Everything You Need to Know About US Visas
Getting an extended stay in the United States can be challenging. The process can be complicated and doing it for the first time is stressful.
Whether or not you’re intending on fully immigrating in the future, staying in the United States for any amount of time is going to require a visa (aside from visitors from a few excepted countries).
Even tourism usually requires a visa.
But what is a visa anyway? How do they work and how do you go about getting one? What are the different types of visas and does your choice of visa matter?
We’re here to give you the rundown. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about U.S. visas.
What Is a Visa?
When people are traveling internationally they may need a visa of some sort. A visa is what allows them to travel and enter the new country.
Different countries have different visa requirements. Some countries don’t require visas for brief visits while others require visas for any foreign person who enters the country in question.
Visas don’t guarantee entry, but in the United States, they are required for visitors from most countries. The United States has tight borders and visas (as well as passports) will be checked when you enter.
Any U.S. citizens who have lived or traveled abroad don’t require visas for re-entry.
Some countries are covered (or have partial coverage) through the Visa Waiver Program. At the moment there are 39 countries included in the program. This program has other requirements such as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and the ownership of an e-passport.
There are exceptions to the program. If a citizen has traveled to certain countries (including, but not limited to, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and North Korea) they will need a visa unless the travel was for military or diplomatic purposes.
When Do I Need a Visa?
If you’re from a country not covered by the Visa Waiver Program you’re going to need a U.S. visa any time you want to cross the United States border.
These visas can be long-term or short-term and you’ll need to pick the correct one for your travel needs. Even if you plan on full immigration or citizenship you’ll need a visa for travel purposes until you can get accepted. You may need to consult with personal immigration services to have successful immigration.
If you’re from a country that is covered by the Visa Waiver Program you’re still going to need a visa if you plan on staying in the United States for more than 90 days. These 90 days do not reset if you take brief trips to Canada or Mexico.
You are not allowed to extend your stay beyond those 90 days even if you’re traveling with an ESTA. You also won’t be able to change your immigration status.
What Types of Visas Are There?
When you’re applying for a visa you need to make sure that you pick the correct one for your situation. A tourism visa, for example, won’t allow you to work in the United States. Picking the wrong visa can force you to go through the entire process again which can be frustrating and costly.
Here are a few common types of visas that you may need when you’re going to the United States.
Those that involve themselves in an exchange program
These are popular amongst college students who choose to do a work exchange. They are able to experience America and do brief amounts of tourism while they’re there but the focus is on their employment or studies.
This is a nonimmigrant visa. It can be extended or changed should the foreign visitor’s situation change.
Press visas are for people who are representatives of the foreign press. This means that people who are journalists or professionals in the radio or film industries for international companies are able to travel and work on this visa.
These people must be there to report on important U.S. news or facts to distribute to their international audience.
This is a nonimmigrant visa.
If your travel is temporary and only for business or brief tourism purposes you need a visitor visa unless you’re part of the Visa Waiver Program.
These are divided into 2 categories. A tourism visa (B-1) is for those who are traveling for pleasure, brief educational courses, or medical treatment. A business visa (B-2) is for those who are traveling to negotiate deals, visit important meetings, or consult with associates.
You can extend this visa or apply to change your status but it’s a non-immigrant visa.
This is an immigrant visa for foreign nationals who have been accepted to work at American businesses. There are different visa types depending on the work that the foreign national is going to do.
Priority workers and people with advanced degrees or exceptionally specialized skills take priority over other professionals. Other people can be accepted under this visa even if they don’t have specialized skills so long as the employer is willing to sponsor them.
Spousal or Marriage Visas
When a U.S. citizen wants to bring their spouse or fiance(e) to the United States, that spouse or fiance(e) needs to apply for a visa.
A spouse is going to require an immigration visa IR-1 or CR-1 and they need to have had their spouse file a form I-130 for alien immigration. They also need to plan on living in the United States for the foreseeable future and establish domicile.
Someone who plans on marrying a U.S. citizen needs a K-1 non-immigration visa and an approved form I-29F.
They need to have met the citizen in person within the last 2 years aside from extenuating circumstances. They may also need proof that the relationship is genuine. The visa lasts for 6 months but the marriage needs to happen within 90 days. Then you can apply for a green card.
Visas Can Be Complicated, But You Can Get Help
Navigating the visa process can be confusing. There are so many options (more than we can possibly list here) and picking the right one is stressful! What is a visa good for when you pick the wrong one?
It can be helpful to consult with the embassy or immigration services to ensure that you’re making the right decision.
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Andrea Parker is a reporter for Zobuz. She previously worked at Huffington Post and Vanity Fair. Andrea is based in NYC and covers issues affecting her city. In addition to her severe coffee addiction, she’s a Netflix enthusiast, a red wine drinker, and a voracious reader.