Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) nationals of certain countries don’t need to apply for a tourist visa, however, they are requested to have an Electronic System for Travel Authorization approval (ESTA) before entering the U.S. Normally ESTA is valid for two years unless the passport has been renewed, the name in the passport has changed, there was a change of gender, or a change of citizenship. If your country qualifies for the Visa Waiver Program and your ESTA is approved, it is important to remember that the maximum time to stay in the United States is 90 days. People who over-stay that period of time without justification might not be able to enter the country again in the future.
Travelers who don’t qualify for the Visa Waiver Program will need to apply for a tourist visa (B2) at the closest U.S. embassy or consulate in their country, fill all the required documents, have an interview with an officer, and pay a non-refundable visa fee. Interviews need to be scheduled ahead of time and, depending on the country, can take from a few weeks to a few months to happen. Visas are not guaranteed, so it is recommended not to make any travel plans until the visa has been issued. Travelers with tourist visas are not allowed to work in the U.S.
People who wish to study in the U.S. and take advantage of its great education system need to apply for a student visa. There are two types of student visas, F for university, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or language training programs, and M for vocational schools or other recognized nonacademic institutions. Once the student has been accepted to study in a school they will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and will receive an I-20 which is the necessary document to make an appointment at the local U.S. embassy or consulate for the visa interview. If the interview has a positive outcome, then the student visa will be granted for the period of enrollment in the school. Entering the U.S., both the visa and the I-20 must be shown to the immigration officer. Students who do not fulfill the school’s academic requirements can have their I-20 suspended and, by consequence, their student visa cancelled, forcing the return of the student to their country. Anyone looking to study in the U.S. cannot do it under the Visa Waiver Program or with a tourist visa.
Individuals who wish to participate in exchange visitor programs such as au pair, camp counselor, research scholar, government visitor, high school exchange student, or summer work travel, must apply for an exchange visa (J). Applicants to the exchange visa program must apply for and be accepted by a designated sponsoring organization which will register the individual in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and will provide a Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status (DS-2019). Once the applicant is registered in SEVIS, it is necessary to complete an online nonimmigrant visa application called DS-160, upload a passport picture, and print out the application form confirmation to take to the interview together with the Certificate of Eligibility at the local U.S. embassy or consulate.
Anyone wishing to go to the United States to conduct temporary business such as business meetings, consultations, attending conventions, taking part in conferences, or negotiating contracts must apply for a business visa (B-1) unless they qualify for the Visa Waver Program. Applicants must fill an online nonimmigrant visa application (DS-160), upload a passport picture, and print out the visa confirmation page to be able to make an appointment at the local U.S. embassy or consulate to interview with an immigration officer. After approval at the interview, a visa will be granted. It is recommended not to make any travel plans until the visa has been issued. This type of visa does not allow you to accept employment in the United States.
Working in the United States temporarily as a lawful nonimmigrant is possible and there are few available visas depending on the work that will be performed.
|H-1B||To work in a specialty occupation. Requires a higher education degree or its equivalent|
|H-1B1||To work in a specialty occupation. Requires a post-secondary education degree with at least four years of study in the field of specialization.|
|H-2A||For temporary or seasonal agricultural workers.|
|H-2B||For temporary or seasonal non-agricultural workers.|
|H-3||To receive training that is not available in the individual’s home country.|
|L||To work in a branch, parent, affiliate, or subsidiary of the current employer in the U.S.|
|O||For people with extraordinary abilities and achievements in science, arts, education, business, or athletics.|
|P-1||To perform in a sports competition or as a member of an entertainment group.|
|P-2||To perform in an exchange program between an organization in the U.S. and another in another country.|
|P-3||To perform, teach, or coach in a program that is culturally unique or traditionally ethnic.|
|Q-1||For practical training about culture, history, and traditions of your home country in an international cultural program.|
Some of these visas are limited to a certain number per year and once they have all been allocated it is necessary to wait until the following fiscal year opens and more visas are available to apply for one. Also, these temporary worker visas require that the employer requests a labor certification or other certifications from the Department of Labor on behalf of the employee before filing a petition for workers.
Individuals wishing to work in media or journalism assignments in the United States need to apply for media a visa (I). This type of visa is for individuals in the press, radio, and print industries representing an organization in their home country. They are not allowed to accept employment in the U.S. but just collect information related to news or events in the country and report them back to the organization that they represent in their own country.
Employees of international airlines or sea vessels need to apply for a crewmember visa (D). This type of visa requires that the person shows proof of being employed by the company they represent and departs the United States withing 29 days of arrival on the same flight or vessel or different ones if they are in transit through the country.
This type of visa is for travelers who do not qualify for the Visa Waiver Program and do not have a valid visitor visa. The Transit Visa (C) allows passengers to spend a certain time in transit in the United States while they board another flight or vessel to another country. It does not allow travelers with this type of visa to leave the airport or the port to visit relatives/friends or go out for sightseeing, even if the transit period is long. When applying for a Transit Visa in the passenger’s country at the US embassy or consulate, the applicant must show a valid ticket with a reasonable transit time and a final destination outside the United States territory.
The U.S. immigration system provides two different types of visas for religious workers, SD for Ministers of Religions and SR for certain religious workers. To qualify for any of these visas the applicants must show that they have continuously been carrying the religious occupation that they intend to deliver in the U.S., and they are currently working for a non-profit religious organization with a base in the U.S. These types of visas are limited to a certain number per year and once the limit has been reached it is necessary to wait until more visas are available to file a new petition. Holder of religious worker visas are limited to working only in religion-relate areas for the organization that filed the petition on their behalf.
To qualify for this type of visa (A-1 or A-2) applicants must travel to the United States to represent their national government and must engage only in activities related to their mission. They are not allowed to do any other job that is not officially representing their country. Immediate family members also receive the same visa as the applicant. Assistants, domestic personnel, or attendants to diplomats and foreign government officials may also request an A-3 visa to perform their duties with the main applicant.
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