The US Visa application process could be complicated, and you probably have lots of questions. Our readers have asked certain questions repeatedly during our time processing US Visa applications. Keep reading and discover our answers to the most frequently asked questions about US Visas and immigration.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About US Visas
I Have a U.S. Visa: How Do I Become a U.S. Citizen?
If you have a non-immigrant visa, then there is no real path to becoming a U.S. citizen. You can marry a U.S. citizen while traveling in the United States, however, which changes your immigration status and allows you to begin seeking permanent residency. You cannot travel to the United States with plans to marry a U.S. citizen, however.
If you have an immigrant visa, then you have a clearer path to citizenship. As an immigrant visa holder, you are considered a permanent resident of the United States (i.e. a green card holder).
After living in the United States for 5 years as a lawful permanent resident, you can apply for U.S. citizenship. The path to citizenship is long but maybe worth it for some individuals.
Is Everyone Eligible for an ESTA?
Only citizens of the 38 countries on the Visa Waiver Program list are eligible for visa-free entry to the United States via the ESTA.
If you are a resident (not a citizen) of one of the 38 countries on the Visa Waiver Program and your citizenship is with a non-Visa Waiver Program country, then you will likely need a visa to enter the United States.
Additionally, the United States recently implemented rules regarding ESTA eligibility. You are not eligible for the ESTA if you answer yes to the following two questions:
- Have you been in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, or Yemen since March 1, 2011?
- Do you have a dual nationality with Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria?
If you answer yes to either of these questions, then you will likely need a visa to enter the United States even if you are a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program country.
When Does a Visa Expire?
There are dozens of different visas that allow you to enter the United States. Some visas are non-immigrant visas: they allow you to enter the United States temporarily for business or pleasure. Other visas are immigrant visas: they allow you to begin seeking permanent residence in the United States.
Visa expiry times vary widely. An ESTA, for example, lasts for 2 years. Some work visas last for 3 years. A temporary non-immigrant visa may only be valid for the specific period of your trip.
What is a U.S. Visa?
A U.S. visa is a legal document that grants someone permission to travel to the United States. Visas are issued by the U.S. embassy of a foreign country. To receive a visa, you must complete the visa application process before attending an interview with a consular officer at your local embassy. The application and interview will determine whether or not you’re suitable for admission to the United States.
The United States encourages people to travel to the country for business, pleasure, education, and other opportunities. However, the United States also has an obligation to protect itself from security threats and prevent people from overstaying their visas. The visa application and interview process is designed to determine whether or not you are suitable for admission into the country.
Some visas consist of a stamp on your passport. Other visas consist of a piece of paper attached to your passport. Your visa contains valuable information about the visa holder, including your biographical details (name and date of birth), nationality, date of issuance, and date of expiry.
What is the Diversity Visa?
The Diversity Visa, also known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program or DV Program, is a U.S. immigration program administered by the Department of State. It’s a lottery-based program that accepts applications throughout the year. At a certain point in the year, up to 50,000 immigrant visas are drawn from the pool of applicants at random. The Diversity Visa is only eligible to citizens of certain countries, including citizens of countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. If you are selected for admittance to the United States under the Diversity Visa program, then you can gain entry to the United States with a green card and establish permanent residency.
What is a Merit-Based Visa?
Some countries use a merit-based visa system where individuals must demonstrate their value before entering the country. The United States is currently debating whether or not to implement a merit-based visa program. Such a program would consider the applicant’s age, education, English language proficiency, skills, achievements, and other qualifications, then use that information to determine whether or not the applicant should enter the United States.
Merit-based visas are also called points-based systems. Canada, for example, uses a points-based system. Skilled workers from in-demand trades are given higher priority under the Canadian Federal Skilled Workers Program. The United States may implement a similar merit-based or points-based system in the future.
What is a Returning Resident Visa?
When you first get an immigrant visa, you must remain in the United States for an extended period of time. If you leave the United States during this period of time and do not return, then you will lose your immigrant status.
However, there’s one exception to this rule: if you are able to prove that you left the United States and could not return for reasons beyond your control, then you may qualify for a Returning Resident visa. The Returning Resident visa allows the person to return to the United States and begin establishing permanent residency once again.
What is Temporary Protected Status (TPS)?
Temporary Protected Status or TPS is a special type of status given by the United States to citizens whose countries are in crisis. If a major catastrophe or crisis occurs in a country, then the United States can declare the country to be under Temporary Protected Status. With TPS, any citizens of the TPS country in the United States at the time of the crisis can claim TPS status and stay in the United States until the crisis is over.
TPS status can last anywhere from a few months to a few years.
What is Automatic Visa Revalidation?
Automatic visa revalidation is a process that allows someone with an expired visa to travel to Canada, Mexico, and “U.S. adjacent islands” for fewer than 30 days and receive an automatic visa revalidation upon re-entry to the United States.
The United States implements this system because the country recognizes that it takes a lot of time and effort to extend or renew a visa. The visa holder may be required to return to his home country. Automatic Visa Revalidation provides the visa holder with the same rights they would have before their visa expired.
The Automatic Visa Revalidation process is relatively complicated. Make sure you read the rules and restrictions before you attempt to revalidate your visa.
What is an Employment Authorization Document?
Non-immigrant workers in the United States are unable to start working until they have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This document can be obtained immediately after your visa is approved. With your EAD, you can work in any U.S. company legally for as long as your visa is valid. Spouses are also eligible to receive an EAD if they qualify.
You need to renew your EAD every time you renew or extend your visa.
What is an Affidavit of Support?
An Affidavit of Support is a document signed by a petitioner for a U.S. immigrant visa. A U.S. citizen might file an Affidavit of Support petitioning for their spouse to join them in the United States, for example.
One of the most important parts of the Affidavit of Support is the financial support portion: the individual must prove that he or she has enough funds to support the spouse in the United States until he or she finds a job. The goal is to avoid bringing immigrants to the United States who may become dependent on U.S. welfare programs.
Signing an Affidavit of Support is a big deal and should not be taken lightly. The person who signs the document is financially responsible for the other person for the duration of the other person’s visa (or until they get U.S. citizenship). In fact, if the other person draws funds from U.S. welfare programs at any point, then the person who signed the Affidavit of Support is required to reimburse the U.S. government for this support.
What is the ESTA?
The ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is a document that allows you to travel to the United States visa-free. ESTA applications can be completed online in minutes prior to your arrival at a U.S. port of entry. The ESTA program is entirely digital. You can complete and submit the application online. Then, the ESTA will appear when you scan your e-passport at a port of entry. Most developed nations today have e-passports, and the ESTA program covers most of the developed world.
Can I Enter the United States If My Visa is Expired?
If you have previously entered the United States but your visa is expired, then you need to re-apply for your visa prior to seeking re-entry to the United States.
If you stay in the United States beyond the expiration date of your visa, then you will be considered a visa overstay. You may face severe penalties – including being banned from the United States for 3 to 10 years (depending on the length of your overstay).
If you try to enter the United States with an expired visa, then the CBP officer will refuse entry and you will need to return to your home country. In your home country, you can apply for a new visa or request a visa extension.
My Visa Will Expire While I Am in the United States – Is This a Bad Thing?
If your visa expires while you are in the United States, then you may not have anything to worry about.
If the CBP officer at the port of entry admitted you into the United States for a specific period of time, then the officer will have taken note of the expiry date on your visa. As long as you are leaving the United States on the date you told the CBP officer, you should not get into trouble.
Remember to keep your admission stamp or paper Form I-94 documents because they act as the official record of your permission to be in the United States. Keep these documents inside your passport.
Does a U.S. Visa Guarantee Entry to the United States?
A U.S. visa is a document that permits you to attempt to arrive at a port of entry to the United States. Having a visa does not guarantee entry to the United States. The final decision comes down to the CBP officer reviewing your case.
The CBP officer will interview you upon arrival at a U.S. port of entry. Your documents and luggage may be checked. If the CBP officer suspects you of being untruthful, or if you have lied on any part of your visa application, then you may be refused entry to the United States even with a visa.
What Happens If My Visa is Denied?
The United States denies visas for a number of different reasons. Your visa may be denied because you lied about certain biographic details, for example. Or, visas can be denied because of a criminal record or other similar activities in your past.
If your visa application is refused, then you have two options: you can appeal to the USCIS or the U.S. embassy in your country of residence; or, you can apply for a new visa.
Generally, your best option is to apply for a new visa. Consider choosing a different visa this time. Most visa denials come with a reason for the rejection. Take that reason into consideration. Your immigrant visa to establish permanent residency in the United States may have been rejected, but you may still be able to visit the United States on a temporary non-immigrant visa.
Will I Get My Money Back If My Visa is Denied?
If your visa is denied, then you will not get a refund. Unfortunately, all visa application fees is non-refundable. The reason the fee is non-refundable is that the same costs go into processing a valid visa as an invalid visa. Regardless of whether you were issued a visa or not, your application costs a certain amount of money to be processed.
What Are Indefinite Validity Visas or Burroughs Visas?
The United States once had something called Indefinite Validity Visas, also known as Burroughs visas. These visas were tourist or business visas manually stamped into a traveler’s passport and valid for ten years. The United States voided all indefinite visas on April 1, 2004. If you have an indefinite visa, then you are required to apply for an ordinary visa prior to visiting the United States.
The Passport with My Visa Was Stolen: What Should I Do?
If your passport was stolen and your visa was inside, then it’s crucial that you replace both immediately. The United States government has a dedicated page for lost and stolen passports, including how to make a police report and how to replace your Form I-94. You can view that form here.
What Happens If My Visa Was Damaged?
If your visa is damaged, then you need to re-apply for a brand new visa at your local U.S. embassy or consulate.
How Do I Check the Status of My Friend’s Visa Application?
All visa application information is confidential. Only the visa applicant is permitted to access information about his or her visa application.
Do I Need a Visa to Study in the United States?
Most foreign nationals require a visa to study in the United States. The most popular student visa is the F-1 Visa. If a foreign student wants to visit the US to take a vocational course they should apply for an M-1 Visa. Other students may qualify for the J-1 Visa, which allows visiting the US on an exchange program.
Canadian students do not require a visa to study in the United States. They simply require a SEVIS ID number, which can be obtained by any qualified educational institution in the United States.
How Do I Apply for a Non-Immigrant Visa to the United States?
A US Non-Immigrant visa allows you to visit the United States temporarily for business, pleasure, and other purposes. There are over 20 different types of Non-Immigrant visas for a variety of purposes for temporary travel.
Generally, a US Non-Immigrant Visa application starts with completing the DS-160 form. This form is accessible at the US embassy website of your country of residence. Form DS-160 can be completed online regardless of your desired type of visa. You submit the visa, pay the application fee, and then schedule an interview with your local US embassy. The embassy or consulate will process your application and conduct the in-person interview before approving or denying your application.
How Do I Apply for an Immigrant Visa to the United States?
Applying for an immigrant visa to the United States tends to be more complicated than applying for a non-immigrant visa. The process starts with a family member or employer in the United States filing a petition to bring you to North America. This petition is filed with the USCIS, which will either approve or deny the petition.
After the petition is approved, you can begin filling out Form DS-260 online. Visit the website of the US embassy in your country to get started.
What Kind of Documents Are Required for a US Visa?
Document requirements vary widely between US visas. An employer-based visa, for example, will have different requirements than a B-2 visa for temporary travel to the United States. Generally, you will need the following documents for all visas:
- A valid passport with an expiration date six months beyond your planned date of departure from the United States
- Physical or digital photos that meet the US visa photo requirements
- Documents that demonstrate a connection to your home country and your intent to return to your home country after visiting the US (for non-immigrant visas)
- Documents proving you have the financial means to support yourself while in the United States
How Much Does a US Visa Cost?
Fees vary widely between visas. A typical US Non-Immigrant Visa costs between $160 and $205. However, other visas can come with additional fees that can substantially increase the cost of your visa.
How Long Does It Take to Get a US Visa?
It typically takes from 2 to 5 weeks to process an ordinary US visa application. That is assuming the application is straightforward and there are no reasons to deny it.
Usually, a Non-Immigrant Visa will be completed more quickly than an Immigrant Visa. US Immigrant visas could take from 6 to 12 months to process.
Certain employer based visas are eligible for Premium Processing Service. The employer can pay an additional fee of US$1410.00 to have the visa processed more quickly. In this case, an employer-sponsored visa could be approved within just 2 weeks.
How Long Can I Stay in the United States with My Visa?
All US Non-Immigrant visas have an expiration date. Your visa will clearly state the date it was issued and the date it expires. The time between those two dates is known as visa validity. The visa validity is the period of time in which you are allowed to travel to a port of entry in the US. However, a US visa only allows you to appear at the port of entry and apply to enter the USA. It also establishes how many times you can enter the US with that visa. What a visa does not specify is the length of time you can stay in the US.
What determines for how long you can stay in the US with your visa is the I-94 Form. The I-94 Form is also the permission to enter the US granted by a CBP officer at the port of entry.
What Kind of Visa Allows Me to Work in the United States?
There are many different types of U.S. visas that allow you to work in the United States. Citizens of Canada and Mexico, for example, can apply for a TN/TD visa that allows them to work in the United States for a three year period. Other nationals can get an employer to petition their visa application to allow them to work in the United States.
Meanwhile, those on immigration visas can achieve lawful permanent resident status (i.e. a green card). A green card allows you to work in the United States.
What is a Labor Conditions Application?
The U.S. Department of Labor issues a Labor Conditions Application (LCA) or Labor Conditions Certification (LCC) to companies that plan on hiring foreign workers. This certificate gives the company the right to hire employees who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Once the company has the certificate, the company can sponsor workers to visit the United States with a visa.
Before issuing a Labor Conditions Certification, the Department of Labor will determine whether a company needs to hire a foreign worker. The Department of Labor will verify that an American worker was unable or unwilling to do the job. The Certification also shows that the foreign worker’s salary will be on par with the salary of a U.S. worker. This protects the foreign worker from unsafe or unfair work environments.
What Is an Employment Petition?
US companies submit employment petitions when they want to sponsor a foreign worker for an employment visa. The employer files the petition with the USCIS on the prospective employee behalf. The foreign national can apply for a visa if that petition is successful.
An employment petition explains basic details about the proposed job, including job position, salary, and qualifications. Employers are required to pay a fee when submitting the employment petition. They are also required to attach supporting documents proving that they have the financial means to pay the foreign worker. In addition, employers need to prove that they pay their taxes. The Labor Conditions Certification that goes attached to the petition confirms that the employer is paying the foreign worker a living wage and that an American worker is unable or unwilling to perform the job.
Do I Need a Visa If I Am Only Transiting through the United States?
If you will be transiting through the United States en route to another country you will need a visa. For that specific purpose, the United States has a special visa called the C-1 Visa. With the C-1 Visa, you are permitted to stay in the United States up to 29 days before reaching your final destination. The C-1 visa is usually required when transiting through the US by air or sea.
What Types of US Visas Are Available?
There are dozens of different types of US Visas. All those visas are broadly grouped into the following two categories:
- Non-immigrant visas
- Immigrant visas
US Non-immigrant Visas allow foreigners to visit the USA for a short period of time before returning home. Some Non-immigrant Visas are granted, for example, to work, study or for tourism in the United States.
The US Immigrant Visas are for foreigners seeking to establish permanent residence in the United States. These visas are typically granted to those who already have family in the United States.
What is Optional Practical Training?
Optional Practical Training or OPT is a program that allows F-1 visa holders to remain in the United States for 12 months beyond their graduation while working for a U.S. employer.
If you recently graduated from an American university, then you may petition for OPT to gain work experience. Once your OPT is completed, you must either return to your home country or find an employer willing to sponsor you for a work visa.
Certain students – particularly in STEM degrees – also have the option of applying for an OPT extension allowing them to remain in the United States for up to 24 months beyond the conclusion of their course.
I’m Marrying a US Citizen: How Do I Get a Visa?
If you are marrying a US citizen, then your spouse must petition to bring you to the United States on an IR-1 visa. The spouse (who must be a U.S. citizen) can file a petition to the USCIS. The IR-1 visa is for immediate relatives seeking to establish permanent residency in the United States. Under the IR-1 visa, you can stay in the United States with your spouse while establishing permanent residency.
Some couples choose to get a fiancé or fiancée visa while their spousal visa is being processed and before the marriage takes place
Can My Children Visit the United States with Me?
Most immigrant visas allow parents to bring unmarried children to the United States with them. Typically, the children need to be under 18 or 21 years of age, depending on the visa.
With Non-Immigrant Visas (for temporary visits to the United States), children must apply for their own individual visas separately. However, children under 14 years of age are not required to attend the in-person interview at the US embassy or consulate.
Can My Parents Come to the United States with Me?
If you are a lawful permanent resident, then you are not eligible to petition to bring your parents to live and work permanently in the United States. If you are a US citizen 21 years of age or older, however, you can petition to bring your parents to live and work permanently in the United States.
Typically, immigrant visa holders are not permitted to bring their parents to the United States because they are not considered immediate dependents. Generally, immigrant visas allow you to bring a spouse and dependent children with you to the United States. However, there are other visas that may allow you to sponsor your parents in the future.
For a Non-Immigrant visa, your parents will need to apply for their own visas separately to join you on your trip to North America.
There may be an exception granted for special circumstances, like if your parents are dependent on you. In most cases, however, you cannot bring your parents to the United States with you as a permanent resident.
Can My Siblings Come to the United States with Me?
If you are living in the US on an Immigrant Visa, then you cannot bring your siblings to the country with you. They need to apply for their own immigrant visas.
In order to bring your siblings to live in the United States as a green card holders, you must become a US resident and be at least 21 years of age. Permanent residents (i.e. green card holders) cannot petition to bring siblings permanently to the United States.
Who Is in Charge of Visa Processing? Which US Government Department Handles Visas?
Most US Visas are handled by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This agency is the main authority for processing, approving, and denying US Visas applications. The agency also processes petitions from US employers seeking to bring a foreign worker to the United States. In addition to processing visas, USCIS keeps detailed records of all immigrants to the United States.
USCIS is a department of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
What Happens When My Visa Expires?
When your visa expires, you must return to your home country and re-apply. You can also apply for an extension while within the United States, if your visa type allows it.
If you stay in the United States after your visa has expired, then you have overstayed your visa and may be subject to serious penalties. A visa overstay can be punished with a one year ban from the country. You also risk being deported or arrested by US immigration agencies.
How Long Does It Take to Process a Non-Immigrant Visa?
Non-immigrant Visa processing times vary widely depending on your country of origin. Some Non-Immigrant visa applications can be processed within 5 days. Others take 4 weeks to 6 months. In general, a Non-Immigrant visa application should take between 3 to 5 weeks to process.
Does Everyone Need a U.S. Visa?
Not everyone needs a visa to visit the United States. The United States has something called the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that allows citizens of 38 countries to enter the United States visa-free. Many western countries and developed economies worldwide are on the Visa Waiver Program list. If you are a citizen of a VWP country, then you do not need a visa; however, you still need to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before you visit the United States.
If you are not a citizen of one of the 38 Visa Waiver Program countries, then you will likely need a visa to enter the United States.