All types of visas offered by the US

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Updated 2021-08-02 12:38

The United States of America is one of the most popular immigration destinations in the world. According to the 2020 Current Population Survey (CPS), there are about 85.7 million immigrants in the country - which accounts for 26% of the US population. The US is also a popular travel destination. In 2019 alone, the country was visited by over 79.26 million people.

Whatever your plans for coming to the county are (whether it is for work, residency, family or simply to travel), you need to be aware of all related visa procedures and rules. And this is what this article will cover.

Types of visas in the US

The US issues around 185 different types of visas. This article will not cover all 185 visas - but we will look into some of the most common visa types for entry into the US.

There are two main categories that these visas can be divided into: immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas.

Immigrant visas are issued to those who are moving to the US permanently.

Nonimmigrant visas are issued for temporary visits to the country: travel, business, work, education, family visits, etc.

Here are some of the main visas offered by the US:

Visitor Visas

These types of visas are granted to those who want to come to the United States to stay for no longer than six months. These include: B1 visas for business visits and B2 visas for tourism visitors.

Student Visas

The F and M visas are issued to people who come to the US for academic and vocational purposes. There are several categories of these visas:

  • F1 visa is issued to students.
  • F2 visa is issued to dependents of F1 visa holders.
  • M1 visa is granted to those who come to the US for vocational purposes.

Exchange Visitor Visas

These visas are meant for those who come to the US to participate in exchange programs.

  • J1 visa is for Au pairs, temporary scholars, students, teachers and professors, interns and summer Work & Travel program participants.
  • Q visas are granted to people who come to the US as part of a cultural exchange program.

Temporary Work Visas

These types of visas are issued to people who come to the US for temporary work. There are several categories of temporary work visas:

  • H-1B visa is meant for professionals in specialized fields that require a lot of training and expertise.
  • H-1B1 visa is offered to Chile and Singapore nationals in accordance with the US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Chile and Singapore. It gives visa holders the right to work and live in the US.
  • H-2A visa is issued to agricultural workers from select countries.
  • H-2B visa is issued to temporary seasonal workers but not in the agricultural industry. It is only granted to individuals from select countries.
  • H-3 visa is given to those who want to undergo specialized training in the US.
  • L1 visa is for intracompany managers or executives.
  • O visa is open to people with extraordinary abilities in arts, science, business, education and athletics. There are three types of O visas:
  1. O1 visa is issued to people with extraordinary abilities.
  2. O2 visa is issued to the assistants of O1 visa holders.
  3. O3 visa is granted to the dependents of O1 visa holders.
  • P visas are meant for athletes, entertainers and artists. They are further subdivided into:

  1. P-1 visa for individual and team athletes or members of entertainment groups.
  2. P-2 visa for artists/entertainers that perform in the US individually or in a group.
  3. P-3 visa for artists/entertainers who come to the US to perform, teach or coach.
  • R visa is issued to temporary religious workers who want to practice their beliefs in the United States.
  • TN/TD visas are for citizens of Canada and Mexico who work for NAFTA.
  • E3 visas are issued to Australian nationals who come to the US to work in specialized fields.
  • I visa is meant for journalists. It is typically given out to individuals working for the press, film, radio, or print industries who come to the US to take part in media activities.

Treaty Trader and Investor Visas

The Treaty Trader and Treaty Investor visas are issued to people who have treaties of commerce in the US. They are subdivided into the E1 trader visa and the E2 treaty investor visa.

Diplomatic and Official Visas

There are several types of visas issued for diplomatic and other official purposes:

  • A1 visa is issued for diplomats and foreign visa officials.
  • A2 NATO1-6 visa is meant exclusively for military personnel stationed in the United States.
  • G1-G5 NATO visas are issued for those who have been employed by an international organization in the United States.

Visas for Victims of Crime and Human Trafficking

  • T visa is granted to victims of human trafficking. It is meant for people who have gone through severe trauma and can also help with investigations in related crimes.
  • U visas apply to victims of crime. People who have been victims of certain criminal activities and can assist in the investigation.

Transit and Crewmember Visas

There are several categories of these visas:

  • C visa is for transit.
  • D visa is for crew members who intend to work on a sea vessel or international airline.

Immediate Relative & Family Sponsored Visas

These visas are meant for family and relatives of those residing in the US:

  • F2A and F2B visas are issued to family members of US permanent residents: their spouses, minor children, unmarried sons and daughters aged 21 or above.
  • IR-2 visa is meant for unmarried children under 21 years old.
  • IR5 visa is for parents of US Citizens who are at least 21 years old.
  • F1 visa is for unmarried sons and daughters as well as their minor children.
  • F3 visa is issued to married sons and daughters as well as their minor children.
  • F4 visa is meant for siblings of US citizens, their spouses and minor children.
  • IR3, IH3, IR4 and IH4 are adoption visas meant for children from other countries who are about to be adopted by US citizens.

Fiance and Spouse Visas

There are several types of fiancé and spouse visas:

  • K3 visas are for spouses of US citizens who are in the process of applying for their permanent immigration status.
  • IR1 and CR1 are visas issued to spouses of US citizens.
  • K-4 visas are for children of K-3 visa holders.

Employer-Sponsored Visas

These visas are issued to immigrant employees:

EB1 visa or Employment First Preference Priority Workers visa is granted for people with an extraordinary ability: a researcher, multinational executive, etc.

Employment Second Preference Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability visas are for those who have the needed qualifications and a job offer in the US.

Employment Third Preference Skilled Workers, Professionals and Unskilled Workers visa are for individuals holding an approved Petition for Alien Worker filed by their employers.

EB-5 visa is offered to immigrant investors.

SI visa is issued to Iraqi and Afghan Translators or Interpreters who work for the US military.

SQ visas are meant for Iraqi or Afghan citizens working with the US government.

Diversity Immigrant Visas are issued to people who come from countries with low immigration rates to the US.

SB visa (Returning Resident Visa) is meant for permanent US residents who had to remain outside the US for reasons out of their control and their re-entry permits are not valid anymore.

Do you need a visa to the US?

In most cases, you will need a visa to visit the US. However, if you are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program or are a citizen of Bermuda or Canada, you will be able to travel to the country visa-free for up to 90 days. The purpose of your visits must be the same as of B1 (business visit) or B2 visa (tourism) holders.

The Visa Waiver Program lets citizens of 39 countries travel to the US visa-free for tourism and business purposes. This includes the following countries:

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

Note that if you are a citizen of one of the countries above, you can visit the US visa-free. However, you will need to apply for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) from the US Customs and Borders Protection's (CBP).

All travelers also need to have an electronic passport with biometric information.

Applying for a US visa

Applying for a US visa is a very straightforward process. In most cases, it involves filling out an online application and scheduling an appointment at the embassy for an interview. The specifics of the process, needed documents as well as possible interview questions will depend on the type of visa you are applying for.

Entry into the US

It's important to note that possessing a valid US visa DOES NOT guarantee entry into the country. The body that makes the decision on whether you can enter the US is the border patrol.

When you arrive in the US, you will first be required to go through immigration and then customs to verify your identity and background. A decision will then be made regarding your entry and stay in the country.

Border patrol officials have the authority to detain you and ask you questions. They also have the right to deny you entry into the US and to make arrangements for your return home. When interviewed by immigration officers, it is essential that you answer all questions truthfully. Providing false information can lead to your entry into the country being denied.

In most cases, the immigration officers' questions will be aimed at confirming that the purpose of your visits matches your visa type and that you do not pose a threat to the safety and security of American people and visitors to the country.

What to do if you are denied a US visa?

In most cases, you will know the result of your visa application after the interview at the embassy or consulate. If your application has been approved, you will be informed on when and how to pick up your passport or visa. If it has been denied, your documents will be returned to you immediately.

There may be several reasons why a visa application may be denied:

  • The consular officer may not have enough information to make the decision
  • The applicant may not qualify for the type of visa they are applying for.
  • The information provided by the applicant may indicate that they are ineligible for a US visa.
  • And others.

If your visa application is denied, there are two possible courses of action:

  • You can appeal the decision of the consular officer.
  • Or, you can apply for a new visa.

In most cases, it is recommended to apply for a new visa rather than file an appeal. When applying for a new visa, you will need to make changes to your application (present additional documentation, choose a different visa category, etc.).

Bringing relatives to the US

Most US visas will allow you to bring your children to the United States - your children must be minors (under 18 or under 21 depending on the type of visa you have). Adult children won't get visas automatically if their parents request US visas unless they can not take care of themselves and are dependent on their parents.

When it comes to bringing other relatives to the US, including your parents, this will not be allowed on list visas. Parents and other relatives are not considered to be immediate defendants and therefore won't be granted visas automatically. With that, it is worth looking into the Immediate Relative or Family-Based Immigrant visas. These types of visas may allow you to sponsor your relatives for an immigrant visa to the US.

Useful links:

U.S. Embassies and consulates abroad

U.S. Visa waiver program requirements

Visa waiver program FAQ

U.S. non-ESTA visa application 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.