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Visas are most often the starting point for foreign nationals looking to visit, work, study, or move to the United States. While "non-immigrant" visas are for visitors who plan on eventually returning to their home country, so-called "green cards" are for those who intend on staying in the U.S. permanently. This section includes subsections on family visas, green cards, border entry rules, non-immigrant visas, and an overview of U.S. visas in general.

Non-Immigrant Visas

When people refer to a visa they generally mean a non-immigrant visa. Non-immigrant visas are also the most common sort of visa in the immigration system. The kind of non-immigrant visa held by someone determines how long they are allowed to stay in the country and what sort of activities they can undertake.

Tourist visas allow travel to and within the country, but forbid employment.

Employment-based visas permit employment, though often for a specific employer. As with non-immigrant visas these can generally be altered or extended by applying with the immigration service while the visa is still valid, though there are significant exceptions to this rule. Consulting with an immigration attorney can help you understand whether a visa will permit employment and understand whether you will be able to change or extend your status without leaving the country.

Immigrant Visas

Immigrant visas are a necessary part of any application for permanent residence (the "green card"). In most circumstances the immigrant visa is requested by a petitioner, either an employer or a family member. Immigrant visas are particularly important for applicants in categories that limit the number of green cards issued annually. High demand for green cards can result in a long waiting period, during which time the date the immigrant visa was filed is used to track the applicant's place in line.

The filing of an immigrant visa is evidence that the applicant intends to immigrate. Because many of the non-immigrant visas require a statement that the applicant does not intend to remain permanently in the U.S., this can lead to difficulties maintaining status. Before filing an immigrant visa petition it can be wise to consult with an immigration attorney to determine how long your wait is likely to be and to consider the consequences filing a petition can have on your status.

Dual-Intent Visas

Dual-intent visas manage to avoid the problem that having an immigrant visa petition pending can pose to someone present in the U.S. This limited kind of visa allows for a temporary stay and is not terminated when the individual takes action to secure permanent status. Dual-intent visas are frequently employment-based. However, not all employment-based visas are dual-intent.

Which sort of visa(s) you apply for can be very important. Someone who has the intent to immigrate and uses a non-immigrant visa to enter the country may be accused of fraud. On the other hand, some who enter with a non-immigrant visa may change their intent after entry. A close consideration of the details of your case may be necessary to ensure that you are not subjected to an accusation of this kind.