Types of U.S. Visas and How to Apply for One

March 20 , 2021 by: Leah Martin

Table of Contents

Introduction: What Is a U.S. Visa?

A U.S. visa is a requirement for entry to the United States by a citizen of a non-U.S. country.

While some individuals are eligible to enter the United States without a visa, the U.S. visa is otherwise simply a notation in your own national passport of the legal authorization you have received to enter the United States.

It also conveys to U.S. Customs when you arrive at a port of entry what the purpose of your visit is and the length of time for which you will be allowed to remain in the United States.

Obtaining a U.S. visa can be a complicated and time-consuming process—or not.

It all depends upon who you are, where you are coming from, why you are visiting the U.S., and how long you are planning to stay.

What Types of Visas Are Available for Entry to the U.S.?

There are a variety of different visas available for entry to the United States. However, there are 2 primary categories within which U.S. visas fall:

  1. Immigrant
  2. Non-Immigrant

An immigrant visa is issued for travelers wishing to remain in the United States permanently.

A non-immigrant visa is issued for travelers intending to remain in the United States for a more limited amount of time.

Immigrant Visa Types:

Immigrant U.S. visa types can be distilled into a few different general categories as well.

Spouses, children being adopted by U.S. Citizens, and certain family members are eligible for specific, higher priority U.S. visas.

The Spouse of a U.S. Citizen is eligible for the IR1 or CR1 visa.

The spouse must be a legally wedded husband or wife. In the U.S., this includes same-sex marital partners.

The spouse must be at least 18 years of age. If a polygamous relationship is involved, only the first spouse will qualify for entry under this U.S. visa.

Additional U.S. visas are available for:

  1. Fiancées of U.S. Citizens (K-1);
  2. Intercountry orphans being adopted by U.S. Citizens (IR3, IH3, IR4, IH4);
  3. Other certain family members of U.S. Citizens (IR2, CR2, IR5, F1, F3, F4);
  4. And certain family members of lawful permanent U.S. residents (F2A, F2B).

An unlimited number of U.S. visas are available each year for immediate relatives, such as spouses, children, or parents.

The number of visas for other family members is limited each year. Lawful permanent residents of the U.S. may only apply for a U.S. visa for a spouse or unmarried son or daughter.

The U.S. State Department issues nearly 140,000 employment-based visas each year. These visas require initial steps to be taken by the hiring U.S. employer, and they are prioritized based upon the type of employment—and employee—involved.

So-called Priority Workers are given the highest priority for these visas. These are persons with “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.

These “extraordinary” workers do not require initial offers of employment. This is the E1 visa.

Also within this category are outstanding professors and researches, as well as multinational managers or executives. These immigrating employees do require an advance offer of employment.

The E2 visa is allotted to professional holding advanced degrees and further persons with expertise above the ordinary level in the sciences, arts, and business.

The third priority for employment-based U.S. visa issuance is for skilled workers, professional, and unskilled (or “other”) workers. This is the E3 visa.

The differentiation between the 3 differing classes of workers eligible for the E3 via likes in the amount of training or work experience required for the job in question and whether or not a baccalaureate college degree is required.

An “unskilled” worker is one who can fill a position with less than 2 years of training or experience.

Next in priority, certain “special” immigrants are eligible for the E4 U.S. visa.

The list of those eligible for this sort of via is too long and covers too much topical ground to explore with great detail here, but a few examples of favored professions qualifying as “special” are:

Finally, the E5 visa is available for certain foreign investors who have invested in new commercial ventures in the United States that have created jobs.

There is also, further, the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.

This program makes approximately 50,000 immigrant visas available annually, awarded by random lottery to entries from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.

Eligibility for this DV Program Visa requires that the applicant hold a valid, non-fraudulent passport.

Non-Immigrant U.S. Visas:

The non-immigrant U.S. visas are for designed for travelers visiting the United States who do not intend to remain in the country permanently.

There are numerous such visas available.

However, the most commonly used non-immigrant U.S. visa is the well-known Tourist, or B-2 Visa.

This visa is available to those traveling to the U.S. temporarily for pleasure or medical treatment, who intend to remain for a specific, limited amount of time and who maintain a permanent residence outside of the United States.

While in the U.S. on a B-2 Tourism Visitor Visa, you are not permitted to engage in study, take employment, participate in a paid performance or athletic event, obtain permanent residence in the U.S, or engage in a variety of other activities.

The B-1 Business Visitor Visa, on the other hand, is more specific.

This U.S. visa allows a temporary visitor to offer business consultation, attend a professional conference, negotiate a contract, or settle an estate.

You may also apply for a B-1 Business Visitor Visa to work in the U.S. as a personal or domestic employee in some circumstances.

There are more than 20 different immigrant and non-immigrant U.S visas available, depending upon your geography, profession, and intent for entering the United States, but these are the primary categorizations.

The F and M Visitor Visas are required for those wishing to receive an education in the United States.

Again, the B-2 Tourist Visa does not permit a traveler to study in the U.S.

This visa is required whether you plan to attend high school, university, vocational school, or even a private elementary school.

To obtain this visa, you must first be accepted for enrollment at a school approved as a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (“SEVIS”) institution.

This F and M visas require that you depart the U.S. within 60 days after your educational program is completed.

Your spouse and any unmarried, minor children residing with you may likewise apply for F or M Visas to accompany you.

Are You Eligible for a U.S. Visa Waiver?

Citizens and nationals of certain countries, however, are not required to obtain a visa to enter the U.S. if not intending to remain for more than 90 days.

The Visa Waiver Program, or VWP, requires:

There are approximately 39 VWP Designated Countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Japan, and Germany.

Clarence Alford on Pixabay

How Do You Apply for a U.S. Visa?

The process for applying for a U.S. visa will differ depending upon the type of visa you are seeking, as well as by the U.S Embassy or Consulate you are using for this purpose.

Step One will therefore be to visit the website of that Embassy or Consulate for specific instructions.

However, the process will generally require the following steps.

First, you will need to complete an online visa application form. For, the B-2 Visitor Visa, for instance, this is Form DS-60.

You will likely need to schedule an interview at your selected U.S. Embassy or Consulate as part of the application completion process.

You will need to upload a photo of yourself in the proper format.

In some cases, you may not be required to physically appear for an in-person interview. Otherwise, if you do, you will need to ensure that you bring the proper documentation with you.

Typically, this will include:

Note that wait times for the required in-person appointment can be extensive, so advance planning is essential when visiting the U.S.

For example, as of this writing the wait-time for an in-person appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, is 60 days.

On the other hand, the wait-time for an appointment at the U.S Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, is listed with the U.S. State Department as “999 days.”

This means that this particular Embassy or Consulate is processing only emergency travel applications at this time.

At your in-person appointment, your fingerprints will be recorded. A consular official will then determine whether your application requires further administrative review, or whether your visa application is approved.

If your U.S. Visa application is denied, it is generally because insufficient documentation was presented at the in-person interview.

However, there are specific visa ineligibilities preserved in U.S. law.

For example, you must prove that you are not intending to immigrate to the United States when applying for a non-immigrant visa. If you cannot, you are ineligible for a U.S. Visa.

Additionally, there are health-related, criminal-related, terrorism-related, and foreign policy-related grounds for ineligibility. Communist Party members may also be ineligible, as well as those who have participated in Nazi persecution, genocide, torture, or any extrajudicial killing.

Among other reasons.

If you are determined to be ineligible, you will not receive your processing fee back—but you may reapply for a new U.S. Visa in the future, except in the case of certain of the above ineligibility bases.

If your U.S. Visa is or has expired, you will need to restart the application process from the start to obtain new visa approval.


The bottom line is that the United States is both a welcoming and an administratively intimidating place to visit.

If planning to visit or permanently relocate to the U.S., it is vital that you research your options for your U.S. visa thoroughly, and with professional legal assistance if at all possible.

Whatever your purpose for visiting, point of origin, or the planned length of your stay in the U.S., it is likely that there is a U.S. visa appropriate for your circumstances.

However, as in all things, the devil remains in the details.

Researching your trip properly and with adequate planning time is essential to a successful entry that will allow you to reach your personal, professional, family, or medical goals.

Kate Manigold

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