Millions of people enter and leave the United States every year. It is a popular tourism and immigration destination. However, if you are not a resident of the U.S, you will most likely need a visa to enter the country.

On this page you will learn:

What is a US Visa?

A US Visa is generally a stamp that you get on your travel document, more specifically your passport, which means that you are eligible to enter the United States. Having a U.S Visa does not necessarily mean that you will enter the U.S, as this is at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Customs and Borders Protection (CPB) Inspectors.

You might have a U.S Visa but if the inspectors of these departments do not see you as fit to enter the country for reasons that might remain at their discretion, you will be denied entry into the U.S.

Who Needs a U.S Visa?

The United States has a Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of a few select countries to visit the U.S for business or travel purposes for 90 days. Anyone who wants to visit the U.S for longer periods of time needs to obtain a U.S visa.

What are US Visa Categories?

Getting a visa for the USA is a lengthy procedure and what kind of visa you get depends on why you want to enter the country. In general, there are two types of visas for the United States:

    • Non-immigrant visas– which mean that you are eligible to enter the U.S and stay there temporarily
    • Immigrant visas – which grant you the permission to live in the U.S permanently

Both non-immigrant and immigrant visas also have sub-categories which are determined on the basis of the purpose of your visit.

US Visa Types

The US Visa categories have other types of visas depending on why you want to visit the country. We will go through the most common types of American visas, so that you can understand what each one entails.

Non-immigrant Visas

The following table provides the types of Non-immigrant visas, their purpose, necessary requirements, and U.S application fees.

A-1 Visa for Diplomats & Foreign Government Officials

Purpose of Visa

The A-1 visa is for diplomats or foreign government officials who are travelling to the U.S on official duties or representing their government.

The only person who can enter the United States for any purpose of the visit is the Head of State or Government such as the President or the Prime Minister, for example.

Necessary requirements

N/A

Application Fee

No fee

A-2 - NATO1-6 Visa

Purpose of Visa

The A-2 NATO1-6 visa is designed only for foreign military personnel who are about to serve or be stationed within the United States.

Application Fee

No Fee

B-1 Visa for Business Visitors

Purpose of Visa

The B-1 visa could be granted to those who want to enter the U.S for amateur or professional athletes, domestic employees/nannies or for business purposes such as:

      • Attending conferences or conventions in their field
      • Negotiate contracts
      • Consult with associates
      • Settle estates

Application Fee

$160

B-2 Visa for Tourists

Purpose of Visa

B-2 visas are given to people for the following reasons:

      • Medical Treatment
      • Tourism and vacations
      • Visits to relatives or friends
      • Enrollment in short non-credit bearing courses (not for official degrees)
      • Participation in music, sport, or social events, if they do not receive payments from them.

Application Fee

$160

BCC Visa: Border Crossing Card for Mexican Citizens

Purpose of Visa

A BCC visa stands for Border Crossing Card and only applies to Mexican citizens. It is a laminated card which allows Mexican citizens to enter the U.S.

When it is granted, it is usually valid for 10 years, but you must have a valid Mexican passport to apply for it. 

Application Fee

$160

C Visa - Transit Visa

Purpose of Visa

The C Visa is a transit visa. This means that you are passing through the U.S, but your final destination is in another location.

If you are passing through the U.S, but want to stop for a layover to see friends, family, or visit places, you will not be allowed to do so with a C visa, but will need the appropriate visa for those purposes.

People who have a B-type Visa and those whose visa is waived are also allowed to transit through the U.S.

Application Fee

$160

CW-1 Visa for Employers of Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

Purpose of Visa

Employers from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) can apply for CW-1 visas to be able to employ foreign workers who do not necessarily fit into other employment visa categories.

The employees who are granted a visa for this purpose are termed as CNMI-only transitional workers.

Application Fee

$150

D Visa for Crew Members

Purpose of Visa

The D visa is for crew members who will work on a sea vessel or international airline in the United States and they need the visa to be able to operate within the country.

Application Fee

$160

E Visas for Treaty Traders and Treaty Investors

Purpose of Visa

The E visas (E-1) and (E-2) or as they are called Treaty Trader and Treaty Investor visas respectively, are for those who have treaties of commerce and navigation in the U.S.

There are two reasons why you can apply for this visa:

      • Engage in trade of technology or other activities between the U.S and the treaty country
      • Direct operations of a company in which you have invested capital

Application Fee

$205

E-3 Visa - Work Visa for nationals of Australia

Purpose of Visa

E-3 visas are only for nationals of Australia who will be working in specialty occupations. If a person from Australia qualifies for an E-3 visa, then so does the spouse and the children; however, for the spouse, a marriage certificate should be presented.

Application Fee

$205

F and M Visas for international students

Purpose of Visa

The F and M visas are for academic and vocational purposes. Depending on your school and your field of study, you will have to get either the F-1 or the M-1 visa.

Application Fee

$160

G1-G5, NATO Visas

strong>Purpose of Visa

If you have been employed in an international organization in the United States, you will need to get a G-1 to G-5 visa. Those who will work for NATO, will get the NATO visa.

Application Fee

No Fee

H-1B Visa for highly specialized employees

Purpose of Visa

H-1B visas are for persons who have been employed in highly specialized fields. This means that they have an advanced degree or a job that cannot necessarily be done without having extensive training.

Application Fee

$190

H-1B1 Visa for Chile and Singapore nationals

Purpose of Visa

Based on the U.S Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Chile and Singapore, this visa allows these nationals to live and work temporarily in the U.S. They can also be accompanied by their spouse and dependent children.

Application Fee

$190

H-2A Visa for agricultural workers

Purpose of Visa

The H-2A visa is granted to temporary agricultural workers from selected countries in whom the U.S has some type of interest.

Application Fee

$190

H-2B Visa for non-agricultural workers

Purpose of Visa

Whereas the H-2A is for temporary agricultural workers, the H-2B visa is given to other types of temporary seasonal workers, who do non-agricultural work.

Similar to the H-2A, it is only granted to individuals if they are of interest to the U.S and only for selected countries.

Application Fee

$190

H-3 Visa H-3 for Trainees or Special Education Exchange Visitors

Purpose of Visa

The U.S has unique education and training opportunities that might not be found in other countries. For those who want to take advantage of these training and education opportunities which are not counted towards an academic degree, the H-3 visa needs to be obtained.

Application Fee

$190

I Visa for foreign media representatives and journalists

Purpose of Visa

The I visa is for representatives of foreign media and journalists part of the press, film, radio, or print industries, who are visiting the U.S to work or participate in educational media activities.

Application Fee

$160

J Visa for exchange visitors

Purpose of Visa

The J visa is targeted to exchange visitors. These include:

      • Au pairs
      • Temporary Scholars
      • Teachers and Professors
      • Students
      • Interns and Summer Work and Travel

Application Fee

$160

L Visa for Intracompany Transferees

Purpose of Visa

If the company you work for has a branch in the U.S and you want to transfer there, you will need an L visa. It is called an intra-company transfer visa, and the condition is that you must have been employed at that company for at least 1 year within the past 3 years.

Application Fee

$190

O Visa for Persons With Extraordinary Abilities

Purpose of Visa

People who have what is called an extraordinary ability in Arts, Science, Business, Education, or Athletics and want to temporarily work in their field of expertise need an O visa. To get this type of visa, these people have to be essential to the provision of services in their area of expertise.

Application Fee

$190

P Visa for Athletes, Entertainers and Artists

Purpose of Visa

There are three types of P visas:

      • P-1 – is for individual or team athletes or members of entertainment groups
      • P-2 – is for artists of entertainers that will perform in the U.S as individuals or in a group
      • P-3 – is for artists and entertainers who will perform, teach, or coach in the U.S. as individuals or in a group

 

Application Fee

$190

Q Visa for Participants in Cultural Exchange Programs

Purpose of Visa

Q Visas are for people who are visiting the U.S as part of an international cultural exchange program. This means that they will share their history, culture, and tradition in the U.S.

This visa is also for those who will do some type of practical training and employment within the U.S.

Application Fee

$190

R Visa for Religious Workers

Purpose of Visa

Temporary Religious Workers who want to practice within the U.S in religious capacities need to get the R visa type.

Religious worker

Application Fee

$190

T Visa for Victims of Human Trafficking

Purpose of Visa

T visas are for victims of human trafficking who have severe trauma, but can also assist in investigating crimes related to human trafficking.

      • T-1: is for the victims of human trafficking
      • T-2: is for spouses of T-1 visa holders
      • T-3: is for children of T-1 visa holders
      • T-4: is for parents of T-1 visa holders
      • T-5: is for unmarried siblings (under 18 years old), of T-1 visa holders who are
        under 21 years old

Application Fee

No Fee

TN/TD Visas or citizens of Canada or Mexico to work in NAFTA

Purpose of Visa

TN/TD visas are for citizens of Canada or Mexico who will be working in the NAFTA organization. The visa is not for permanent residents of Canada or Mexico.

Application Fee

$160

U Visa for Victims of Criminal Activities

Purpose of Visa

Those who have been a victim of certain criminal activities and that can aid in the investigation or prosecution of those criminals, are eligible to apply for the U visa.

Application Fee

$160

V Visa for Spouse and Children of a Lawful Permanent Resident

Purpose of Visa

The V visa allows families who are in the process of waiting for the completion of their immigration process, to be reunited with their family in the U.S.

Application Fee

No fee

Immigrant Visas

Immigrant visas are in 3 categories:

  • Immediate Relative and Family Sponsored
  • Employer Sponsored
  • Other

Immediate Relative Family Sponsored

K3, K4 visas for spouses (children) of U.S citizens

Purpose of Visa

K-3 visas are for spouses of U.S citizens who are in the process of obtaining permanent immigration status. This visa is made to shorten the separation of the couple until the spouse from the foreign country receives approval for immigration.

Children of the K-3 visa applicants are eligible to receive K-4 visas

K1, K2 visas for fiances of U.S citizens

Purpose of Visa

The K-1 visa is for persons who are engaged to a United States citizen and plan to marry them. The foreign citizen (fiancé) in this case is required to marry the U.S citizen within 90 days of arrival in the country.

If the fiancé has children, they are eligible for K-2 visas.

IR3, IH3, IR4, IH4 visas for adopted children

Purpose of Visa

The IR3, IH3, IR4, IH4 visas are for children from other countries who will be adopted by U.S citizen parent(s)

F2A, F2B Visas for families of lawful permanent residents

Purpose of Visa

The F2A and F2B visas are for the families of Lawful Permanent Residents, more specifically their spouses, minor children, or unmarried sons and daughters aged 21 and above.

Employer Sponsored – Employment

E1 Visa: Employment First Preference

Purpose of Visa

The E1 visa is called an Employment First Preference Priority Workers visa. It is for those people who are beneficiaries of an approved Immigration Petition for Foreign Workers and must be:

  • People with extraordinary abilities in arts, sciences, business, education, or athletics
  • Professors and researchers
  • Managers or executives

E2 Visa: Employment Second Preference

Purpose of Visa

Employment Second Preference Professionals Holding advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability visas are for those who have labor certification and a job offer in he U.S

E3, EW3 Visas: Employment Third Preference

Purpose of Visa

The Employment Third Preference Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers visa are for those who have an approved Petition for Alien Worker filed by their employers.

C5, T5, R5, I5 Visas for immigrant investors

Purpose of Visa

This group of visas is for immigrant investors in the U.S who will do the following:

  • C5 visa – create employment outside a target area
  • T5 visa – create employment in a rural/high unemployment area
  • R5 visa – implement an investor pilot program outside the target area
  • I5 visa – implement an investor pilot program in the target area

SD, SR Visas for religious workers

Purpose of Visa

The SD and SR visas are for religious workers in the United States.

SI Visa for Iraqi and Afghan Translators

Purpose of Visa

The SI visa is for Iraqi and Afghan Translators or Interpreters working with the U.S military and who meet certain requirements.

SQ Visa for Iraqi and Afghan who work for the U.S Government

Purpose of Visa

The SQ visa is for Iraqi or Afghan citizens who will be working for or on behalf of the U.S government and get Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs).

Other Immigrants

DV Visa for Diversity Immigrants

Purpose of Visa

The Diversity Immigrant Visas are for persons who are deemed to be “diversity immigrants” meaning that they come from countries that have low immigration rates to the U.S.

SB Visa for returning residents

Purpose of Visa

The SB visa or Returning Resident Visa is for permanent U.S residents who for reasons beyond their control have remained outside the country for more than a year or their re-entry permit is not valid anymore. The SB visa grants them entry into the U.S again.

How to Apply for a US Visa?

The US visa application follows a a similar and straightforward procedure for all types of visas. However, there are differences depending on the visa category and type you want to get. To apply for an American visa you must apply at the US Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence.

What Are the Required Documents for a US Visa?

After you have decided about the type of USA visa that you should apply for, you must find out what the required docuements for a USA visa are and start gathering the documents that are required. There are some standard documents that the embassy or consulate of the USA requires regardless of the US visa you wish to obtain and there are some other documents that are specific only to the particular type of visa that you are applying for.

How Much Does it Cost to Apply for a USA Visa?

Although we have provided the visa application fees for all US visas in this article, there are some additional fees that you must familiarize yourself with. To learn more about US visa fees, visit the article.

What does a U.S. Visa look like?

When you are granted a U.S. Visa, it will look at the picture below. You should check whether it has your correct information that matches the data in your passport, and all the parts that are in the sample visa. If it does not contain all the information, you should contact the U.S Embassy that has issued it.

Reading and Understanding a Visa

Reading and Understanding a Visa

Visa Number

The U.S visa number is a unique identifier of every individual who has a U.S visa. The visa will have a lot of information on it, including the visa number. It could be placed anywhere, but it is distinct because it is the only red number on it.

The place or color of it does not change whether it is a nonimmigrant visa number or an immigrant visa number. The example above shows what a U.S visa looks like and you can clearly see the number on it.