Under American immigration laws, any foreign national who seeks to enter the country must present a valid visa at the port of entry, whether it be an airport or a border crossing. This applies even if you are coming into the United States for a few hours, or for vacation.
To obtain a visa to allow you entry into the United States, you must go to the U.S. Consulate in your home country. While every U.S. Consulate has different procedures for applying for a visa, the forms are the same, regardless of where you apply. The key differences are in how the forms are to be presented for consideration.
Additionally, all visa applications require a face-to-face interview. However, each consulate has its own procedures for arranging the interview. Before applying for a visa, visit the consulate’s website to confirm its procedures.
Visas are issued by category. For example, the visa that allows for temporary business or pleasure in the U.S. is classified as a B1 or B2 visa. If you want to come to the United States to go to school, you must obtain an F-1 student visa. If you are a professional worker seeking temporary entry, you must apply for and receive an H-1B visa. You may not stay in the United States as a professional worker on an F-1 student visa, or vice versa.
Your temporary visa will specify the time/period during which you may legally be in the United States. You may leave the country and return during that period but will always have to show your visa upon entry into the United States.
A person’s authorization to be in the U.S. for a specific purpose is referred to as status. For example, a person who enters the U.S. on a B-2 visa is given status for that purpose. The person is not authorized to work in that status. But if the person were eligible and offered a job, he or she could seek to change status to an employment-authorized category without leaving the country and obtaining a new visa in that category.
If the same B-2 visitor files to change status to H-1B professional worker and that change of status is granted, the person can begin work immediately for the sponsoring employer. However, if the person who has changed status leaves the country for a visit back home, he or she will need to obtain the H-1B classification of visa from the U.S. Consulate to be able to re-enter the U.S. and resume employment.
The Visa Waiver Program, administered by the Department of Homeland Security, allows citizens from 38 different countries, including Australia, France, Japan, and the U.K., to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days, for tourism or business, without a visa. All that is needed for entry is a passport. In return, U.S. citizens and nationals may travel to any of those countries without a visa.
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