Types of U.S. Visas
There are many different types of U.S. visas. A visa is an actual document that a foreign national presents at a U.S. port of entry. Generally speaking, foreign nationals need a valid, unexpired visa to enter the U.S. There are exceptions to this.
Foreign nationals using a visa to enter the U.S. must intend to engage in the activities in the U.S. that the visa category allows. For example, a person that comes to the U.S. on a temporary H-1B work visa needs to work for the specified U.S. H-1B-petitioning employer after entering the United States. A student admitted to the U.S. on a student visa needs to attend school, and so on.
The validity periods that are printed on U.S. visas do not control how long a foreign national is allowed to remain in the U.S. Authorized periods of stay in the U.S. are controlled by I-94 records and other factors.
U.S. Visitor Visa
A U.S. Visitor Visa is for temporary stays. Visitor visas are mainly applicable for tourism or business purposes. Vacations, visiting friends or family, medical treatment, and non-credit study all fall under the tourism category. This is called a B-2 visa.
Visitor visas can also be issued to individuals traveling for business affairs like settling an estate, attending a conference, training purposes, or negotiating a business contract. This is called a B-1 visa. Though an individual may travel under a B-1 visitor visa to conduct business or to attend an educational conference, they cannot use this type of visa for study, employment, or to begin the process of naturalization.
U.S. Work Visa
The U.S. fiscal year begins October 1st and ends September 30th of the following calendar year. During this time, 140,000 work visas are available for issuance to candidates who meet the required qualifications. Five preference categories are used to organize and prioritize work visa applications. Children and spouses of the worker can also be granted a visa. Before applying to immigrate as an alien worker, the foreign citizen must first obtain approval from the Department of Labor.
People who possess an extraordinary ability in their field are given the highest preference for entrance. In addition, highly skilled and educated professionals are given the next highest preference for entrance. Temporary worker visas may also be issued and are based on country of origin and worker qualifications. Understanding what category you may eligible for, as well as how to most efficiently complete the application and employment verification process involves assistance from an immigration law firm.
How to Apply for a U.S. Immigrant Visa
If you are applying at a U.S. Consulate, then after your immigrant petition has been approved you will need to complete an immigrant visa application. The assistance of an immigration law attorney at this stage can be critical. An experienced immigration attorney can determine if you are applying for the correct visa status and guide you through the often-complex immigration visa application process. You will need to pay required government fees and file your application with the National Visa Center (NVC). In coordination with submitting your application for review, you will also need to provide the NVC with proof of financial documents and other supporting documents. The delivery method for submitting your documents to the NVC varies depending upon your citizenship country. For citizens of some countries the supporting documents are submitted online, for other countries via email, and for still other countries by sending hard copies to the NVC. These procedures often change as the NVC updates them for efficiency.
As part of the completion of this process, eventually you will need to undergo a personal interview by a consular officer at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy to determine your eligibility to immigrate to the United States. Background checks and other steps must also be completed as part of this stage. The consular officer will review your case and interview you in person. The interview usually occurs in your home country. Under some circumstances you can be interviewed in another country as a “third country national.” Because of the importance of your personal interview it is best to have a qualified immigration attorney prepare you for your consular interview
Completing the U.S. Immigrant Visa Application Online
The Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC), overseen by the Bureau of Consular Affairs under the U.S. Department of State, has made an immigrant visa application form accessible online to foreigners applying for a U.S. immigrant visa. This process involves filing the Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application and sometimes also the Online Choice of Address and agent.
Because of the importance of truthfully, accurately, and completely providing your information and answering the many questions that are asked of you on your online immigration visa application form, it is best to have an immigration law attorney to guide and counsel you about completing this important step.
U.S. Immigrant Visa Requirements
In order to be considered for approval for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate in your country, a U.S. citizen, a potential employer, or a green card holder who is a relative of the applicant generally must sponsor the foreign citizen. The sponsor is called the “petitioner” and the foreign national is the “beneficiary.”
The petition is filed to establish that the requisite relationship exists that is recognized under U.S. immigration law. For instance, a U.S. citizen filing a petition for a foreign national spouse must prove that relationship. Only after the petition is approved can an applicant/beneficiary continue their immigrant visa process.
Getting your Petition and U.S. Visa Status
Immigration visa petition and application status wait times will vary depending upon the visa category of your pending petition and/or application. To check the status of your immigration visa petition or application, you will need to enter your 13-digit petition or application receipt number on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website here.
You can also check the current USCIS processing times by accessing the USCIS website link for processing times here. Identify your type of pending petition or application and the USCIS regional center or USCIS field office that is processing your petition or application, and you will be able to view the current processing times for your case. Keep in mind that USCIS posted processing times are only approximate at best. Processing times often change depending upon shifting U.S. government priorities and other factors that can speed up or slow down a particular visa category.
Applicants who have already completed this step and are waiting to find out the status of their U.S. visa should visit the website for the U.S. Department of State. In order to check the visa status, you will be required to enter your application type and case number.
Understanding U.S. Visa Fees
The Department of State requires that visa fees be collected from immigrants under most circumstances. The breakdown of fees varies, becoming specific to the status an applicant has been assigned. Individuals entering on petition-based visas will be required to pay a $190.00 fee. However, an individual may accrue additional fees before being allowed entrance.
Individuals who encounter a border crossing will accrue additional fees associated with a border crossing card. Border crossing cards hold validity for 10 years for adults.
Border crossing cards for children also remain valid for 10 years. However, the card will no longer be valid after the child turns 15, even if it is within the 10 year period.
U.S. Immigration Interview Questions
An experienced immigration law attorney should help prepare you for the interview portion of the immigration process. Your interview will take place either in the United States or at the appropriate U.S. Consulate abroad, depending on where you filed and your eligibility category.
If your interview occurs at the U.S. Consulate, then a consular officer will review your case and ask you questions. If your interview occurs within the United States then a USCIS immigration officer will interview you at the local USCIS district field office that has jurisdiction over where you live. The interviewing officer uses your personal interview as an important tool to assess your eligibility. Officers review applicants’ case filings, the results of their background checks and other information, and they ask probing questions to the person being interviewed. Sometimes the interview is recorded or videotaped.
U.S. Immigration Entrance Limits
The U.S. limits the number of immigrant visas that it issues yearly to immigrants. There are multiple categories for family-based and employment-based immigrants. Each category receives a certain allowable number of slots from the total number of immigrants that can immigrate every year to the United States. These limits also vary by country (per country quotas) and when the prescribed limits for each respective category are reached, the foreign national applicants in those categories are placed on a waiting list.
Your place on the list is based on your applicable category and your country. The date that you or your U.S. employer filed your immigration petition to USCIS or that your U.S. employer filed a labor certification application to the U.S. Department of Labor is your filing date. That filing date is referred to as your “priority date.” Individuals with the oldest priority date in each category are placed at that top of the waiting list and all others follow chronologically.
The U.S. Department of State publishes what is called a “Visa Bulletin” each month. The available numbers for each category with per country quotas are listed on each monthly Visa Bulletin. Only when your priority date on the Visa Bulletin is either current or before the published date in your category are you allowed to then apply for a green card.
Waiting for your priority date per the Visa Bulletin can be a relatively short period of time or it can take many years, depending upon your category, country of chargeability, and other factors. That is another reason why it is so important to work closely with an experienced immigration attorney from the beginning of your immigration journey to plan and prepare the best course of action for you and for your family.