Non-Immigrant Visas FAQ

Q:  What is the difference between an immigrant visa and a nonimmigrant visa?
A: An immigrant visa typically allows you to live and work in the United States for as long as you wish. A nonimmigrant visa is usually for temporary visitors to the United States who may be here to travel, seek medical attention, conduct business, or study. Generally, people in the United States with a nonimmigrant visa are not allowed to work here, but there are exceptions that allow U.S. employers to hire foreign nationals as temporary workers.

Q:  What is consular processing of a nonimmigrant visa?
A:  Consular processing of a nonimmigrant visa is the procedure in which you apply for a nonimmigrant visa at the United States embassy or consulate in your home country.

Q:  Do I need a consulate interview if I have traveled to the United States before?
A:  No. A visa application drop off system is available for repeat travelers. You also have the option of scheduling a repeat interview with the Consular Officer if you do not want to participate in the drop off program.

Q:  How long can I stay in the United States on a temporary visa?
A:  When you enter the United States, you will be given a small card called an I-94 card. A Customs and Border Protection officer will stamp the card with a date as you enter the country. This is the deadline date by which you must leave the U.S., even if you still have a valid visa stamped in your passport when that date arrives. However, if your visa is "multiple entry," you can use it to reenter the United States as soon as you like. Most visitor visas permit multiple entries, but some visas only allow one visit.

Q:  Does a visa guarantee me entry into the United States?
A:  No. The visa is issued by the Department of State Consular Office abroad. A separate United States agency--the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)--has the authority to deny admission at the port of entry. The USCIS also determines how long you remain in the United States; the Department of State Consular Office does not make this determination, even though it issues the visa.

Q:  What if I wish to stay after my I-94 card date requires me to leave?
A:  In order to stay beyond the time limit set on your I-94 card, you will need to file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, with the USCIS. The decision to grant or deny the request is solely in the hands of the USCIS. Be sure to allow adequate time for the USCIS to review your application for an extension.

Q:  If my foreign national fiancée receives a fiancée visa, does she automatically receive permanent residence status after we are married?
A:  No. A fiancée visa (K-1) is actually a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa. After your marriage, if your new spouse wants to remain permanently in the United States, he or she will need to apply to adjust to permanent resident status. If you have been married less than two years, your new spouse will receive only a conditional permanent resident status.

Q:  How can I persuade the consul to issue a visitor visa?
A:  You need to be able to show that you have important links to your home country that establish you intend to return there.  Family relationships, ongoing employment, financial links, and other ties should be demonstrated. Having a permanent residence abroad is a requirement for tourist, business, student, exchange visitor and some temporary worker visas. The Consular Officer needs to be convinced that you will not use the nonimmigrant visa to gain entry into the United States with the intent of remaining here.

Q:  What is a work permit?
A:  If you are not a United States citizen or a lawful permanent resident, you may need to apply for a work permit from the USCIS to prove to an employer that you are legally entitled to work. United States employers are required to perform checks to ensure that all employees, regardless of citizenship or national origin, are allowed to work in the United States.

Q:  If nonimmigrant (temporary) visas are easier to obtain than immigrant (permanent residence) visas, do I still need an attorney?
A:  There was a time not long ago that most foreign nationals who sought to travel to the United States to vacation, visit family or friends, attend school, or take temporary employment handled their visa application on their own, unless they had personal circumstances that they knew might prevent them from receiving a nonimmigrant visa. This practice is less common since September 11, 2001, as U.S. immigration policies have tightened significantly. The burden of proving that you are entitled to a nonimmigrant visa and that you have strong ties to your home country falls squarely on your shoulders. It is important to receive your visa on your first attempt, as evidence suggests that it is increasingly harder to receive a visa which each subsequent attempt. An experienced immigration lawyer can help you prepare for the consular interview and make sure that you are able to present the evidence that you will need to receive a visa.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with visa procedures.