A United States visa grants travelers from foreign countries the right to travel to a U.S. port of entry, airport or land border crossing and request permission to enter into the country. A visa does not guarantee admission into the United States, but it does indicate that a U.S. Embassy or consulate has pre-screened a traveler and that they meet the eligibility requirements for entering the United States for a specific purpose and a specified amount of time.

There are some instances that allow expedited entry into the country such as the Trusted Traveler program. Others, such as the Visa Waiver Program, allow entry without actually having to obtain a visa.

Border entries are determined by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection Division. At the border, an inspector will make the final determination as to whether or not a traveler may enter the United States. The Department of Homeland Security also has responsibility for immigration issues that come up while a visitor is in the United States.

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United States immigration laws determine what kind of visa a traveler to the U.S. must obtain. Approximately 185 kinds of visas are issued by the United States, and determining which one best suits a traveler’s needs starts by determining which broad category a traveler’s purpose falls under.

Nonimmigrant Visas

Nonimmigrant visas are issued for travel to the United States on a temporary basis. Travelers seeking a nonimmigrant visa may include:

  • Athletes
  • Short-term business people
  • Diplomats
  • Cultural exchange visitors
  • Media and journalists
  • Teachers and scholars
  • Tourists
  • Victims of human trafficking
  • Specialty occupations with highly specialized knowledge

Applicants must be able to demonstrate the following when they apply for a nonimmigrant visa:

  • They will be in the U.S. for a pre-determined purpose
  • They will be in the country for a finite amount of time
  • They have strong ties to their country of residence
  • They fully intend to leave after their visit

Immigrant Visas

Immigrant visas are for travelers who want to come to the United States to live on a permanent basis. For the most part, they must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, immediate relative, a potential employer, or have an approved visa petition before they apply for an immigrant visa.

To prevent a single country from dominating immigration into the United States, no group of immigrants may exceed 7 percent of the total amount of immigrants entering the U.S. in a single year.

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How to apply for a visa

For most visa applications, there are six steps:

  1. Preparation is important – Before you can apply for a visa, you need to which kind of a visa you will need. It will be based on the purpose of your visa and how long you intend to stay in the United States. Knowing what kind of visa you’ll need will allow you to focus your efforts on all the details that are appropriate to your situation.
  2. Schedule an interview – In most all cases, you’ll need to be interviewed by a U.S. embassy or consulate staff official. As soon as you know your travel dates, contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country to schedule an appointment for an interview. Lead times vary by country but can take weeks to schedule depending on the country. Also note that fees must be paid before your interview takes place and those fees are non-refundable.
  3. Prep your documents – Prior to your actual interview, you will need to gather all the documents that are pertinent to your application so that you can present them at your interview. At a minimum, you will need a valid passport, a completed application, uploaded headshot photos, and other supporting documents to present at your interview. Being thorough and prepared will increase your chances of visa approval on the first go-around.
  4. Submit documentation for review – All documents will need to be reviewed by embassy and consular staff. In some cases, documentation will need to be sent to Washington, D.C. for additional review. This could take several weeks before a visa is either issued or the application is denied.
  5. Additional review may be required – In some cases, questions may come up about your application. This could trigger an additional review process up to and including official registration and fingerprinting.
  6. Complete arrival and departure forms – If and when your visa is approved, you will receive it from the U.S. embassy. When you travel to the United States and arrive at your port of entry, you will go through a brief interview and then you will need to complete an arrival/departure form stating the specifics of your stay in the United States. In some rare cases, a more extensive admission process may be required.

Understanding the student visa process

Student visas are among the most popular and sought after type of nonimmigrant visa. If you are a student in another country and you want to pursue a course of studies in the United States, you will first need to obtain a student visa. But there are certain conditions unique to acquiring a student visa that an applicant should be familiar with.

Obtaining a student visa is a process that normally takes several months. To be successful, you must understand everything that is involved and give yourself plenty of time to work through all the requirements.

The first step actually takes place as much as a year in advance. That’s when a student should decide what course of study they want to follow and then find institutions who match those ambitions and interests.

It is essential that the college, university or vocational school chosen is accredited by the government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Accreditation is the key because it ensures a degree is recognized by institutions and governments worldwide. Even more important, SEVP accredited institutions are the only ones that can enroll students in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

SEVIS gives students the documents they will need to apply for a student visa. Once you have been accepted at an educational institution, you will be enrolled in SEVIS. After you pay a SEVIS enrollment fee, you will begin the process of generating student visa documentation that you’ll need.

Next, you must make an appointment at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country for a U.S. student visa application. While some requirements may vary by country, in all cases you’ll need to complete a nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-160 prior to your interview. Waiting times for an interview will vary by country, so you should allow plenty of time and attempt to schedule the interview four to six months before your anticipated travel to the United States.

Prior to your interview you should gather documents to support your student visa application, including:

  • A passport good for at least six months beyond your anticipated stay in the United States
  • A signed SEVIS Form I-20
  • A SEVIS receipt page showing you have paid the fee
  • A DS-160 confirmation page
  • A visa application receipt page
  • Appropriate photographs if you did not already upload them as part of your student visa application process

It’s also a good idea to bring transcripts and diplomas from any school you have already attended, as well as test scores from standardized tests. 

Last but not least, consulate officials will need to see proof that you will be able to financially support yourself for school and living expenses while attending school in the United States.

Following the interview, you will either receive a student visa, or asked to provide more information, or you will be denied entry.

Entering the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program

Designed to streamline travel to the United States for short-term tourists and business travelers, the Visa Waiver Program allows citizens from designated countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without securing a visa.

Foreign visitors can travel to all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories, with some limitations.

Currently, 38 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program. Most of these are high-income, developed countries with high levels of per capita income, education and other related socio-economics statistics that produce an above average standard of living for natives of those countries.

Countries currently participating in the Visa Waiver Program are:

Andorra
Australia
Austria
Belgium
Brunei
Chile
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
Italy
Japan
South Korea
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Monaco
Netherlands
New Zealand
Norway
Portugal
San Marino
Singapore
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
Taiwan
United Kingdom

Foreign citizens from these countries can participate in the Visa Waiver Program, but they must go through a screening process that includes having passports and applying for an authorization to travel through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

ESTA was created to enhance security measures for people traveling to the United States. It pre-screens travelers who want to participate in the Visa Waiver Program against several terrorist and no-fly databases compiled by the United States and other foreign governments.

An ESTA authorization is valid for two years or until a traveler’s passport expires. It can be used for multiple entries into the United States. There is a $14 fee to register for ESTA, and travelers who do not meet requirements must instead apply for a visa.

There is also a program for visitors coming to the U.S. territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Nationals from several Asian and Pacific Island nations are allowed to travel to these destinations visa-free for up to 45 days. This program does not allow travel to the United States mainland.

The Compact of Free Association allows citizens of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau to live, study or work in the United States without a visa. This diplomatic relationship with the United States grants benefits to citizens of these territories in exchange for international defense responsibilities to be administered by the U.S.

Expedited entry through Trusted Traveler Programs

There are four Trusted Traveler Programs that expedite travel for low-risk and pre-approved travelers who want to enter the United States.

  • Global Entry – Travelers who are pre-screened and enrolled in the Global Entry Program enjoy numerous benefits. Clearing customs is quicker and there are no customs processing lines to go through.
  • Pre-approved members of the Global Entry program use automatic kiosks at selected airports in the United States. Travelers simply present their machine-readable passport or permanent resident card, have their fingerprints scanned and complete a customs declaration.
  • NEXUS Pass – A NEXUS pass allows travelers quick access through the U.S./Canada border. Pre-screened, low-risk Canadian and United States citizens are issued NEXUS cards which are good for air, land or sea travel.
  • SENTRI Pass – A SENTRI pass is the same as a NEXUS pass, but applies to travelers passing through the U.S./Mexico border. Cards are issued to Mexican and U.S. citizens, saving considerable time, even during peak border crossing periods.
  • FAST Program – The Free and Secure Trade (FAST) program was initiated after 9/11. It applies to low-risk commercial cargo shipments entering the United States, Mexico and Canada.

To participate in FAST, every link in a company supply chain must be certified under the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program. Currently, more than 10,000 companies worldwide have already met this certification standard.

For more information on all the Trusted Traveler programs, consult the US Customs and Border Protection.

Reasons To Be Denied a Visa

To enter the United States, you must have a valid reason for your travel and if you are applying for a nonimmigrant visa, you must have a stated duration for your visit. Because the review process for visas is fairly thorough, that can flag several possible reasons why you might be denied entry into the United States. Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Your paperwork is incomplete. Most times, you’ll be allowed to complete or correct any paperwork associated with your visa, and then be able to resubmit it for consideration.
  • You misrepresent facts on your application or supporting documents. Consular officials will take a dim view of any application in which fraud is committed. If you are caught, you will be denied entry to the United States, and depending on the nature of the fraud, that ban could last a lifetime. In addition, if it can be shown that you are planning to stay beyond the stated time your visa allows, and the intent can be proven, you will also be denied entry as well.
  • You have a criminal record. Not every crime is a basis for being denied a visa, but if you have a recurring crime history or you have links to terrorist or espionage groups, you will be denied entry.
  • You have previous immigration violations. If you have already attempted to enter the United States and been shown to either already have been in the country illegally, or attempting to enter the country illegally, you will be denied entry and could face a bar from the United States for a minimum of three years.
  • You are financially unable to support yourself upon entry into the United States.

For more information

For Nonimmigrants

United States Department of State nonimmigrant visa applications and fee information 

For Immigrants

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services immigrant visa applications and fee information 

Which U.S. Visa Do You Need?

There are approximately 185 kinds of visas issued by the United States, and determining which one best suits your needs can be a daunting task. This Eligibility guide will assist you and give you resources to make your visa application to travel to the United States as smooth as possible.

Most citizens of foreign countries who want to travel to the United States must acquire a visa. This document is placed inside the traveler’s passport and outlines the nature and duration of the traveler’s visit. Due to agreements and programs put in place by the United States government, certain travelers do not have to obtain a visa if they meet other requirements set forth by U.S. officials.

A visa grants travelers the right to travel to a port of entry, airport or land border crossing and request permission to enter into the United States. Ultimately, border entries are determined by the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection. At the border, an inspector will make the final determination as to whether or not a traveler may enter the United States.

By itself, a visa does not guarantee admission into the United States, but it does indicate to officials that a U.S. Embassy or Consulate has pre-screened a traveler and that they have met the eligibility requirements necessary to enter the United States for a specific purpose.

Types of Visas

There are two basic types of visas for which you can apply: nonimmigrant and immigrant visas. Within each of these, there are several sub-categories of visas that can be issued. The purpose of your travel is the primary factor in determining what kind of visa is required for your stay. 

For both types of visas, there are specific and unique requirements that will need to be met prior to being approved. It is up to the potential applicant to research what these requirements are as part of their initial application process.

Nonimmigrant Visas

Nonimmigrant visas are issued to people who want to come to the United States for a specifically defined purpose and duration of time. Some of the primary purposes under this category are:

Many other reasons fall into this category as well. Potential applicants must demonstrate the following criteria during the application process:

  • they will be in the United States for a pre-determined purpose
  • they will be in the United States for a finite amount of time
  • they have a strong ties to their country of residence
  • they fully intend to leave after their visit

Immigrant Visas

As the name implies, an immigrant visa is for those people seeking to move to the United States on a permanent basis. If you want to immigrate to the U.S. you must have a petition approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service before you can apply for an immigrant visa. Depending on your particular situation, the review process can be rigorous and several factors may impact your ability to secure an immigrant visa. They include:

  • not supplying complete information
  • misrepresenting the information provided
  • a criminal history with serious incidents
  • an inability to show sponsorship by a U.S. relative or qualified sponsor
  • an inability to show financial capability to supporting yourself after you immigrate
  • previous violations on record with U.S. officials

No group of immigrants from a single country may exceed 7 percent of the total amount of people immigrating to the United States in a single year. This is done to prevent one country’s immigrants from dominating inflows into the U.S.

Each year, U.S. officials also determine the maximum amount of refugees who will be allowed in the country because they are fleeing their native country due to life-threatening situations. Priority is given to refugees depending on the level of risk they face and whether or not they already have family members living in the United States. Refugees who are already in the United States may apply for asylum to become permanent residents one year after their original admission into the country.

To become a full United States citizen, immigrants must have had a green card--also known as Long Term Permanent Resident status--for five years, and meet other criteria, including:

  • show continuous residency in the United States
  • be ready to demonstrate good moral character
  • pass U.S. history, civics and English exams
  • pay an application fee

List of nonimmigrant visas

This chart lists most of the of non-immigrant visa categories.

Purpose of Travel
Visa Category
Required: Before applying for visa*
Athlete, amateur or professional (competing for prize money only)
B-1
(NA)
Au pair (exchange visitor)
J
SEVIS
Australian professional specialty
E-3
DOL
Border Crossing Card: Mexico
BCC
(NA)
Business visitor
B-1
(NA)
CNMI-only transitional worker
CW-1
(USCIS)
Crewmember
D
(NA)
Diplomat or foreign government official
A
(NA)
Domestic employee or nanny - must be accompanying a foreign national employer
B-1
(NA)
Employee of a designated international organization or NATO
G1-G5, NATO
(NA)
Exchange visitor
J
SEVIS
Foreign military personnel stationed in the United States
A-2
NATO1-6
(NA)
Foreign national with extraordinary ability in Sciences, Arts, Education, Business or Athletics
O
USCIS
Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Professional: Chile, Singapore
H-1B1 - Chile
H-1B1 - Singapore
DOL
International cultural exchange visitor
Q
USCIS
Intra-company transferee
L
USCIS
Medical treatment, visitor for
B-2
(NA)
Media, journalist
I
(NA)
NAFTA professional worker: Mexico, Canada
TN/TD
(NA)
Performing athlete, artist, entertainer
P
USCIS
Physician
J , H-1B
SEVIS
Professor, scholar, teacher (exchange visitor)
J
SEVIS
Religious worker
R
USCIS
Specialty occupations in fields requiring highly specialized knowledge
H-1B
DOL then USCIS
Student: academic, vocational
F, M
SEVIS
Temporary agricultural worker
H-2A
DOL then USCIS
Temporary worker performing other services or labor of a temporary or seasonal nature.
H-2B
DOL then USCIS
Tourism, vacation, pleasure visitor
B-2
(NA)
Training in a program not primarily for employment
H-3
USCIS
Treaty trader/treaty investor
E
(NA)
Transiting the United States
C
(NA)
Victim of Criminal Activity
U
USCIS
Victim of Human Trafficking
T
USCIS
Nonimmigrant (V) Visa for Spouse and Children of a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)
V
(NA)
Renewals in the U.S. - A, G, and NATO Visas

(NA)

(Source) 

*What the abbreviations above mean - Before applying for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, the following is required:

  • DOL = The U.S. employer must obtain foreign labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor, prior to filing a petition with USCIS.
  • USCIS = U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approval of a petition or application (The required petition or application depends on the visa category you plan to apply for.)
  • SEVIS = Program approval entered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
  • (NA) = Not Applicable - Additional approval by another U.S. government agency is not required prior to applying for a visa

Immigrant visa categories

The chart below contains different purposes for immigrating to the United States, and the related immigrant visa categories. It contains most, but not all, immigrant visa categories.

Immediate Relative & Family Sponsored
Visa Category
Spouse of a U.S. Citizen
IR1, CR1
Spouse of a U.S. Citizen awaiting approval of an I-130 immigrant petition
K-3 *
Fiancé(e) to marry U.S. Citizen & live in U.S.
K-1 *
Intercountry Adoption of Orphan Children by U.S. Citizens
IR3, IH3, IR4, IH4
Certain Family Members of U.S. Citizens
IR2, CR2, IR5, F1, F3, F4
Certain Family Members of Lawful Permanent Residents
F2A, F2B
Employer Sponsored – Employment

Employment-Based Immigrants, including (preference group):
Priority workers [First]
Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability [Second]
Professionals and Other Workers [Third]
Employment Creation/Investors [Fifth]
Certain Special Immigrants: [Fourth]
E1
E2
E3, EW3
C5, T5, R5, I5
S (many**)
Religious Workers
SD, SR
Iraqi and Afghan Translators/Interpreters
SI
Iraqis Who Worked for/on Behalf of the U.S. Government
SQ
Afghans Who Worked for/on Behalf of the U.S. Government
SQ
Other Immigrants

Diversity Immigrant Visa
DV
Returning Resident
SB


The steps involved in applying for a U.S. visa

 There are some exceptions, but in general, these are the steps you will need to take to obtain a United States visa.

  • Do your homework. To be as prepared as possible, your first step should involve researching the various types of visas and what the requirements are for each for your particular country. The United States Department of State administers visas and has created a thorough and comprehensive website that details much of what you’ll need to know. If you still have questions, you can also contact the nearest U.S. embassy or Consulate for more information.
  • Make an appointment. Contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country and set up a day and time to visit them. You should schedule your appointment as soon as you know your travel dates to the United States since lead times for appointments can sometimes take weeks and visa application procedures can vary from country to country. When you make contact for an appointment, make sure you ask what the application fees will be and how they can be paid. Fees are paid before your appointment and they are non-refundable.
  • Prepare your documentation. You will need to have a valid passport and completed applications, as well as documents to support your application. These documents will provide details of the reason for your travel to the United States and may include employment documents, financial information, and other related materials. You will also need proof that you have paid your fees for the application in advance. If you are a student, contact the academic institution sponsoring you and get the forms you will need to turn in along with your application. Finally, you will need to have uploaded a photo while completing your online form, or if the photo fails to upload, you will need to bring a printed photo in the format explained here
  • Submit your documents for review. Your application and supporting materials will be reviewed by embassy and consular staff. In some cases, the documentation may also be reviewed by officials in Washington, D.C. In a majority of cases, visas are issued within a few weeks of submission.
  • An additional review might be required. Your information will be thoroughly checked in various databases in the United States and by foreign law enforcement agencies. In some cases, questions may arise necessitating further review or more information, up to and including official registration and fingerprinting. These processes could add several weeks to the processing of your request. 
  • Complete an arrival/departure form. If your visa is approved and you do travel to the United States, you will be asked to complete a short arrival/departure form. At your port of entry, a U.S. official will conduct a brief interview and verify your paperwork. If you are admitted to the United States, you will get an immigration stamp. In some instances, the admission process may be a bit more extensive, and you could be subject to special clearance steps, including additional registration forms, reviews, photos and fingerprints.

Visa Application Forms and Fees

The United States Department of State and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Department provide a comprehensive list of visa applications and fees that are required for each one.

For Nonimmigrants

United States Department of State nonimmigrant visa applications

For Immigrants

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Forms and Fees

While a vast majority of people seeking to enter the United States will require a visa, some programs allow a visa to be waived. Other programs requiring visas are specialized in nature. Some of these specialized programs are:

The Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program was created to short-term travel to the United States easier for tourists and business travelers. Under the Visa Waiver Program, citizens from designated countries can travel to the United States for up to 90 days without securing a visa. The program applies to all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories, with some limitations.

As of 2015, there are 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. Generally, they are high income, developed countries with several positive economic indicators such as per capita income, level of education and other related socio-economics statistics that produce an above average standard of living for natives of those countries.

Countries currently participating in the Visa Waiver Program include:

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brunei
  • Chile
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • United Kingdom

Other countries can be nominated to participate in the program, but they must first undergo a rigorous approval process. There is no guarantee that nominated countries will be added to the roster of approved countries and there is no specific timeframe for approval or denial. Additionally, a country already in the program may be withdrawn at any time if U.S. officials feel that country has violated Visa Waiver Program restrictions.

To participate in the Visa Waiver Program, all travelers must have passports and apply for an authorization to travel through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

ESTA is an online system of travel authorization that was created to bolster security in the United States. It pre-screens participating passengers in the Visa Waiver Program against terrorist and no-fly databases. An ESTA authorization is valid for two years or until a traveler’s passport expires and it can be used for multiple entries into the United States. There is a $14 fee to register for the ESTA program and travelers who do not meet the requirements under ESTA must instead apply for a visa.

Although not a part of the Visa Waiver Program, there is also a specific program for visitors coming to the U.S. territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Nationals from several Asian and Pacific Island nations are allowed to travel to these destinations visa-free for up to 45 days. However, this program does not allow travel to the United States mainland.

Citizens of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau also do not require visas to live, study or work in the United States. They are part of the Compact of Free Association, a mutually beneficial diplomatic relationship with the United States. The compact grants benefits in exchange for international defense authority and responsibilities to be administered by the U.S. in each of these countries.

NAFTA: The North American Free Trade Agreement

Professional workers from Canada and Mexico enjoy certain benefits related to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA began in 1994 and allows citizens throughout North America to move more freely between countries if they work in designated professional occupations. These workers are granted TN status and under this agreement, American, Mexican or Canadian workers can work for up to three years in these countries. Workers from Canada are granted TN-1 status and workers from Mexico are granted TN-2 status.

The TN designation is a special non-immigrant status that can also be renewed indefinitely, although it is not intended to be a permanent visa for foreign nationals.  

For Canadian professional workers, securing TN-1 status does not involve obtaining a visa and the overall process is fairly simple. The Canadian TN-1 status seeker must provide written proof of a job offer in an included recognized area of occupation. This paperwork is presented at the border or any port of entry, along with a $50 application fee and proof of Canadian citizenship. An immigration officer will then make a determination and grant or deny TN-1 status on the spot. Approved workers can enter the United States and begin work immediately. 

TN-1 status is good only for the original employer for which it was granted. If the Canadian worker changes employers, they must return to the border and complete a new application. Spouses and dependent children under the age of 21 may apply for TD status so they may join their working spouse in the United States. Being granted TD status does not allow them to work, only to attend school.

Mexican citizens are required to obtain a visa as a TN-2 nonimmigrant. This is generally done at a U.S. Consulate in Mexico. If approved, the Mexican citizen’s passport is stamped with a TN visa stamp and they may enter the United States under TN-2 status.

List of Professions covered NAFTA

The following professions are covered by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Profession1
Minimum Education Requirements or Alternative Credentials
General

Accountant
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or C.P.A., C.A., C.G.A. or C.M.A.
Architect
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial license2
Computer Systems Analyst
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or Post-Secondary Diploma3 or Post-Secondary Certificate4, and three years experience
Disaster Relief Insurance Claims Adjuster (claims Adjuster employed by an insurance company located in the territory of a Party, or an independent claims adjuster)
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree, and successful completion of training in the appropriate areas of insurance adjustment pertaining to disaster relief claims; or three years experience in claims adjustment and successful completion of training in the appropriate areas of insurance adjustment pertaining to disaster relief claims
Economist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Engineer
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial license
Forester
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial license
Graphic Designer
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years experience
Hotel Manager
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree in hotel/restaurant management; or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate in hotel/restaurant management, and three years experience in hotel/restaurant management
Industrial Designer
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years experience
Interior Designer
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years experience
Land Surveyor
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial/federal license
Landscape Architect
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Lawyer (including Notary in the Province of Quebec)
LL.B., J.D., LL.L., B.C.L. or Licenciatura Degree (five years); or membership in a state/provincial bar
Librarian
M.L.S. or B.L.S. (for which another Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree was a prerequisite)
Management Consultant
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or equivalent professional experience as established by statement or professional credential attesting to five years experience as a management consultant, or five years experience in a field of specialty related to the consulting agreement
Mathematician (including Statistician)
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Range Manager/Range Conservationalist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Research Assistant (working in a post-secondary educational institution)
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Scientific Technician/Technologist5
Possession of:
(a) a theoretical knowledge of any of the following disciplines: agricultural sciences, astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, forestry, geology, geophysics, meteorology or physics; and
(b) the ability to solve practical problems in any of those disciplines, or the ability to apply principles of any of those disciplines to basic or applied research
Social Worker
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Sylviculturist (including Forestry Specialist)
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Technical Publications Writer
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years experience
Urban Planner (including Geographer)
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Vocational Counselor
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree


Medical/Allied Professional

Dentist
D.D.S., D.M.D., Doctor en Odontologia or Doctor en Cirugia Dental; or state/provincial license
Dietitian
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial license
Medical Laboratory Technologist (Canada)/Medical Technologist (Mexico and the United States)6
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years experience
Nutritionist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Occupational Therapist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial license
Pharmacist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial license
Physician (teaching or research only)
M.D. or Doctor en Medicina; or state/provincial license
Physiotherapist/Physical Therapist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial license
Psychologist
State/provincial license; or Licenciatura Degree
Recreational Therapist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Registered Nurse
State/provincial license; or Licenciatura Degree
Veterinarian
D.V.M., D.M.V. or Doctor en Veterinaria; or state/provincial license


Scientist

Agriculturist (including Agronomist)
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Animal Breeder
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Animal Scientist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Apiculturist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Astronomer
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Biochemist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Biologist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Chemist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Dairy Scientist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Entomologist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Epidemiologist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Geneticist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Geologist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Geochemist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Geophysicist (including Oceanographer in Mexico and the United States)
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Horticulturist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Meteorologist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Pharmacologist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Physicist (including Oceanographer in Canada)
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Plant Breeder
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Poultry Scientist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Soil Scientist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Zoologist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree


Teacher

College
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Seminary
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
University
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
  1. A businessperson seeking temporary entry under this Appendix may also perform training functions relating to the profession, including conducting seminars.
  2. "State/provincial license" and "state/provincial/federal license" mean any document issued by a state, provincial or federal government, as the case may be, or under its authority, but not by a local government, that permits a person to engage in a regulated activity or profession.
  3. "Post-Secondary Diploma" means a credential issued, on completion of two or more years of post-secondary education, by an accredited academic institution in Canada or the United States.
  4. "Post-Secondary Certificate" means a certificate issued, on completion of two or more years of post-secondary education at an academic institution, by the federal government of Mexico or a state government in Mexico, an academic institution recognized by the federal government or a state government, or an academic institution created by federal or state law.
  5. A businessperson in this category must be seeking temporary entry to work in direct support of professionals in agricultural sciences, astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, forestry, geology, geophysics, meteorology or physics.
  6. A businessperson in this category must be seeking temporary entry to perform in a laboratory chemical, biological, hematological, immunologic, microscopic or bacteriological tests and analyses for diagnosis, treatment or prevention of disease.

The United States offers three kinds of student visas based on the type of educational opportunity a student is seeking. They are:

  • F Student Visa – allows a student to study at an accredited U.S. college or university. Students may also study English at an English language institution.
  • J Exchange Visa – allows a student to participate in a high school or college level exchange program.
  • M Student Visa – allows a student to enroll in a U.S. based non-academic or vocational training program.

Potential students can apply for a visa up to 120 days prior to the start date of their curriculum. When you are admitted to the United States on a student visa, it is usually for the duration of your program of studies. As with other visa applicants, an interview will be part of the process application process. However, as a potential student in the United States, the consular official may skew certain questions that are more pertinent to your particular situation. Specifically, the interviewer may focus on:

  • Specific educational objectives – what are your long-range plans and your possible career options in your home country? This is a critical point. You must be able to state how the program you are pursuing fits into your long-range plans.
  • Proof of academic qualification – your interviewer will want to know you are academically qualified to attend the institution in question. If you have a letter of acceptance, you should bring it with you to help make your case.
  • Language issues – can you speak English well enough so that you will have a greater chance of success at your chosen school? You should be able to speak for yourself in your interview to demonstrate this ability, even if you are a minor and need to bring parents to your interview in the event of questions that are more directed to them.

Before you can apply for a student visa you must apply and be accepted at a United States-based college or university that is a part of the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP). The SEVP was created and is administered by the Department of Homeland Security to provide a greater level of tracking and security for government organizations that might have an interest in nonimmigrant students coming to the United States as students. 

Learn how to obtain a student visa here.

Trusted Traveler Programs

United States Customs and Border Protection created Trusted Traveler Programs to speed travel for low-risk and pre-approved travelers. Kiosks and dedicated lanes at ports of entry and borders allow for quick entry into the United States. There are four Trusted Traveler Programs:

Global Entry – Travelers who are pre-screened and enrolled in the Global Entry Program enjoy several benefits. Waiting times to clear customs is shorter and there are no customs processing lines to go through. There’s also no paperwork to deal with and Global Entry is offered at dozens of airports across the country. 

Pre-approved members of the Global Entry program use automatic kiosks at selected airports in the United States. At the kiosks, travelers present their machine-readable passport or permanent resident card, have their fingerprints scanned and complete a customs declaration. Global Entry cards are issued to U.S. citizens and Mexican nationals after an extensive background check and in-person interview.

A list of airports with kiosks for the Global Entry program is here.

NEXUS Pass – A NEXUS pass allows travelers to pass through the U.S./Canada border in an expedited manner. Cards are issued for pre-screened, low-risk Canadian and United States citizens. Travelers can use the NEXUS card for air, land or sea travel.  

SENTRI Pass – A SENTRI pass is similar to a NEXUS pass, but it applies to travelers who want to quickly pass through the U.S./Mexico border. Cards are issued for pre-screened, low risk Mexican and United States citizens and can save considerable time, even during peak border crossing periods. 

FAST Program – The Free and Secure Trade program was initiated after 9/11 and applies to low risk commercial cargo shipments entering the United States, Mexico and Canada. It is open to truck drivers from these three countries that have passed background checks and met other eligibility requirements. To participate in FAST, every link in the supply chain must be certified under the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program. Currently, more than 10,000 companies worldwide have already met this certification standard.

For more information on all the Trusted Traveler programs, go here.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program

Countries with historically low rates of immigration can take part in the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. Up to 50,000 immigrant visas are available annually and selected at random from six geographic regions throughout the world. To ensure that no one country dominates immigration efforts, no more than seven percent of participants can be from any single country.

To participate in this program, registrants must have a high school education or two years of qualifying work experience. Detailed instructions on how to register are available at the U.S. Department of State’s website, located here.

Just as every visa is different, so too is the amount of time you can spend in the United States under the terms of your visa.

The list below shows how long each type of visa holder can stay in the United States. This assumes that your passport is not in danger of expiring, in which case the date you must leave could be significantly shortened.

When you are issued an I-94 arrival/departure record, it will show the date you must leave the United States. 

  • A-1, A-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G4 diplomats, government representatives, and staffs: Eligible to stay for the “Duration of Status,” meaning they can stay as long as U.S. Secretary of State recognizes them as a member of the diplomatic category. 
  • A-3 and G-5 domestic staff members: 3 years. Can be extended in two year increments.
  • B visitors for business or pleasure. One year at most, but generally six months. Six-month extensions may be granted.
  • C-1 transit through the United States. Only for as long as immediate and continuous transit while passing through the United States. Emergency extensions only.
  • C-2 representatives to the United Nations: The duration of your mission at United Nations Headquarters.
  • C-3 government representatives in transit: Up to 29 days. No extensions
  • D crewmembers: Up to 29 days. No extensions.
  • E treaty traders and treaty investors: Two year initial stay. Extensions in two-year increments.
  • E-3 Australians in specialty occupation: Two year initial stay. Extensions in two-year increments.
  • F academic students: May stay as long as needed with no extension applications required, provided they meet certain criteria:
  • Must remain enrolled, full-time, in an educational program at an approved school
  • Must be making progress in completing course of study
  • In compliance with all terms of F-1 status.
  • H-1B temporary workers in specialty occupations and distinguished fashion models: Can be initially granted up to a three-year stay 
  • H-1C registered nurses: Three-year maximum. No extensions allowed.
  • H-2A temporary agricultural workers: Maximum of up to 12 months. One year extensions available up to a maximum of three years.
  • H-2B temporary skilled and unskilled workers: Maximum of up to 12 months. One year extensions available up to a maximum of three years. 
  • H-3 trainees: The length of the proposed training program, plus up to ten days before and after the start and end dates.
  • I representatives of foreign information media: May remain in the United States for the length of their assignment.
  • J exchange visitors: Depends on the type of program or appointment. Sometimes duration of statusplus an added 30 days to beginning and end of program. Maximum total time is five years, and no more than six months for short-term scholars.
  • K-1 fiances of U.S. citizens: 90 days. No extensions.
  • K-3 spouses of U.S. citizens: Up to two years initially, or until the I-130 visa petition filed by the U.S. citizen spouse has been approved by USCIS and the immigrant can apply for a green card.
  • L intracompany transferees: Three years with two-year extensions.
  • M vocational students: Length of the vocational program as shown on SEVIS Form I-20, up to one year, plus a 30-day grace period in order to prepare to depart the United States. Extensions granted if the program goes beyond departure date.
  • NATO personnel: Duration of assignment, as coordinated with the U.S. Department of Defense.
  • O persons with extraordinary ability and their support personnel: Time needed to accomplish their event or activity. One-year extensions granted. No maximum.
  • P athletes, entertainers, and artists: Time needed to accomplish event or activity. Initially up to five years for athletes, one year for other artists and entertainers. Extensions possible. Ten-year maximum for athletes; no maximum on others.
  • Q participants in an international cultural exchange program: Time needed to accomplish event or activity, up to 15 months.
  • R clergy and religious workers: Time needed to accomplish the activity, with a maximum initial stay of three years. Extensions granted up to a total stay of five years.
  • S informants: Three years, plus extensions if supported by law enforcement.
  • T victims of trafficking: Four years with the ability to apply for a green card after three years.
  • TN, TD NAFTA professionals from Canada: One year plus one year extensions, with no overall maximum.
  • TN, TD NAFTA professionals from Mexico: Initial stay up to the validity period of the TN visa application, plus 12-month extensions with no overall maximum.
  • U victims of crimes assisting law enforcement: Four years with extensions if a law enforcement agency certifies that continued presence in the U.S. is required to assist in the criminal investigation or prosecution.
  • Visa waiver program: 90 days. 30-day emergency extensions.

Visa denials and the appeal process

You do not have the right to appeal nonimmigrant visa decisions. However, you can reapply for a visa as many times as you like, with the understanding that you must go through the complete application process each time you apply.

There are several reasons why an immigrant visa might be denied and in many cases you have the right to file an appeal. The Administrative Appeals Unit of U.S. Customs and Border Protection oversees most of the appeals and if you receive a denial, they will advise if you have the right to appeal, what appeal form you should use and how much time you have to file the appeal.

Depending on your situation, you may need to supply more documentation, further document your personal finances, family situation or commitments in your home country.