Non-Immigrant Visas Overview

If you are planning a trip to the United States for pleasure, temporary work, business, medical attention, or any reason other than relocating here permanently, you are most likely required to obtain a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa, with limited exceptions. A nonimmigrant visa is issued so that you may travel to the United States for a specific purpose and for a set duration.

Nonimmigrant (Temporary) Visa Requirements

Nonimmigrant visas are issued at United States embassies and consulates in the home country of the visa applicant. Some nonimmigrant visas are limited to a specific number each year. The biggest hurdle that a nonimmigrant visa applicant must overcome is convincing the Consular Officer that they have strong enough ties to their home country that they will leave the United States upon the expiration of their visa, and return home. Nonimmigrant visa applicants must also show economic ability to support themselves while in the U.S., and that they possess the qualifications required for the particular type of visa sought.

To apply for a nonimmigrant visa, the applicant usually must apply with the United States embassy or consulate in their home country. A nonimmigrant visa cannot be applied for once the applicant is in the United States. However, a person with a valid visa who is in the United States can apply for a change of status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In some cases, nonimmigrant visas may be extended through this same process.

Change of Nonimmigrant Status

Each nonimmigrant visa is issued for a specific purpose, and allows the visa holder to do things to accomplish that purpose. For example, a student visa allows an international student to study in the United States, but does not permit the student to work here. Sometimes, foreign nationals desire to change the purpose of their visit to the United States, such as a pleasure traveler who decides to attend school here. In order to change the purpose of a trip to the United States, the visa holder must seek a change in immigrant status. This is accomplished by submitting an application to change status with the USCIS. Once the stated purpose of a nonimmigrant visa changes, the visa holder's failure to apply for a corresponding change in status is a violation of United States law, and the visa holder becomes subject to immediate deportation or removal proceedings.

Extending a Stay in the United States

When holders of nonimmigrant visas enter the United States, they receive an I-94 card that specifies the deadline date by which they must leave the United States. To extend a stay beyond that date, permission must be obtained from the USCIS prior to the expiration date on the I-94 card. Of course, only people who lawfully entered the United States in the first place are eligible to seek an extended stay.

There are a few exceptions to the requirement that an extension of stay be sought prior to the I-94 expiration date. If the persons requesting an extension can show that the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control, that the length of delay was reasonable, that they have not violated any of the conditions of their visa (such as working illegally), that they are still nonimmigrants, and that they are not the subject of deportation or removal proceedings, the USCIS will consider the request.

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Next Steps

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