U.S. Visa Overview
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
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Visas are typically the starting point for foreign nationals to visit, work, or live in the United States. Visas are official government endorsements permitting a foreign national to remain in a non-native country. In the U.S., foreign nationals may receive either an immigrant or non-immigrant visa for entry, depending on their goals and their status with regard to U.S. immigration rules. Visas can be given for tourism, work, study, or for people who ultimately intend to live and work in the U.S. for the rest of their lives. Choose a link from the list below for introductory information about visas and immigration law.
How to Get a Visa
Acquiring a visa to enter the United States typically requires filing an application with your country's local U.S. Embassy or Consulate and scheduling an appointment. A background check and review of your documentation are standard for all applicants and can cause significant delays in some cases. Upon issuance of a visa you can travel to the U.S. but will face additional inspection at the port-of-entry.
Once present in the United States, you can apply for extension of your visa or transfer to a different visa through application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), though you should be aware that some visas types will prevent extension or change to another visa type. Consult an experienced immigration attorney to verify your eligibility.
How Long Can I Stay in the US?
When a visa is issued it may be valid for a very long period of time. However, not all visas are intended for a single use. A tourist visa, for example, is meant to cover multiple entries into the United States and may be valid for 10 years. This doesn't mean that the visa holder can enter the U.S. and stay throughout that time.
Upon entry the alien will be given a document called an I-94. This document indicates the length of time the person is permitted to stay on that particular visit. For example, the tourist visa holder will probably be given an I-94 permitting a six-month stay. Failing to depart or apply to extend the I-94 before its expiration would result in a violation, even if the visa is still unexpired.
Aliens Ineligible for a Visa
Some applicants are ineligible for a visa. This may be established when they apply at the U.S. consulate, upon arrival at their port-of-entry, or at a later time. A criminal record, communicable disease, a prior order of removal, or national security concerns can result in an individual being found ineligible for a visa. These bars to receiving a visa are important to understand since, in some cases, they can be overcome by filing a waiver application or demonstrating that other actions have been taken to eliminate the concern that causes a class of applicants to be barred.
Appealing a Visa Denial
The process for appealing a visa denial can vary greatly depending on the kind of visa and the agency with which the application was made. As a general rule, appeals can be made to the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), which holds jurisdiction over 40 different kinds of petitions and applications. The short deadline to file (typically within 33 days) in combination with the procedural and legal complexity of appeals mean that the assistance of an immigration attorney can be very helpful. Determining the basis for a denial and deciding whether to appeal or to submit a new application containing a request for a waiver of the grounds of ineligibility can be greatly simplified by the assistance of a competent professional.
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