Each American Embassy and Consulate has different visa application procedures and requirements. It is essential to check with the individual Embassy or Consulate at which you intend to apply.
Applicants should be aware that approval by the Citizenship and Immigration Service or sponsoring entity does not guarantee issuance of a visa. The consular officer, under the authority of the Department of State, may deny the visa. Moreover, issuance of a visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S. At the Port of Entry (POE), an immigration inspector must authorize the traveler's admission to the U.S., and such inspector has the authority to deny admission in accordance with U.S. immigration laws and regulations.
Note about Canadian citizens
Canadian citizens are subject to different visa and passport requirements than other foreign nationals. Accordingly, some of the following application procedures, eligibility requirements, etc. will differ for beneficiaries possessing Canadian citizenship. Consultation with a licensed immigration attorney is recommended for those for whom these exceptions might apply.
Overview of Most Common Non-immigrant Visas
Generally, in order to travel to the United States, a foreign national must first obtain a visa that grants the holder permission to travel to the U.S. for purposes specified on the visa. In order to obtain a visa, a person must apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country. If approved, the inspector will issue the traveler a visa that will indicate the length of time it is valid for use of travel to the United States. Please note: the expiration date on the visa does not denote the time a holder may remain in the U.S., but rather only the time s/he may use the visa to seek permission (travel) to enter.
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B-1/ B-2 Visitor Visa
B-1 and B-2 visa classification is available to foreign born nationals who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily for business (B-1), or for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2). A B-1 or B-2 visa may only be used for the stated purpose or intent. Except under very limited circumstances, persons planning to travel to the U.S. for any other purpose such as study, employment, training, etc., must apply for a different visa in the appropriate category, even if they already possess a valid B visa.) Moreover, a person may not hold more than one Non-immigrant visa classifications at a time, including B-1/B-2.
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Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program is available to foreign nationals from certain eligible countries who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily for pleasure. Eligible foreign nationals may travel to visit the U.S. for pleasure without obtaining a Department of State (or consulate) issued-visa using the Visa Waiver Program. Currently, twenty-eight countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program: Andorra, Australia, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.
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E-1 Treaty Trader
E-1 visa classification is available to treaty traders and their employees who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily to carry on substantial trade between the U.S. and their home country, if their country of citizenship has a treaty with the U.S. that allows for the issuance of such visas.
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E-2 Treaty Investor
E-2 visa classification is available foreign investors who invest in a substantial amount of capital in a U.S. enterprise, and who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily to develop and direct the enterprise into which they have invested, if their country of citizenship has a treaty with the U.S. that allows for the issuance of such visas.
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F-1 Academic Student
F-1 visa classification is available to foreign nationals who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily to study at accredited academic institutions, and for whom the proposed course of study qualifies as a full-time study. The requisite course load for full-time study varies depending on the level of study sought and the credit allotment or term division system utilized by the respective academic institution or English language program at which study is sought.
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H-1B Specialty Occupation
H-1B visa classification is available to foreign nationals who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily to work for U.S. employers in a specialty occupation. A specialty occupation is defined as an occupation that requires highly specialized knowledge and a minimum of a U.S. or U.S. equivalent bachelor's degree in a related field of study. (In certain cases, documented work experience may be factored into an equivalency finding in lieu of a bachelor's degree.)
Common specialty occupations include, but are not limited to those professional positions found in the fields of: accounting, architecture, business specialties, computer specialties, engineering, education, law, mathematics, medicine and health, physical sciences, social sciences, and theology. Other professions may also qualify as specialty occupations.
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J-1 Exchange Visitors
J-1 visa classification is available to foreign nationals who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily to participate in an exchange visitor program designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of arts, business, education, and sciences. Participants include a variety of fields and J-1 program classifications including, but not limited to the following: trainees in professional, business, industrial and/or medical and allied fields; students, teachers and professors and research scholars; nonacademic specialists, international and government visitors, camp counselors and au pairs.
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K-1 Fiancé(e) of U.S. Citizen
K-1 visa classification is available to any foreign national who is engaged to marry a U.S. citizen. The visa, as issued by the consulate abroad, may be used to enter the U.S. for the purpose of marrying a U.S. citizen within a very strict ninety-day window following entry. Within that 90-day period, the U.S. citizen and the foreign national must be married, after which the foreign national spouse may apply for permanent resident status in the U.S.
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L-1 Intra-company Transferee
L-1 visa classification is available to foreign workers who work for multinational companies doing business in the U.S., and who wish to temporarily enter the U.S. to perform services either in a managerial or executive capacity (L-1A) or services that require specialized knowledge (L-1B) for a U.S.-based parent, branch, subsidiary or affiliate of the same company that employed the foreign worker abroad.
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O-1 Alien of Extraordinary Ability
O-1 visa classification is available to foreign nationals of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics or motion picture and television production who wish to temporarily enter the U.S. for continuing work in their field of extraordinary ability. Visa classification is also available for necessary support personnel in qualifying circumstances.
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P-1 Athletes and Group Entertainers
P-1 visa classification is available to foreign nationals who wish to come to the U.S. temporarily to: 1) perform as an athlete, individually or as part of a group or team, at an internationally recognized level of performance; or 2) perform as a member of a foreign-based entertainment group that has been recognized internationally as outstanding in the discipline for a sustained and substantial period of time. Please note: solo musicians or singers are not eligible for P visas; they must apply for O-1 visas.
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R-1 Religious Workers
R-1 visa classification is available for foreign religious workers who wish to enter the U.S. temporarily to work in for a qualifying religious organization as a minister, professional or other religious worker.
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TN Treaty NAFTA Professionals
TN visa classification is available to certain Canadian and Mexican nationals who are qualified to work as a professional as defined by the the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement ("NAFTA").
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