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Citizens of most foreign countries must obtain a visa to enter the U.S. There are a number of reasons why someone would come to the U.S. on a temporary visa, including tourism, business, medical treatment and certain types of temporary work.
There are two general classifications of US visas: non-immigrant visas for temporary stays, and immigrant visas to live and work permanently in the U.S.
Temporary Visitors - Non-immigrant US Visas
Temporary visitors to the U.S. must obtain a non-immigrant visa. This type of visa allows you to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry.
The State Department lists the most common US visa categories for temporary visitors. These include:
- Business, Tourist and Visitors (B1 / B2)
- Exchange Visitors (J Visa)
- Fiancé(e) to Marry U.S. Citizen/Spouse (K1)
- Students (F Visa)
- Temporary Workers
- Persons in a speciality occupation H-1B
- L Visa-- Intra company transferees. L2 is a depdent visa for L1 family members.
- O-1 Visa-- Persons with extraordinary ability in the science, arts, education, business, athletics, or extraordinary achievements in the motion picture and television field.
- P-1 to P-3 Visa-- Individual or team of athletes, or members of an entertainment group, that are internationally recognized.
Live and Work in the U.S. Permanently - Immigrant US Visas
To live permanently in the U.S., an immigrant visa is required. In general, to apply for an immigrant visa, a foreign citizen must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen relative(s), U.S. lawful permanent resident, or by a prospective employer, and be the beneficiary of an approved petition. Therefore, a first step is filing a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once approved, the petition is forwarded to the National Visa Center for processing. The National Visa Center then provides instructions regarding forms, fees and other required documents to complete the visa application.
The major immigrant US visa categories include:
- Immediate Relatives - (children, parents and spouses) of U.S. citizens, resident aliens returning from temporary visits abroad, and former U.S. citizens.
- Special Immigrants - "The diversity immigration program" provides another, but more limited, method of gaining permanent residence. Under this program, approximately 55,000 immigrant visas are available annually to aliens who are natives of countries determined by the I.N.S. to be "low admission" countries, that is, countries that are proportionately under-represented in the U.S. immigrant population.
- Family-sponsored - unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their children; spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of legal permanent residents; married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children; and brothers and sisters, including spouses and children, of U.S. citizens ages 21 and over.
- Employer-sponsored - professionals (without advanced degrees), and needed unskilled workers; special immigrants (e.g. ministers, religious workers, and employees of the U.S. government abroad); and employment creation immigrants or "investors.