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Understanding U.S. Visas

Visas are often the starting point for foreign nationals looking to visit, work, study, or move to the United States. "Non-immigrant" visas are for visitors who eventually return to their home country. Meanwhile, "immigrant" visas or green cards are for migrants aiming to settle in the U.S. permanently.

The U.S. government oversees the visa issuance via the U.S. Department of State. Alternatively, the primary immigration law that governs visa processes is the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Upon arrival at the port of entry, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers inspect U.S. visitors. Everyone goes through an inspection regardless of their immigration status. It is important to remember that having a U.S. visa does not automatically guarantee entry into the United States. The immigration officers may prevent unlawful entry into the United States. Besides the CBP, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also plays a crucial role in preventing unlawful entry into the country.

This article delves into visa categories and a general overview of U.S. visa classifications.

Non-Immigrant Visas

When people refer to a visa, they generally mean a non-immigrant visa. Non-immigrant visas are also the most common visa in the U.S. immigration system. The kind of non-immigrant visa someone holds determines how long they can stay in the country and what activities they can undertake.

For instance, tourist visas allow travel to and within the country strictly for leisure. While this visa forbids employment, employment-based immigrant visas are usually tied to a specific U.S. employer.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes change of status and visa extensions. Specific processes and requirements may apply to each case. However, numerical limitations may apply to certain visa types. Due to these varying circumstances, it is crucial to stay informed.

Immigrant Visas

Immigrant visas are a necessary part of any application for permanent residence (the green card holder). Usually, a petitioner or a family member requests an immigrant visa. These apply in particular to applicants under preference categories. An employer may petition temporary or skilled workers to enter the United States.

Applying for an immigrant visa indicates the applicant's intent to immigrate permanently, but many non-immigrant visas require applicants to declare they do not intend to stay beyond the validity of their visa.

Dual-Intent Visas

Dual-intent visas are often employment-based and allow temporary resident status. However, they are not terminated when the individual takes action to secure permanent status.

Choosing the proper visa status is crucial. Individuals showing intent to immigrate and using a non-immigrant visa to enter the country may be accused of fraud. However, someone with a non-immigrant visa may change their intent after entry. A close consideration of your case may be necessary to prevent accusations of this kind.

Other Types of Visas

U.S. immigration laws prioritize family reunification, skill-based immigration, refugee protection, and promoting diversity. The INA grants up to 675,000 immigrant visas every fiscal year in various categories.

Family-Based Immigration and Petitioning of Immediate Relatives

The government allows U.S. citizens to reunite with family members through family-based immigration. Here, the eligibility of visa applicants will depend on the family preference category. The following family members are eligible to apply for a Green Card. Their preference is listed as follows:

  • First preference (F1) - Unmarried daughters and sons, 21 years of age and older, of U.S. Citizens.
  • Second preference (F2A) - Spouses and unmarried children, 21 years of age, of lawful permanent residents (LPR).
  • Second preference (F2B) - Unmarried daughters and sons of LPRs, 21 years of age and older.
  • Third preference (F3) - Married daughters and sons of U.S. citizens; and
  • Fourth preference (F4) - Sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens. This applies if the U.S. citizen is 21 years and older.

Asylees and Refugees

refugee is an individual outside of his or her country of nationality. They often cannot return to their country due to persecution or well-founded fear of persecution. An asylee is a person who meets this definition and is already in the U.S. or is asking for admission at the port of entry in the country.

Diversity Visa

Foreign nationals from countries with fewer immigrants to the U.S. may enter the Diversity Visa Program. Here, the U.S. government allocates up to 50,000 visas every fiscal year. The U.S. government randomly selected all qualified applicants through a virtual lottery.

Skilled Workers and Special Immigrants

The U.S. government may grant temporary worker's visas to skilled workers coming to the United States. For instance, individuals with extraordinary arts, athletics, business, or sciences abilities. There are also various workers' visa classifications for different types of work and durations of stay.

Employment First Preference (E1)

This visa category applies to persons with exceptional ability and priority workers. The E1 visa category has three sub-groups, which are as follows:

  • Outstanding professors and researchers
  • Multinational executives or managers
  • Persons with extraordinary ability

Employment Second Preference (E2)

The second category applies to persons of exceptional ability and professionals holding advanced degrees. Generally, the E2 applicant must have a labor certificate approved by the Department of Labor. Here, the applicant must have a job offer, and the U.S. employer should file Form I-140 on behalf of the applicant.

However, the visa applicant may seek an exemption from a job offer and labor certification. This exemption is known as the National Interest Waiver. It applies if the exemption would be under the national interest. In this case, the visa applicant may self-petition by filing Form I-140 and the evidence of national interest.

There are also “special immigrants". These immigrants include government employees, crewmembers, religious workers, and members of international organizations. For more information, FindLaw has a comprehensive list of temporary visas that may apply to various visa holders.

Seek Legal Advice in Navigating U.S. Immigration Laws

Due to these varying rules and regulations, it is best to consult with an immigration law attorney. They understand legal immigration policies and can guide you through the relevant processes. Their expertise can assist you with visa application, adjustment of status, or naturalization. Immigration attorneys can also provide services to those facing deportation.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

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