With all the controversy swirling around immigration these days, you’ve probably heard discussions about visas, how to obtain them, and what happens if you overstay them. Did you know, though, that there are dozens of different types of visas with different requirements, requiring the approval of different agencies? The type of visa that you need depends on your reasons for being in the U.S.
It’s important to understand what a visa does. While a passport is a document issued by your government that allows you to travel, a visa is an endorsement granted by the country that you are entering that allows you to be in that country for business, pleasure, or study. The U.S. offers both immigrant visas (for those who wish to remain in the U.S. indefinitely) and nonimmigrant visas (for those who are in the U.S for a specific, limited purpose). Nonimmigrant visas cover a variety of categories. The most common include:
- B Visas: B visas are split into two subcategories – B1 visas, for those in the U.S. on business (a category that encompasses domestic workers, business visitors, and competitive athletes), and B2 visas, for tourists (including people who come to the U.S. for medical treatment). Tourists from certain countries (including the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, and South Korea) qualify for a Visa Waiver Program, which allows them to stay in the U.S. for up to 90 days. The length of a visitor’s stay under the terms of a B visa is determined by Customs & Border Patrol officials at the time the visitor enters the country, but a B2 visa can allow visitors to remain in the country for longer than 90 days.
- F Visas: F visas are given to students engaged in an extended course of study at a private elementary school, high school, university, or conservatory. Students pursuing vocational training must apply for M visas.
- H Visas: H visas permit employers (either U.S. companies or companies doing business in the U.S.) to sponsor employees for work in the U.S. This category includes H-1B visas (for employees who work in specialty occupations that require a high degree of education or equivalent experience) and H-2 visas (for seasonal employees, in both agricultural and nonagricultural fields). Related visas include O visas (for individuals with extraordinary achievements or abilities) and P visas (for athletes and entertainers).
The U.S. also provides specific visas for journalists, exchange visitors, and religious workers. Depending on the type of visa you wish to obtain, you may have to seek the approval of the Department of Labor, U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or multiple agencies. If you need a visa, it is important to make sure that you understand the different categories of visas and the different rights and restrictions that apply.