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Nonimmigrant Visas

Suppose you plan a trip to the United States for leisure, as a business visitor, treaty trader, or entertainer in reciprocal exchange programs, or for any reason other than permanently relocating here. In that case, you most likely need a nonimmigrant visa. A U.S. visa will allow you to travel to the U.S. for a specific purpose and duration.

This page overviews the different types of nonimmigrant visas and the application process. It breaks down the legal complexities into more understandable options to give you a better idea of nonimmigrant visas.

Different Types of Temporary Visas

Foreign nationals who want to enter the United States should get a U.S. Visa. Some of the most common types of temporary visas may get issued to:

  • Foreign government officials and diplomats
  • Tourists and general business visitors
  • Crewmembers
  • Treaty traders and treaty investors
  • Academic students
  • Employees of international organizations
  • Temporary workers or employment-based visa
  • Exchange visitor
  • Intracompany transferee
  • NATO visas
  • Workers with extraordinary abilities
  • Athletes and entertainers

Learn about the various types of U.S. visas before applying. This will help you assess which visa you need when you travel to the United States. You can see the complete list of temporary visas in this article.

Essential Requirements for Nonimmigrant Visas

U.S. consulates and U.S. embassies in the home country of the visa applicant often issue nonimmigrant visas. The U.S. government could place an annual number limit on some nonimmigrant visas.

If you are a nonimmigrant visa applicant, one of the hurdles you must overcome is showing proof to U.S. government officials that you have strong ties to your home country. These ties should convince officials that you intend to return home.

For instance, proof of employment, real estate, and bank statements demonstrating financial stability are some examples that could show proof of your ties to your home country. Or, if you are visiting the U.S. for work or business, proof of the conference you'll attend and evidence of your work or business at home. So, when you visit the consular office for your visa interview, you need to prepare and show proof of:

  • Your ties to your home country
  • Proof that you can financially support yourself while in the United States
  • Proof of qualifications if you enter the United States for education, work, or temporary business purposes

You should also prove that you will leave the U.S. when your visa expires.

Understanding the Visa Waiver Program

Foreign nationals of certain countries may take part in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism. With VWP, you can stay in the U.S. for 90 days or less without needing a visa. Before traveling to the U.S., you should have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and meet specific requirements.

The U.S. Department of State designates the countries included in the VWP. People from these countries can travel to the U.S. for a certain period of time without a visa. For more information, you may visit the State Department website.

Steps to Extend Your U.S. Stay

If you have a nonimmigrant visa and want to extend your stay in the U.S., you should file your request with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Complete Form I-539 or the Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status to start the request. You must apply at least 45 days before your authorized stay expires. U.S. immigration officials often stamp the expiration date on your passport or through the I-94 issued at the port of entry.

Form I-94 is the Arrival or Departure Record issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) component. Here, the authorities issue foreign nationals with arrival or departure records to show that they were:

  • Admitted into the United States
  • Adjusting their status while inside the United States; or
  • Extending their stay in the United States

If your I-94 expires while awaiting a decision on a request to extend or change visas, there is usually no cause for concern. The country allows those awaiting a decision to stay and wait for the outcome. If they approve your application, it will cover the gap between the time you waited for the extension or change of status. But, if they deny your application, you must leave the country within 30 days of receipt of the denial. You must leave within this period to avoid accruing time illegally present in the United States. You can expose yourself to deportation or removal proceedings.

Changing the Purpose of Your U.S. Visit

Let's say your plans change while you are in the U.S. Maybe you received an offer for employment, or you married a U.S. citizen. You may request a change of nonimmigrant status to lawful permanent resident status (LPR), work visa, or other categories. USCIS processes the status change.

For more information about the adjustment of status from nonimmigrant to LPR or green card holder, visit the USCIS website. You can also read articles about the different types of temporary visas.

Transition From Nonimmigrant to Immigrant

Certain nonimmigrant visa holders, like intracompany transferees, can change their status to become permanent residents of the U.S. But, in most cases, the visa holder should exercise this cautiously. Only specific categories of nonimmigrant visa holders can adjust their immigration status to that of an LPR. Some of these instances are:

  • Employment-based visa. Some nonimmigrant visa holders, like those with H1-B (specialty occupation), can get sponsored by their employer to live in the U.S. permanently. Temporary agricultural workers from certain countries can also work in the U.S. with H-2A visas.
  • Asylees and refugees. Those granted asylum status may apply for LPR after one year of living in the U.S. as an asylee.
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The Secretary of Homeland Security designates foreign countries for TPS. If officials find people from that country in the U.S., they cannot remove them from the United States. Although this does not lead to LPR, they may file for adjustment of status based on an immigrant petition or immigration benefit.
  • A person with a nonimmigrant visa married a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • Special immigrant categories. Nonimmigrant visa holders who may qualify for permanent residency after meeting specific criteria.

Visit this article about Permanent Residency Immigrant Visas for more information.

Family-Based U.S. Immigration Law

The U.S. encourages family reunification. With this principle, U.S. citizens may petition their dependents to come to the United States. This application process is family-based immigration. U.S. citizens can sponsor family members for LPR status or green cards here. LPRs may petition their immediate family members to come to the U.S. as an LPR or green card holder.

Note that there are preference categories for visa petitions of family members. For instance, LPRs can only petition their immediate relatives, including spouses and unmarried children. But, an LPR can't petition their married children, parents, brothers, sisters, and other extended relatives.

For more information, visit this article by FindLaw that gives an overview of Family-Based Immigration.

Consult an Immigration Law Attorney

There are a number of U.S. visa categories available. The type of visa that you could qualify for may depend on the purpose of your trip to the United States. For most, it is for leisure or to visit a family member. For others, it is to showcase their extraordinary arts, business, sciences, or athletics abilities.

Each visa category may have varying steps and requirements. This makes the immigration process a challenge to some. There are also rules under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that may affect this process. Due to these complexities, you should consult an immigration law attorney. They can give you legal advice tailored to your case. They can guide you through the process of getting a nonimmigrant visa.

Learn About Non-Immigrant Visas

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