What type of nonimmigrant visa is right for me?

According to the US Department of State, over 33,000 immigrant visas and 414,000 nonimmigrant visas were issued in January 2022 alone. Some may have waited years for their visa approval and hope to stay in the United States permanently. Others come to the United States for vacation, to visit family, or to pursue an education. Whatever the reason may be, all hope to experience something new, and for many, it can be life-changing. 

According to US immigration law, “nonimmigrant” is a status for people who enter the United States for a temporary stay – whether for tourism, business, temporary employment, or an educational study program. Most nonimmigrant visas are issued only to applicants who can demonstrate their intentions to return to their home country. On the other hand, the US government uses “immigrant” for foreign nationals living in the United States permanently. 

The US immigration system is complex and has over 30+ categories for nonimmigrant visas alone. In this article, you’ll learn about some of the most common nonimmigrant visa types, a generalized overview of the application process, and how to extend your nonimmigrant visa stay. 

Types of nonimmigrant visas

Nonimmigrant visas are divided into many categories, often based on their purpose and usually covering short-term employment, study, or brief visits for tourism or work. 

Some of the most common immigration visas are:

  • B-1 Temporary Business Visitor
  • B-2 Temporary Visitor 
  • B-1/B-2 Combined visa
  • D Crewmember 
  • E-1 Treaty Trader 
  • E-2 Treaty Investor 
  • E-3 Australian Professional Specialty 
  • G-1 to G-5 visas and the NATO-1 to NATO-6 
  • I Members of the Foreign Media 
  • R Temporary Religious Worker
  • H-1B specialty occupation 
  • L1 intracompany transfer 
  • K-1 Fiancé or Fiancée Nonimmigrant 
  • K-3 Foreign Spouse of a US Citizen 
  • K-4 Children of a K-3 visa holder 
  • M Nonacademic or Vocational Studies 
  • F Academic Student 

Within each type of nonimmigrant visa category is a subset of visas. For example, H visas are temporary work visas are issued to people who come to the United States for employment lasting a fixed amount of time. This employment cannot be permanent or indefinite and is usually seasonal or temporary. An H-1B and H-1B1 visas are for professional-level jobs that require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a specific academic field and an employer sponsor. H-2A and H-2B visas are for seasonal work, either agricultural or non-agricultural, depending on the visa. Outside of H visas, there are additional temporary work visas like the O, E, L, and P visas. 

The various types of student visas can also be very complex. International students must be accepted by their schools or program sponsors before applying for a visa. Students are generally considered nonimmigrants because their sole purpose of coming to the United States is to complete a program of study. Once an international student graduates from their program, they must adjust their visa status or depart from the United States. 

Applying for a nonimmigrant visa

All nonimmigrant visa applications must start outside of the United States at a US embassy or consultation, with the exception of the Visa Waiver Program, which will be explained later. First, you will need to decide which type of visa fits your travel intentions, and then you may proceed with the next following steps:

  1. File Form DS-160

Form DS-160 is submitted electronically to the Department of State website. Take your time answering all the questions accurately and gathering the relevant information. The Department of State website estimates that it takes 90 minutes to complete. We recommend consulting a US immigration lawyer before beginning your application process. Applying for a nonimmigrant visa is a lengthy process. Missing any details or not providing suitable documentation could add additional time and costs to your application process.  

  1. Pay the application fee

Depending on your visa type, you will need to pay a $160 visa fee unless you are a temporary worker, and then you will have to pay a $190 fee. These fees will be payable at the time you submit your DS-160.

  1. Interview

You will need to schedule an interview at your nearest US embassy or consulate. This interview aims to ensure that you comply with all eligibility requirements according to US law. Wait times to schedule an interview can vary greatly depending on your chosen location. Therefore, when applying for your visa, take into account how quickly your interview may be scheduled by checking the visa appointment wait times.

During the interview, you will be asked to bring documents relevant to the type of visa you are applying for. For example, you may be asked to bring proof of a travel itinerary, employment-related documents, or other materials to prove your “nonimmigrant intent.” Nonimmigrant intent means that you intend to return to your home country after visiting the United States. 

The consulate officer will decide whether to grant or deny your visa request or whether further information is required before making a decision. After your interview, there will be a wait for the outcome while your visa is processed. The wait can vary depending on your type of visa, nationality, embassy or consulate location, and the complexity of your case.

While this is a general overview of the nonimmigrant visa process, additional steps may be necessary, depending on your visa type. Therefore, it is highly recommended to consult a reputable immigration lawyer to provide expert guidance on the types of documentation and evidence that will give you the best chances at visa approval. 

Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables most citizens or nationals of 40 participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Travelers must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel and meet all requirements:

  • You are a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program country
  • You do not have a Visitor Visa
  • You are planning to stay in the United States for 90 days or less
  • You are traveling to the United States for business or tourism purposes

The Visa Waiver Program has the same purposes for travel as the B-1/B-2 visa. Entering the United States through the VWP does not authorize you to study or work if you decide to stay long-term. The processing time for the VWP is much faster than a visa and takes less documentation. Unlike other visas, if you enter the US with a valid VWP, it also allows you to visit Canada, Mexico, and nearby islands. 

Extending your nonimmigrant stay

Your length of stay granted on a nonimmigrant visa will depend on your visa type and is determined by a government official from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) at the port of entry. Nonimmigrant visas generally allow at least one extension, depending on the reason and your ability to prove that you still intend to leave the US on your departure date rather than pursue a permanent stay. 

In certain circumstances, you may be able to adjust your visa status from a nonimmigrant to that of a permanent resident by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence, or Adjust Status. According to the USCIS, you can apply for a change in nonimmigrant status from one visa classification to another if:

  • You were lawfully admitted to the US.
  • Your current status is still valid
  • You haven’t violated any of the conditions of your status
  • You haven’t committed any crimes that would make you ineligible

However, in filing for an adjustment of status, you must prove that you did not have dual intent when entering the country on your nonimmigrant visa. The main premise of a nonimmigrant visa is that no matter the purpose of the visit, the duration is specified and temporary. Therefore, if you are found to have the “dual intent” of coming to the United States temporarily while pursuing permanent resident status, your visa application may be denied. 

As a general rule, USCIS will assume that a person entered with a “preconceived intent” to remain in the US if an immigrant petition or adjustment of status application is filed within 90 days. However, the assumption may be disproved if you can provide evidence to show a change of circumstances, such as a job prospect or a romantic relationship that led to a request to stay in the United States. 

Navigating the US immigration system can be very complex when trying to do it independently. Therefore, we highly recommend consulting with an immigration attorney before pursuing an extension or adjusting status. A reputable attorney can provide expert advice on immigration law and ensure your best course of action for a successful outcome. 

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