Updated 4 months ago

If you’re moving to the United States for work, study, or to accompany a family member or spouse, it’s important to be aware of the different types available and to begin the application process well in advance of your travel date.

Visitors for less than 90 days can find visitor visa information here and those interested in the procedures for a Permanent Residence Card (green card) can find that information here

 Good to know: The Bureau of Consular Affairs web page offers estimated wait times for appointments at your nearest embassy or consulate.

Categories of visas

All visa categories are separated into two main types: nonimmigrant and immigrant visas. The type of visa you should apply for is determined by the purpose of your travel to the U.S. Two of the most commonly issued are the H-1B and L visas. The H-1B visa is an immigrant visa for skilled occupational workers. L visas are nonimmigrant visas for intra-company transfers, that is, employees of international companies who are transferring to the U.S. branch. Read How to find a job in the U.S. to get started with the work search and consequently the visa procedure.

Nonimmigrant visa categories are for those who have a permanent residence outside of the U.S. but will reside in the U.S. temporarily. These are issued to individuals for business, work (skilled and non-skilled), students, those in transit to other countries, journalists, and spouses of permanent residents. In order to be approved, you’ll need to demonstrate that you intend to return to your home country and that you have the financial means to support yourself while in the U.S.

Immigrant visas are issued to those wanting to live permanently in the U.S. These visas are primarily granted to those with immediate family or who have certain other familial relationships with people who are current permanent residents. Others are granted through employment sponsorships or for religious workers.

 Important: Some visa regulations are currently subject to regular changes and revisions. Additionally, visa approval for certain countries is experiencing delays and holds. If you’re unsure whether this you will be affected, it is advisable to consult at the consular or embassy in your country.

Visa documents and application process

The visa application process and documentation varies for each type of visa and also depends on the location where you submit the application. You should first visit a U.S. embassy or consulate in your resident country for the exact steps required for your visa type.

Generally speaking, the process consists of providing needed documents and applications, paying a fee, and attending an interview. All applicants are required to provide a passport valid at least six months beyond the period of stay, a photo (make sure to use U.S. standards), and proof that the associated visa fees have been paid. During your interview appointment, digital fingerprints and a photo will be taken. Occasionally a medical examination or additional documents may be required. After these requirements are met, you will be advised whether or not your visa has been approved and the next steps for collecting your visa/passport.

 Important: You must depart the United States on or before the date indicated on your admission stamp or I-94 form unless your request to extend your stay is approved by USCIS. If not, you risk deportation and difficulty reapplying for a visa in the future.

Student Visas

Anyone wishing to study in the U.S. must have a student visa. The type of school and course of study will determine whether you need an F-1 or M-1 visa. F-1 type visas are for students of academic programs like university and primary, secondary, and language schools. M-1 type visas are for all other vocational and non-academic institutions.

Before you can submit the application for an M or F category visa, you must show proof that you’ve been accepted to an approved school. You will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) which requires a fee. The school will provide a Form I-20 which you will present at your visa interview. Spouses and children of international students may accompany them by submitting their own Form I-20. For more information, see "Study in the USA". 

Other visa types:

There are roughly 185 types of visas issued by the United States. For more information about these specific visas, please contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence or speak with an immigration attorney.

 Useful Links:

List of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad
Directory of U.S. Visa categories
Student Visa information

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.