There are several reasons you may want to visit the United States. You could be looking to pursue higher education in an American university, visit a family member, seek medical care, or invest in an American business. Regardless of whether you plan to visit the United States as a tourist or permanently immigrate, you may have many questions about the process. This guide aims to answer some basic but frequently asked questions.

What is a U.S. visa?

A visa is a travel document issued by a foreign country that permits the holder to enter and stay in the country for a definite time. A foreigner who seeks to enter the United States must have a valid U.S. visa on their passport placed by a U.S. consular or embassy. Having a U.S. visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S. However, it does indicate that a U.S. consular or embassy in a foreign country has determined that the visa holder is qualified to seek entry for a particular purpose. A visa is issued for a particular purpose and for a definite time. For example, an Indian citizen who wishes to pursue higher education in a U.S. university must enter with a valid student visa (F-1), which is placed on their passport. The student visa is issued for up to five years and you may be allowed to extend your stay for the entire duration of your studies as listed on your I-20 document. You must travel to the U.S. with a valid visa and request entry at one of the ports of entry before the expiration date listed on the visa.

What is a passport?

A passport is a travel document issued by a country to its citizens for identification and international travel. It contains the passport holder’s photo, name, date of birth, gender, and physical characteristics. For example, the U.S. issues a passport to its citizen that identifies and allows them to regain entry into the country. A U.S. passport holder must have a visa to enter a foreign country. However, some countries may allow U.S. citizens entry with just a passport. A passport-holder U.S. citizen may enter and stay in Canada for business or tourism for six months without a visa, while they must have one to enter China. A U.S. passport is valid for ten years if the U.S. citizen is at least sixteen years old at the time of issuance. The issue date is listed on the data page of your passport book. It is advised that your passport be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of your visit. Some airlines may not allow you to board the plane if this requirement is not met.

What is the difference between a passport and a visa?

It’s important to note that a passport and a visa are two separate travel documents. A passport is a travel document issued by a government to its citizen that contains the holder’s identity. It looks like a small book with a data page and several blank pages. The data page contains information about the passport holder. The blank pages are where a visa stamp is placed by an immigration officer of the country you wish to travel to. Whereas, a visa is an endorsement by a foreign country on a passport, which permits the holder to enter that country for a specific purpose and a definite period. For example, if you wish to visit Turkey for less than 90 days, you must first have a valid passport issued by the country of your citizenship. You want to make sure that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the dates of your visit. Then you must apply for a visitor visa at a Turkish mission located in your country –  which if approved, is placed on your passport. Better yet, you may obtain a visitor visa through the e-Visa application system. More countries are now offering e-Visas that allow visitors to obtain visas remotely without having to make a trip to a consul or embassy of the destination country. Simply put, a passport is a travel document that looks like a small book with several pages on which a visa is placed by the destination country. A passport is issued by the country of your citizenship while a visa is issued by a foreign country you wish to visit.

What does a U.S. visa do?

A visa allows the holder to travel to a U.S. port of entry and present themselves to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. The purpose of the visit must match the visa type. For example, an international student who wishes to pursue higher education in the U.S. must have a valid student visa –F, J, or M visa type. However, you must note that a visa does not guarantee entry to the U.S. The CBP officer at the port of entry will inspect to determine whether the person is eligible for admission. After entry, you must abide by the purpose and duration of the visa. Engaging in activities other than the one listed on your visa or overstaying your permitted duration may result in serious legal consequences or even worse, bar on future entry.

What does having a visa mean?

Having a visa means you are eligible to travel to the country’s port of entry and request an inspector’s permission to enter the country. For example, a U.S. visa on your passport allows you to travel to a port of entry, airport, or land border crossing, and request admission with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. You must travel to the U.S. with a valid visa and present yourself at the port of entry before the expiration date listed on your visa. If your visa is expired or is expiring soon, the airline may likely deny you boarding to the U.S. It’s a good practice to make travel arrangements months in advance and be cognizant of the visa expiration date so that you do not run into this situation.

How do you get a U.S. visa?

If the purpose and duration of your visit require a visa, you must complete and submit a visa application. Then, you must collect pertinent documents and schedule a visa interview appointment at the most convenient U.S. embassy or consulate. At the interview, a consular officer will determine whether you satisfy the visa requirements. Once the officer determines that you do, the consulate will issue a visa and return your passport. Depending on the type of visa and duration of your stay, the process may take anywhere from two weeks to several months. Additionally, case backlogs or temporary health regulations at the particular U.S. Consular or Embassy can have a significant effect on visa time.

What is an immigrant visa?

An immigrant visa is a visa that’s issued to a foreign national who intends to live and work permanently in the U.S. An immigrant can be sponsored for a visa by an employer or a family member. For example, a U.S. citizen can sponsor their non-citizen spouse for an immigrant visa by completing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. There are broadly three immigrant visa types – immediate relative & family-based, employment-based, and diversity visa. An immigrant visa is usually valid for six months unless your medical examination expires sooner. When traveling to the U.S., the visa holder must apply for admission no later than the visa expiration date printed on the passport.

To be eligible for a family-based immigrant visa, you must be a spouse, child, or parent of a U.S. citizen or a relative, like a sibling. You may also be eligible for an immigrant visa if you are a spouse or an unmarried son or daughter of a lawful permanent resident. For an employment-based immigrant visa, you must fall into one of the three preference immigrant categories. These employment-based categories include the first preference (EB-1), second preference (EB-2), and third preference (EB-3).

Is an immigrant visa a green card?

No, an immigrant visa is not a green card. An immigrant visa allows the immigrant to enter the U.S. with the intent to live and work permanently. Subsequently, a person becomes a lawful permanent resident upon the first admission to the U.S. with an immigrant visa – evidenced by a new physical card, the Green Card. In short, an immigrant visa is a travel document allowing its holder to enter the U.S., while a Green Card is the person’s evidence of their lawful permanent residence status. Once you have received your immigrant visa, you must travel to and enter the U.S. before the visa expires. If admitted at the port of entry, you will enter as a lawful permanent resident, also called a green card holder. In most cases, the USCIS issues a green card ( I-551) to a newly arrived immigrant within 120 days.

How do I get an immigrant visa?

An immediate relative, a family member, or an employer must sponsor you for an immigrant visa. They must start by first filing an immigrant petition for you. After your petition is approved and your visa is current, you may apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consular or an Embassy. Then, you get a medical examination and complete a visa interview with a consul officer. Conditioned on approval, the officer will notify you of the time and place to collect your passport. An immigrant visa may take anywhere from 6 to 24 months from filing the petition to approval by the U.S. Embassy. The timeframe heavily depends on the USCIS, NVC, or the U.S. Embassy’s backlogs. If your immigrant visa is approved, the consul officer will inform you when and where to pick up your visa and passport. Before you travel to the U.S., you must pay the USCIS immigrant fee to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Finally, you must arrive and apply for admission to the U.S. no later than the date printed on your visa.

What is a nonimmigrant visa?

A nonimmigrant U.S. visa is an international travel document that allows its holder to enter the U.S. for a temporary period and is restricted to activities consistent with their visa. A nonimmigrant visa holder permanently resides outside the U.S. and wishes to visit only temporarily for tourism, study, medical treatment, etc. The allowed duration of your nonimmigrant visa depends on the visa type. For example, the tourist visa is valid for 10 years after being issued. However, you must note that the visa duration is not the same as the maximum stay allowed on each entry. Although a tourist visa is valid for 10 years, you are allowed to stay in the U.S. only for 180 days per entry. Some examples of nonimmigrant visas are for student, tourist, temporary worker, and temporary religious worker visa.

Oklahoma City Immigration Attorney

The immigration process can be daunting and intimidating. You may be unsure of what to expect from the process. But you do not have to navigate the legal maze alone. Vivid Niroula is an Oklahoma Immigration Attorney serving Oklahoma City Metro area. He prides himself on providing the highest level of service and will help you at every step of the process. Our practice includes family-based immigration, marriage-based green cards, employment-based immigration, PERM, EB-1, EB-2, EB-3 green cards, and other immigration matters. We respond quickly and our rates are affordable.

Call the law office of Vivid Niroula today at (405) 456-9250 or contact us through our website for a free consultation.