In most instances when a citizen of a foreign country wants to enter the United States he or she must first obtain a visa. A U.S. visa provides non-citizens with permission to enter the U.S. and generally remain in the country for a specified period of time. The visa is placed in the non-citizen’s passport or government issued travel document and must be presented at the time of requested entry into the U.S. If you are a U.S. citizen planning to travel abroad you may also need to secure a visa from the country you are seeking to visit. Every nation has its own visa requirements and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs provides country specific travel information in the U.S. passport and international travel information section of its website.
While most non-citizens are required to obtain a visa before traveling to the U.S. there are some exceptions. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) permits citizens of certain countries to visit the U.S. on a temporary basis without securing a visa. Qualified visitors from VWP nations are authorized to remain in the U.S. for a period of 90 days or less. They are limited in their activities and are not permitted to work in the U.S. or enroll as students in degree-seeking program. You can learn more about the VWP by visiting the Visa Waiver Program section of our Towson immigration law firm website.
Once you have secured your visa you are authorized to travel to a U.S. port of entry, airport or land border crossing in order to request permission from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector to enter the United States. The visa does not guarantee entry into the country. However, it does demonstrate to DHS that a consular office at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad has decided that you are qualified to seek entry into the U.S. for the specific purpose(s) indicated.
In the U.S. there are generally two primary types of visas: non-immigrant and immigrant. Non-immigrant visas authorize non-citizens to visit the U.S. for a temporary stay. These visas are for individuals entering the U.S. on a temporary basis and include visits for business (B-1), pleasure, tourism, or certain medical treatments (B-2), or a combination of both purposes (B-1/B-2). In addition to the B-1 business and B-2 pleasure categories, there are a number of other non-immigrant visa categories authorizing temporary travel to the U.S., including student visas. If you are planning to visit the U.S. for a temporary stay and have questions about non-immigrant visa categories our Towson immigration law firm can review your situation and advise you on which category is most appropriate for you.
In the event that you are seeking to travel to and live permanently in the U.S. you will generally need to secure an immigrant visa. There are many different categories of immigrant visas and your purpose for immigrating to the U.S. will determine your specific visa category. In most instances, non-citizens seeking to immigrate to the U.S. will need to be sponsored by a qualified family member or U.S. employer and have an approved petition before they are eligible to apply for an immigrant visa. Foreign individuals may also be eligible to immigrate to the U.S. based on refugee status or asylum, or through other special status types or programs, including Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program).
If you have questions about immigrant or non-immigrant visas we encourage you to contact our Towson immigration law firm. We know that the different categories of U.S. visas can be very difficult to understand and our immigration lawyers are prepared to carefully guide you through each step of the visa process.