupation as requiring a body of highly-specialized knowledge where a baccalaureate degree is the minimum requirement for entry into the position. The types of careers that generally fall under this category of US Visas include scientists, engineers and computer programmers.
The L-1 is granted to foreign nationals who worked abroad for a U.S. company and seek to work temporarily for the same company inside the U.S. For detailed information regarding the L1 Visa, visit our L-1 Visa for Intracompany Transferees page.
In order to qualify for this visa, the foreign worker must have been employed by the U.S. company for three years prior to seeking permission to work within the U.S. The applicant is required to work in a managerial or executive capacity or in a position requiring specialized knowledge. In many cases, the foreign worker seeks to come to the U.S. to oversee the establishment of a new office. L-1 status may allow foreign workers to stay in the U.S. for up to three years.
The E-2 Visa is associated with commerce treaties and trade agreements existing between specific countries. Under E-2 status, a foreign national intends to make a substantial investment in a U.S. business.
The main requirement is that the foreign national be a citizen of a country with which the U.S. has a treaty of commerce or trade agreement (such as NAFTA). Qualified investors may be allowed to stay in the U.S. for up to two years, and extensions can be requested.
For more detailed information how to get an Investor Visa E-2, visit our main page.
E-3 Visa for Australian Professionals
The E-3 visa was designed to allow Australian professionals to come to the US on a temporary basis to work in specialty occupations. Visit our Australian professionals E3 visa page for a discussion regarding the E3 visa application process and what it takes to qualify. If you are an Australian professional or a U.S. employer, that page will answer some of your questions, and perhaps help you decide if you should consult with a immigration professional.
This type of visa generally grants temporary status to agricultural workers. This includes farming in all of its varied forms — from the raising of livestock — to its delivery to market. This visa requires an employer to request labor certification with the U.S. Department of Labor. This is done to make certain that the job being offered to a foreign worker won’t negatively affect the job market for workers who are already citizens.
To learn more about the H2A visa for agricultural workers, visit our main page here. Among the main qualifications for the H-2A is an offer of seasonal work. Federal law defines seasonal as being tied to a certain time of year by an event or pattern “such as a short annual growing cycle.” Under this definition, the employer’s needs typically last no longer than one year, although certain exceptions apply.
This visa is granted to temporary workers whose jobs are non-agricultural in nature. Visit our temporary worker H2A visa page for more information. Like the H-2A however, the petitioner must also seek temporary labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The type of job being offered can include an employer with a seasonal need for workers, or a situation where a one-time occurrence has caused a shortage of available workers. Other situations can include what is known as a “peak-load need”, in which temporary foreign workers are used to supplement permanent workers.
Once labor certification is granted, the employer must file a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) through US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once this is approved, the foreign worker living outside the U.S. must apply for H-2B visa with the US Department of State at a U.S. embassy or consulate or directly seek admission to the U.S. under H2-B classification at a U.S. port of entry.
There are various classifications of O visa, which typically relate to the O 1 Visa. This classification is granted to persons who seek to enter the country on a temporary basis and demonstrate extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics. Achievements in these fields must be demonstrated by extensive documentation. The applicant must seek to enter the country to continue work in their particular area of extraordinary ability.
The list of criteria demonstrating extraordinary ability includes: international prizes or awards, published material in major trade publications and newspapers about the applicant, authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals, and more.
In the case of O1-B applicants, the foreign national must have a record of extraordinary achievement in motion picture or TV production. Visas granted under O-2 and O-3 status are typically reserved for persons working with the O-1 recipients or the O-1 recipient’s family members. The application process requires a U.S. employer-sponsor to file a Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) on the foreign employee’s behalf.
This group of US Visas is generally granted to groups of entertainers or internationally recognized athletes and their families. Our main P visa page details who is eligible and how long they can stay.
Applicants can include performers participating in an international exchange, or a culturally unique program. In the case of entertainment groups, applicants must demonstrate international recognition including: reviews in major publications, a lead performer with distinguished reputation, or a group that commands a high salary.
Athletes must be coming to the U.S. to compete in a specific event and must be able to demonstrate a high level of achievement. An agent-sponsor, or employer-sponsor must file, on the performer or athlete’s behalf, a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129). The application must include a written consultation from an appropriate labor organization describing the work to be performed.
Generally, L visas apply to foreign workers employed abroad by U.S. companies. US Visas of this category grant admission to the U.S. to qualified workers being transferred within their company. See L-1 above for more information
Like the E-2 visa described above, the E-1 visa falls under a category of visas granted to foreign nationals from countries that have treaties or trade agreements with the U.S.
E-1 applicants, also known as “treaty traders,” seek temporary entrance into the U.S. to perform substantial trade activities, primarily between the U.S. and the treaty country. In order to qualify, the trade must be international in nature. The treaty trader can apply on his or her own behalf, if already in the U.S. and living under lawful nonimmigrant status. This is done by filing a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129).
Treaty traders outside of the country must apply for E-1 US visas through the U.S. Department of State by filing a nonimmigrant visa application (Form DS-160). Once approved, the applicant can apply for admission directly to a Department of Homeland Security Officer at a U.S. port of entry.
This group of US visas is generally reserved for foreign nationals who participate in an international cultural exchange program. Typically, the program will be designated by the U.S. Attorney General as providing both practical training and educational opportunities in cultural history. This type of visa usually doesn’t allow a stay exceeding 15 months.
In order to apply, the employer-sponsor must file a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) on the employee’s behalf. During this process, the employer must provide evidence of an established international cultural exchange program. This includes catalogs, brochures or material illustrating the cultural component of the program. The employer must also establish that a qualified employee is administering the program and serves as a liaison with U.S. Customs and Immigrations Services (USCIS).
Religious workers and ministers typically classify under this category. In order to qualify, a minister must be fully authorized and trained in a religious denomination to conduct worship and perform duties usually conducted by clergy. To learn more about the R-1 visa, visit our R visa page here.
Religious workers must demonstrate they have been a member of a religious denomination for at least two years immediately preceding their application. Workers must also be coming to the U.S. to perform a religious vocation in either a professional or nonprofessional capacity.
An initial period of admission may be granted for up to 30 months, and extensions may also be granted. If the petitioner is claiming tax exemption as a non-profit religious organization, a current determination letter from the IRS must accompany the application. It is important to consult with a qualified immigration attorney to discuss the variables that arise when applying for an R visa.
An existing U.S. employer must file a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) on behalf of the foreign religious worker.
Eligible representatives of the media qualify under the I Visa category. This includes foreign press, radio, film and other media. Credentialed members of the media can apply for an I Visa at an American embassy or consulate at their usual country of residence. This typically involves filling out a nonimmigrant visa application (DS-160).
The applicant may be required to participate in an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. At a US port of entry, an officer with U.S Customs and Border Protection will determine if the foreign member of the media can enter the U.S. Visit our webpage for more information about foreign journalist visas or I-Visas.
This nonimmigrant visa is intended for spouses of U.S. citizens. Eligible persons must be legally married to a U.S. citizen. Unmarried children of the foreign national (under 21 years old) are eligible for a K-4 visa.
In order to apply for a K-3 Visa, the U.S. citizen must first file a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) on the foreign national’s behalf. After receiving a Notice of Action (Form I-129) from US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), the U.S. citizen must file a Petition for Alien Fiancé (Form I-129F).
If approved, USCIS will forward the petition to the US Department of State (DOS) for consular processing. If approved by DOS, the K-3 visa is typically valid for a two-year period. Once admitted to the U.S., the K-3 holder can apply at any time for adjustment of status and lawful permanent residence.
This group of nonimmigrant visas is generally granted to children and spouses of lawful permanent residents. In simple terms, a lawful permanent resident is a foreign national who has been issued a green card and is granted permission to live and work permanently in the U.S.
The purpose of this group of US visas is to allow families to stay together while awaiting the processing of immigrant visas. In order to be eligible for a V Visa, the lawful permanent resident must have either filed a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) on or before December 21, 2000. Foreign national’s who have waited three years since the filing of Form I-130 are also eligible to apply.
In order to apply on behalf of a foreign national inside the U.S., the lawful permanent resident must file an Application to Change Nonimmigrant Status (Form I-539) with U.S. Citizenship and Customs Services (USCIS), as well as Medical Examination of Aliens Seeking Adjustment of Status (Form I-639). Foreign nationals outside the U.S. must be process through a U.S. Department of State Consulate.
Roughly 5,000 T visas are issued each year to victims of human trafficking. This includes people who have been subject to force, fraud, or coercion for sex trafficking, and who are inside the U.S. on account of the trafficking.
The foreign national seeking a T visa must provide evidence of human trafficking including trial transcripts, police reports or news articles. In order to apply, a human trafficking victim must submit an Application for T Nonimmigrant Status (I-914), three passport size photos and a personal statement explaining the human trafficking. Victims of human trafficking can benefit from the help of an experienced immigration attorney.
Roughly 10,000 U Visas are issued each year to victims of qualifying criminal activity. This type of criminal activity includes: false imprisonment, blackmail, domestic violence, incest, rape, torture and murder, as well as other crimes.
In order to qualify for this type of visa, a foreign national must provide evidence of the criminal activity including police reports, medical reports, court reports or affidavits. A foreign national inside the U.S. can apply by submitting a Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status (Form I-918) with US Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS). This must be accompanied by a supplemental document signed by the certifying law enforcement agency. Crime victims should not hesitate to contact an attorney for additional assistance.
Do I Need an Immigration Lawyer?
When it comes to US Visas, often times the foreign national is able to file a petition on his or her own behalf. However, it should be clear from the shear volume of different types of US Visas that this area of immigration law is vast and nuanced.
An experienced attorney can be indispensible in helping a client determine which visa to apply for and can often save a visa applicant valuable time and energy. If you’d like more information on applying for temporary US Visas, contact our office to see if we can help.