Nonimmigrant visas are for international travelers coming to the United States temporarily. The visa application is done at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in your country. If issued, the visa allows individuals to travel to a U.S. port of entry and request permission from a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer to enter the United States. A visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S.
International travelers come to the United States for a wide variety of reasons, including tourism, business, medical treatment and certain types of temporary work. The type of visa needed is defined by immigration law, and relates to the principal purpose of the visitor’s travel.
Here is an overview of certain nonimmigrant visas available under immigration law:
Tourism: Visitors for business or pleasure
B-1 Visa: Visitor for Business
Visitors for business may receive temporary admission to engage in commercial transactions not involving gainful employment. B-1 status does not provide work authorization. However, it does permit admission for business meetings, to attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference, to settle an estate, negotiate a contract, and other similar purposes.
B-2 Visa: Visitor for Pleasure
Tourist with a B-2 visa receive temporary admission for a short period to enter the United States before returning back to their home country. Usually, tourists in B-2 status are initially admitted for 6 months and can extend their stay in B-2 status for an additional 6 months. Among the reasons for applying for the B-2 visa are the following: tourism, vacation, visit with friends or relatives, medical treatment, participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations, participation by amateurs in musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating, and certain enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation)
F-1: Full time academic or language study student
The F-1 visa is issued to individuals coming to the United States to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs. While in F-1 status, a student may be eligible for work authorization either during school and/or at the completion of his or her studies. An individual entering the U.S. as an F-1 is admitted for “D/S” or “duration of status” . If the individual stops taking classes, he/she may be considered “out of status.”
J-1: Exchange Visitor
The J-1 classification (exchange visitors) is authorized for those who intend to participate in an approved program for the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training.
Family Related Visas
K-1: Fiancé (e) of a U.S. Citizen
The K-1 Visa permits the fiancé of a U.S. citizen to enter the country solely to conclude a valid marriage with the U.S. citizen petitioner. The marriage must take place within 90 days after the K-1 Visa holder’s entry. Minor children of the K-1 fiancé may enter on K-2 visas.
K-3: Spouse of U.S. citizen
The K-3 visa is available to the spouse of a U.S. citizen where the U.S. citizen has filed an I-130 petition on behalf of the visa applicant. The K-3 visa permits the foreign national spouse of a U.S. citizen to enter the United States and await adjudication of the I-130 petition. Children of K-3 visa holder may enter the country as dependents under the K-4 classification and the U.S. citizen need not file a separate petition on behalf of the child.
Business/Employment based Non-Immigrant Visas
E-1 / E-2: Treaty Trader/Investor
The E-1 and E-2 visa category is available to individuals who are citizens of countries with which the United States maintains a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce or Navigation. The E-1 visa is available to individuals (and some of their employees) who conduct “substantial trade” between the treaty country and the U.S. The E-2 visa is available to individuals (and some of their employees) who make a “substantial investment” in the United States. The E visa may be extended indefinitely.
H-1B: Specialty Occupation Workers
An H-1B visa is for individuals who possess a Bachelor Degree or its equivalent, and who are coming to fill a position that, at a minimum, requires a Bachelor Degree. Due to a limited number of H-1B visas available in each fiscal year, in most cases, the H-1B petition may be filed as early as April 1st of a given year, but the beneficiary cannot begin work until October 1st of that same year. Currently, there is a cap of 65,000 new H-1B visas each year. H-1B petitions for extension of status and those filed by certain organizations such as institutions of higher education and/or affiliated nonprofit entities are not subject to the cap. A foreign worker may work in H-1B status for a maximum of 6 years. However, in some instances, where a foreign worker is also pursuing a green card, he or she may continue in H-1B status beyond the 6 year maximum.
H-2: Temporary/seasonal employment
The H-2A program allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs.
The H-2B program is for temporary nonagricultural jobs
To qualify for H-2 nonimmigrant classification, the U.S. employer must establish that:
The H-3 nonimmigrant visa category allows foreign nationals coming temporarily to the United States as a Trainee to receive training in any field of endeavor, except graduate medical education or training, that is not available in the foreign national’s home country.
The H-3 “trainee” must be invited by an individual or organization for the purpose of receiving training, in any field including but not limited to Agriculture, Commerce, Communications, Finance, Government, Transportation, among others.
This classification is not intended for U.S. employment. It is designed to provide a foreign national with job-related training for work that will ultimately be performed outside the United States.
I: Foreign Media Representatives
This visa is for individuals who represent a foreign information media outlet (press, radio, film, or other foreign information media) and coming to the United States to engage solely in this profession. This category includes reporters, film crews, editors, and similar occupations.
L: Intracompany Transferees
Executive, Manager or Specialized Knowledge
The L-1 visa is for intra-company transferees, when a foreign company transfers a manager, executive, or employee with specialized knowledge to work for a parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary in the United States. The beneficiary must have worked in a managerial, executive, or specialized skill position for at least one of the three years immediately preceding the transfer to the United States, and he or she must continue to work in a managerial or executive position in the United States. Specialized knowledge means special knowledge of the company’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, or management, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures.
O: Exceptional ability in science, arts, education, business or athletics
An individual with “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics may apply for O-1 visa classification. The individual must demonstrate his or her extraordinary ability by “sustained national or international acclaim.” This standard can be established by showing major internationally recognized awards or by satisfying three (3) of several criteria, including, among others, receipt of national or internationally recognized awards, published materials about the applicant, authorship of scholarly work by the applicant, playing a lead or critical role in an organization or production with a distinguished reputation, and commanding a high salary relative to others in the field. The O-1 visa requires a sponsor and an expert advisory opinion.
P: Athletes, Artists, and Entertainers
The P-1 visa is available to athletes (and their support personnel) who are internationally recognized or who perform as part of a team that is internationally recognized as outstanding. The P-1 visa is also available to artists and entertainers who perform an integral or essential part of an entertainment group that has been recognized internationally as outstanding for a sustained and substantial period of time. The P-1 entertainment group must have been established for a minimum of 1 year and 75% of its members must have been performing entertainment services for the group for a minimum of 1 year. A group or team consists of two or more persons who function as a unit.
R-1 Temporary Nonimmigrant Religious Workers
An R-1 is a foreign national who is coming to the United States temporarily to be employed as a minister or in another religious vocation or occupation at least part time (average of at least 20 hours per week). The employer must be a non-profit religious organization in the United States.
Q: Cultural Exchange Visas
The Q-1 nonimmigrant visa is for those seeking to participate in an international cultural exchange program. The Q nonimmigrant exchange program is for the purpose of providing practical training and employment, and to share the history, culture, and traditions of your home country with the United States.
TN: Professionals under NAFTA
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) created special economic and trade relationships for the United States, Canada and Mexico. The TN nonimmigrant classification permits qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens to seek temporary entry into the United States to engage in business activities at a professional level. Among the types of professionals who are eligible to seek admission as TN nonimmigrants are accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers. This visa does not allow self-employment. Therefore, there must be a U.S. employer who is offering full-time employment.