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U.S. Nonimmigrant Visas

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

On March 1, 2003 services formerly provided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) transitioned into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). The BCIS has changed its name to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Created as a separate bureau by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services operates through a network of local offices, Application Support Centers, Service Centers, local area immigration services field offices, National Customer Service Call (NCSC) Centers, Forms Centers, and the Internet. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services processes all immigrant and non-immigrant benefits provided to visitors to the United States, including: family-based petitions, employment-based petitions, asylum and refugee processing, naturalization, special status programs, and document issuance and renewal.

United States Visas

Foreign nationals who wish to enter the United States usually must obtain a visa unless they are visa exempt. All United States' visas are stamped in the foreign national's passport and indicate that a legally sufficient purpose for entering the United States was presented to a United States consular official.

United States immigration laws distinguish between visas for foreign nationals seeking temporary admission to the United States and visas for foreign nationals seeking to remain in the United States permanently. Those seeking visas for temporary admission are nonimmigrant visas; those seeking to remain permanently are immigrant visas.

At the port of entry to the United States, immigration control officers interview and inspect foreign nationals to assure their eligibility to enter the United States and to determine the duration of their initial period of stay. The arrival document, Form I-94, is stapled to each foreign national's passport when he arrives in the United States for a temporary period. The I-94 indicates his visa category and the last date he may lawfully remain in the United States.

Nonimmigrant visas permit visa holders to stay in the United States for a period ranging from a few days to five or more years. The permitted length of stay depends on the category of the visa. All holders of nonimmigrant visas must intend to stay in the United States for a period that will not exceed the time limit stated in their visas. If a foreign national intends to stay beyond the time limit established in his visa, the applicant is actually an immigrant and must pursue the immigrant visa process. Information on the immigrant visa process is discussed in the immigrant visa section of this website.

Nonimmigrant visas permit numerous activities in the United States, such as opening a business, working, studying and/or visiting. The Immigration Act of 1990 (the "Act") created visa categories identified by combinations of letters and numbers. The letters and numbers correspond to sections of the Act. Each nonimmigrant category has a maximum stay limitation and a list of permissible activities for holders of each visa.

A nonimmigrant who is in the United States may apply to change to another nonimmigrant category or to extend the length of his stay. Most nonimmigrant visa categories have maximum stay limitations. A nonimmigrant can also become eligible for permanent resident status. Information on changing from a nonimmigrant status to an immigrant status is discussed in the immigrant visa section of this website.

Common Nonimmigrant Visas

1) The Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program permits nationals of certain countries to visit the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining B visas from United States consular posts outside the United States before their visits. The countries are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. This list of countries changes from time to time. Anyone planning to use the Visa Waiver Program for a United States visit should contact the United States embassy in his country to confirm his country's status on the list before traveling.

If the Visa Waiver Program is used to enter the United States, an extension of the stay or a change of status is generally not permitted. However, certain immediate relatives of United States citizens may file for adjustment of status in the United States even if they were admitted under the visa waiver program.

2) B-1 Visa (Visitor for Business)
B-1 visas are issued to nonimmigrants temporarily visiting the United States to do business on behalf of foreign employers. United States employers cannot employ B-1 visa holders. B-1 visa holders can negotiate contracts, sell products, develop business contacts, and attend conferences for the benefit of their foreign employer. B-1 visa holders cannot receive salaries or other compensation while in the United States, other than reimbursement for incidental expenses. B-1 visa holders must perform services in the United States that clearly benefit their permanent foreign employer. B-1 visa holders must also remain domiciled in the foreign country to which they intend to return once their temporary United States visa expires.

B-1 business visitors can enter the United States for a period of up to six months. Usually the B-1 visitor is permitted to stay for a 180-day period, however, shorter periods of 30-60 days are also granted. Initial entry for a period longer than six months is not permitted. However, an application for an extension beyond the initial entry period can be approved when circumstances justify the extension.

3) H-1B (Specialty Occupations)
The H-1B visa category applies to foreign nationals employed in specialty occupations that involve theoretical and practical application of highly specialized knowledge and which require a bachelor's degree or its equivalent in work experience. A college degree alone does not qualify a foreign national as a specialty worker; the job must require a degree related to the foreign national's particular field and the college degree that the foreign national earned must be a normal requirement for comparable jobs in the industry and with the prospective employer.

An employer must file a labor condition application with the Department of Labor before the employer can apply for an H-1B visa with the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services. The prospective employer must post a notice of filing the application in two conspicuous locations at the employment site for a period of at least ten business days. If an employer meets the requirements for an extension, the H-1B visa holder is allowed a maximum six-year stay in the United States. A seventh year is available under certain circumstances. The H-1B cap for the fiscal year, which extends from October 1st, of each year to October 1st, of the next year, is usually reached early in the filing period which begins each April 1st, six months prior to the fiscal year start. Absent congressional action to increase the cap on the number of H-1Bs permitted for the fiscal year, applications for new H-1Bs cannot be filed April 1st for start dates of October 1st, of the next fiscal year. However, certain H-1B applications are cap exempt. These cap exempt H-1Bs include H-1Bs who work for universities governmental nonprofit research organizations, or their affiliates. H-1B renewals are also cap exempt. A foreign national who holds an H-1B visa can work for a new employer as soon as the new employer files a "nonfrivolous" application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

4) H-2B Visas (Temporary Workers)
H-2B visas are issued to foreign nationals who are to work temporarily in jobs for which employers can prove a shortage of qualified American workers. A major limitation of the H-2B visa is that the position essentially must be temporary. An employer cannot use an H-2 B visa to place a foreign national in a permanent job that is currently vacant. The employer must prove that the need for the H-2B foreign national comes from a unique, intermittent, or seasonal need and that the need will end within a certain period of time which will not exceed the visa's expiration date. An H-2B worker is permitted to enter the United States for an initial period of one year.

5) H-3 Visas (Trainees)
H-3 visas are issued to foreign nationals who enter the United States for up to two years for training and skill development which will be used in their careers in other countries. Trainees must enroll in structured training programs in the United States at United States companies. Theoretical and practical instruction must be part of the training program; programs that consist solely of on-the-job training are not acceptable for this visa category. The training program must be unavailable in the foreign national's home country. The skills learned must be relevant to the foreign national's work outside the United States.

6) E visas (Treaty Traders and Treaty Investors)
A foreign national who is a citizen of a country that has a Bilateral Investment Treaty or Treaty of Friendship, Commerce or Navigation with the United States can be admitted to the United States to invest in a business or to engage in international trade under two categories of visas based on treaties: E-1 (Treaty Traders) and E-2 (Treaty Investors).

The E-1 (Treaty Trader) visa category permits foreign nationals to enter the United States to engage in substantial trade in goods, services, or technology with treaty countries. The United States enterprise for which the foreign national works must be majority-owned by treaty country nationals. The majority owners can be companies or individuals. The nationality of an enterprise is determined by the nationality of the entity owning at least 50% of the enterprise. An E-1 treaty trader must be an executive or manager or hold a job that requires skills essential to the employer.

The E-2 Treaty Investor category allows investors who are nationals of treaty countries and who invest substantial sums of money in an active business in the United States to remain in the United States to develop, direct and oversee the business. The E-2 visa is available to a foreign national who invests in services, technology, or tangible goods. Managers, executives, and essentially skilled employees from treaty countries are also admissible on E-2 visas.

Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age, regardless of their nationality, may receive derivative E visas to accompany the principal holder of an E visa. A spouse of an E visa holder can apply for an Employment Authorization Document after entry to the United States. Dependents of E visa holders other than spouses are not eligible for employment authorization based on their derivative E status.

TREATY COUNTRIES

The countries listed below have agreements with the United States authorizing either (E-1) treaty trader status, (E-2) treaty investor status, or both, with the United States.

COUNTRY CLASSIFICATION ENTERED INTO FORCE

Albania E-2 01/04/1998
Argentina E-1 12/20/1854
Argentina E-2 12/20/1854
Armenia E-2 03/29/1996
Australia E-1 12/16/1991
Australia E-2 12/27/1991
Australia 13 E-3 09/02/2005
Austria E-1 05/27/1931
Austria E-2 05/27/1931
Azerbaijan E-2 08/02/1901
Bahrain E-2 05/30/1901
Bangladesh E-2 07/25/1989
Belgium E-1 10/03/1963
Belgium E-2 10/03/1963
Bolivia E-1 11/09/1862
Bolivia E-2 06/06/2001
Bosnia & Herzegovina E-1 11/15/1982
Bosnia & Herzegovina E-2 11/15/1982
Brunei E-1 07/11/1853
Bulgaria E-2 06/02/1954
Cameroon E-2 04/06/1989
Canada E-1 01/01/1993
Canada E-2 01/01/1993
Chile E-1 01/01/2004
Chile E-2 01/01/2004
Chile 12 H1B-1 01/01/2004
China (Taiwan) 1 E-1 11/30/1948
China (Taiwan) 1 E-2 11/30/1948
Colombia E-1 06/10/1948
Colombia E-2 06/10/1948
Congo (Brazzaville) E-2 08/13/1994
Congo (Kinshasa) E-2 07/28/1989
Costa Rica E-1 05/26/1852
Costa Rica E-2 05/26/1852
Croatia 11 E-1 11/15/1982
Croatia 11 E-2 11/15/1982
Czech Republic 2 E-2 01/01/1993
Denmark 3 E-1 07/30/1961
Ecuador E-2 05/11/1997
Egypt E-2 06/27/1992
Estonia E-1 05/22/1926
Estonia E-2 02/16/1997
Ethiopia E-1 10/08/1953
Ethiopia E-2 10/08/1953
Finland E-1 08/10/1934
Finland E-2 12/01/1992
France4 E-1 12/21/1960
France 4 E-2 12/21/1960
Georgia E-2 08/17/1997
Germany E-1 07/14/1956
Germany E-2 07/14/1956
Greece E-1 10/13/1954
Grenada E-2 03/03/1989
Honduras E-1 07/19/1928
Honduras E-2 07/19/1928
Iran E-1 06/16/1957
Iran E-2 06/16/1957
Ireland E-1 09/14/1950
Ireland E-2 11/18/1992
Israel E-1 04/03/1954
Italy E-1 07/26/1949
Italy E-2 07/26/1949
Jamaica E-2 03/07/1997
Japan 5 E-1 10/30/1953
Japan 5 E-2 10/30/1953
Jordan E-1 12/17/2001
Jordan E-2 12/17/2001
Kazakhstan E-2 01/12/1994
Korea (South) E-1 11/07/1957
Korea (South) E-2 11/07/1957
Kyrgyzstan E-2 01/12/1994
Latvia E-1 07/25/1928
Latvia E-2 12/26/1996
Liberia E-1 11/21/1939
Liberia E-2 11/21/1939
Lithuania E-2 11/22/2001
Luxembourg E-1 03/28/1963
Luxembourg E-2 03/28/1963
Macedonia E-1 11/15/1982
Macedonia E-2 11/15/1982
Mexico E-1 01/01/1994
Mexico E-2 01/01/1994
Moldova E-2 11/25/1994
Mongolia E-2 01/01/1997
Morocco E-2 05/29/1991
Netherlands 6 E-1 12/05/1957
Netherlands6 E-2 12/05/1957
Norway 7 E-1 01/18/1928
Norway 7 E-2 01/18/1928
Oman E-1 06/11/1960
Oman E-2 06/11/1960
Pakistan E-1 02/12/1961
Pakistan E-2 02/12/1961
Panama E-2 05/30/1991
Paraguay E-1 03/07/1860
Paraguay E-2 03/07/1860
Philippines E-1 09/06/1955
Philippines E-2 09/06/1955
Poland E-2 08/06/1994
Romania E-2 01/15/1994
Senegal E-2 10/25/1990
Singapore E-1 01/01/2004
Singapore E-2 01/01/2004
Singapore 12 H1B-1 01/01/2004
Slovak Rep 2 E-2 01/01/1993
Slovenia11 E-1 11/15/1982
Slovenia11 E-2 11/15/1982
Spain 8 E-1 04/14/1903
Spain 8 E-2 04/14/1903
Sri Lanka E-2 05/01/1993
Suriname 9 E-1 02/10/1963
Suriname 9 E-2 02/10/1963
Sweden E-1 02/20/1992
Sweden E-2 02/20/1992
Switzerland E-1 11/08/1855
Switzerland E-2 11/08/1855
Thailand E-1 06/08/1968
Thailand E-2 06/08/1968
Togo E-1 02/05/1967
Togo E-2 02/05/1967
Trinidad & Tobago E-2 12/26/1996
Tunisia E-2 02/07/1993
Turkey E-1 02/15/1933
Turkey E-2 05/18/1990
Ukraine E-2 11/16/1996
United Kingdom10 E-1 07/03/1815
United Kingdom10 E-2 07/03/1815
Yugoslavia 11 E-1 11/15/1882
Yugoslavia 11 E-2 11/15/1882

FOOTNOTES

  1. China (Taiwan). Pursuant to Section 6 of the Taiwan Relations Act, Public Law 96-8, 93 Stat, 14, and Executive Order 12143, 44 F.R. 37191, this agreement, which was concluded with the Taiwan authorities prior to January 1, 1979, is administered on a nongovernmental basis by the American Institute in Taiwan, a nonprofit District of Columbia corporation, and constitutes neither recognition of the Taiwan authorities nor the continuation of any official relationship with Taiwan.
  2. Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. The Treaty with the Czech and Slovak Federal Republics entered into force on December 19, 1992; it entered into force for the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic as separate states on January 1, 1993.
  3. Denmark. The Convention of 1826 does not apply to the Faroe Islands of Greenland. The Treaty, which entered into force on July 30, 1961, does not apply to Greenland. U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9 - Visas 9 FAM 41.51 Exhibit I Page 5 of 6
  4. France. The Treaty, which entered into force on December 21, 1960, applies to the departments of Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Reunion.
  5. Japan. The Treaty, which entered into force on October 30, 1953, was made applicable to the Bonin Islands on June 26, 1968, and to the Ryukyu Islands on May 15, 1972.
  6. Netherlands. The Treaty, which entered into force on December 5, 1957, is applicable to Aruba and Netherlands Antilles.
  7. Norway. The Treaty, which entered into force on September 13, 1932, does not apply to Svalbard (Spitzbergen and certain lesser islands).
  8. Spain. The Treaty, which entered into force on April 14, 1903, is applicable to all territories.
  9. Suriname. The Treaty with the Netherlands, which entered into force December 5, 1957, was made applicable to Suriname on February 10, 1963.
  10. United Kingdom. The Convention, which entered into force on July 3, 1815, applies only to British territory in Europe (the British Isles (except the Republic of Ireland), the Channel Islands and Gibraltar) and to "inhabitants" of such territory. This term, as used in the Convention, means "one who resides actually and permanently in a given place, and has his domicile there." Also, in order to qualify for treaty trader or treaty investor status under this treaty, the alien must be a national of the United Kingdom. Individuals having the nationality of members of the Commonwealth other than the United Kingdom do not qualify for treaty trader or treaty investor status under this treaty.
  11. Yugoslavia. The U.S. view is that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) has dissolved. The successors that formerly made up the SFRY Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro (formally the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) continue to be bound by the treaty in force with the SFRY at the time of dissolution.
  12. January 1, 2004, also is the effective date for implementation of the immigration provisions of two new Free Trade Agreements with the countries of Chile and Singapore. Under the immigration provisions of these agreements, as approved by Congress in Public Laws 108-77 and 108-78, a new H-1B1 nonimmigrant category has been created for professionals from Chile and Singapore.
  13. The E-3 visa is for nationals of the Commonwealth of Australia who wish to enter the United States to perform services in a "specialty occupation." The term "specialty occupation" means an occupation that requires theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9 - Visas 9 FAM 41.51 Exhibit I Page 6 of 6
    knowledge, and attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States. The definition is the same as the Immigration and Nationality Act definition of an H-1B specialty occupation.

7) L-1 Visas [Intercompany Transferees]
L-1 visas permit foreign companies with branches or affiliated groups in the United States to transfer needed employees to their United States facilities. L-1 visas can be issued to foreign nationals employed abroad in executive or managerial positions, or employed in jobs which require specialized knowledge, for at least one year during the three years prior to admission to the United States. The foreign national must assume comparable duties in the United States with the same employer or with an affiliate or subsidiary of the same employer. In order for an L-1 visa to remain valid, the foreign operation must continue to do business in the foreign country during the entire period of validity of the L-1 visa.

8) O Visas (Extraordinary Ability)
The O visa category applies to persons of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. Foreign nationals must prove their extraordinary ability by demonstrating national or international acclaim. They can enter the United States only to work in their specific field and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services must find that their admission substantially benefits the United States. The spouses and minor children of O visa holders can enter the United States as O-3 visa holders. Employment authorization is not available to those admitted in the O-3 visa category. The maximum time for this visa category is three years, one year at a time.

9) P Visas (Performing Artist)
P-1 visas are issued to internationally recognized entertainers and athletes. P-2 visas are given to reciprocal exchange artists and entertainers. P-3 visas are given to culturally unique artists and entertainers. P-4 visas are granted to family members of P-1, P-2 and P-3 visa holders.

10) J Visas
J visas are issued to exchange visitors so that sponsoring institutions can bring students, researchers and business or industrial trainees into the United States to participate in training programs authorized by the United States Information Agency. If the United States Information Agency approves, a company may start its own training program or use an organization that is already recognized for sponsoring training programs. The trainee can be engaged in any productive employment that gives him knowledge of specific company practices in the United States or of United States business practices in general.

11) F Visas
F visas are issued to students enrolled in academic institutions and F visa holders may work on campus during their studies and school vacations. They may, with authorization, also engage in practical training during the course of their studies or for one year after graduation. An F visa holder seeking post-graduation practical training needs to obtain school approval and employment authorization documents from the U. S.Citizenship and Immigration Services before beginning to work.

All non-United States citizens who remain in the country for 30 days or more must report on Form AR-11 any change in address to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within 10 days of the change. The AR-11 Form may now be filed online.

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