The A-1 visa is a special type of visa for government officials and diplomats entering the United States for official government business.
The A-1 visa is one of four different visas within the A visa category:
A-1 Visa: For diplomats, consular officers, ministers, ambassadors, and their family members.
A-2 Visa: For other government officials, staff, and their family members.
A-2 NATO Visa: For military staff from NATO countries working in the United States.
A-3 Visa: For the personal employees of government employees, including attendants or servants of A-1 or A-2 visa holders, as well as their immediate family members.
Because of the A-1 visa and other A visas, government officials can enter the United States to conduct business. A-1 visa holders can be accompanied by their staff members, their immediate family members, and other personnel.
A-1 visa applications are highly specialized. They’re typically designed for official government visits. You may need a specific itinerary or job offer, for example. You cannot get an A-1 visa if visiting the United States for general tourist purposes.
In addition to government employees, heads of state will qualify for the A-1 visa. A Prime Minister visiting the United States, for example, will need an A-1 visa. One of the unique things about the A-1 visa is that it grants some degree of diplomatic immunity.
Overall, this is a unique visa typically reserved for government workers at the highest levels of government. In fact, you’ll need a diplomatic passport just to apply for the A-1 visa.
How Does the A-1 Visa Work?
The A-1 visa allows certain government workers to legally enter the United States. Some of the people who would use an A-1 diplomatic via include:
- Heads of state like Prime Ministers and Presidents
- Consular officers serving within a country’s consulate or embassy within the United States
- Ministers or cabinet members of a foreign country visiting the United States for official government purposes
- Representatives of governments within the European Union or African Union
The A-1 visa also has unique privileges that you don’t see with other visas, including all of the following:
- A-1 visa holders can travel in and out of the United States an unlimited number of times for as long as their visas are valid
- A-1 visa holders cannot be tried by any U.S. court, despite the crime
- A-1 visas are processed more quickly than any other non-immigrant visa
A-1 visa holders are also subject to different rights than certain other visa holders. You may have your A-1 visa revoked, for example, if you engage in any of the following activities:
- You are planning to overthrow the U.S. government
- You are planning to commit acts of terrorism
- You are planning to commit crimes, spy, export sensitive information, or engage in other activities prohibited in the United States
- The Secretary of State determines there will be negative foreign policy reactions if you enter the United States
A-1 visa holders are also not permitted to engage in employment while in the United States. You are permitted to visit the United States for official government purposes.
How to Apply for the A-1 Visa
Applying for the A-1 visa is straightforward and surprisingly similar to an ordinary non-immigrant visa application. Here’s the basic process:
Step 1) Get a Diplomatic Passport: The A-1 visa is only available to those holding a diplomatic passport. Whether you’re applying for the A-1 visa within the United States or outside of it, you’ll need a diplomatic passport to continue.
Step 2) Complete Form DS-160: Form DS-160 is the standard non-immigrant application form. You can find it on the website of your local U.S. embassy or consulate. Whether you’re applying for the A-1 visa from within or outside the United States, you will need to complete form DS-160. If you’re within the United States, you submit this completed form to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If you’re outside the United States, you submit it to your local U.S. embassy or consulate. Form DS-160 can be submitted online.
Step 3) Submit Required Documents: Getting an A-1 visa requires you to submit various documents to the U.S. embassy or USCIS (depending on where you sent your form DS-160). Required documents include:
Valid diplomatic passport with an expiry date at least 6 months beyond your planned date of departure from the United States
- Form DS-160 confirmation page
- One photograph that meets U.S. visa photo requirements
- Diplomatic letter from your country’s government explaining information about the applicant and your visit to the United States, including:
- Your position within the government
- Your full name and date of birth
- The reason you’re traveling to the United States, including the duties you are expected to perform there
- Your intended travel period in the United States
- The names, birthdates, and relationship of any dependents traveling to the United States with you on your A-1 visa as a dependent
- The names, birthdates, and job positions of any staff (attendants or servants) traveling to the United States with you
Step 4) Complete the Interview: In most cases, those applying for an A-1 or A-2 visa do not need to sit down at a U.S. embassy for an interview – something that is required for most other visas. However, the United States reserves the right to request an interview of any A-1 applicant, so it may be required for your A-1 visa application.
How Long Does It Take to Process the A-1 Visa?
The A-1 visa has the shortest processing times of any U.S. visa. Typically, the A-1 visa application can be completed and authorized on the same day. While other visas take 3 to 6 weeks to process, the A-1 visa is typically authorized almost immediately.
When Does the A-1 Visa Expire?
The A-1 visa will be valid for your intended travel dates if you’re visiting the United States for official government business. Certain A-1 visa applicants, however, will receive a visa for an indefinite period of time. Heads of state, for example, may receive a visa with an indefinite period of validity. If you receive an A-1 visa with an indefinite period of validity, then you are permitted to stay in the United States for as long as you continue to occupy your official government position.
If you resign from your government position, or if your visa expires, you are required to your home country. However, government employees typically have a small grace period while the Department of State updates its records on employees of foreign governments.
Can I Extend My A-1 Visa?
If your A-1 visa is expiring but you need to remain in the United States for official government purposes, then you can apply for an A-1 visa extension. Typically, getting a visa extension requires a letter from your government explaining why you need an extension. You will also need to submit form I-566 to the Department of State.
Can I Change My Status or Get a Green Card with an A-1 Visa?
It’s rare for an A-1 visa holder to transition to a permanent resident while in the United States.
If you wish to become lawful permanent resident of the United States (i.e. a green card holder), then you will have to give up your diplomatic status. To do that, you’ll need to file form I-508, Waiver of Rights, Privileges, Exemptions and Immunities.
Once you have completed that form, you can apply for permanent resident status by marrying a U.S. citizen, receiving sponsorship from an employer or family member, investing $500,000 in the country, or proving you cannot safely return to your home country.
Can My Dependents Join Me in the United States with My A-1 Visa?
The A-1 visa allows your dependents to join you in the United States under an A-1 dependency visa. Your dependents include the following two groups:
- Unmarried children under 21 years of age
- Your spouse
Your spouse is allowed to work in the United States with an A-1 visa, but only after acquiring an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which you can get after filing a petition to USCIS. All A-1 dependency visa holders are permitted to study in the United States.