US Nonimmigrant Visas
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
On March 1, 2003 services formerly provided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) transitioned into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). The BCIS has changed its name to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Created as a separate bureau by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services operates through a network of local offices, Application Support Centers, Service Centers, local area immigration services field offices, National Customer Service Call (NCSC) Centers, Forms Centers, and the Internet. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services processes all immigrant and non-immigrant benefits provided to visitors to the United States, including: family-based petitions, employment-based petitions, asylum and refugee processing, naturalization, special status programs, and document issuance and renewal.
United States Visas
Foreign nationals who wish to enter the United States usually must obtain a visa unless they are visa exempt. All United States’ visas are stamped in the foreign nationals passport and indicate that a legally sufficient purpose for entering the United States was presented to a United States consular official.
United States immigration laws distinguish between visas for foreign nationals seeking temporary admission to the United States and visas for foreign nationals seeking to remain in the United States permanently. Those seeking visas for temporary admission are nonimmigrant visas; those seeking to remain permanently are immigrant visas.
At the port of entry to the United States, immigration control officers interview and inspect foreign nationals to assure their eligibility to enter the United States and to determine the duration of their initial period of stay. The arrival document, Form I-94, is stapled to each foreign nationals passport when he arrives in the United States for a temporary period. The I-94 indicates his visa category and the last date he may lawfully remain in the United States.
Nonimmigrant visas permit visa holders to stay in the United States for a period ranging from a few days to five or more years. The permitted length of stay depends on the category of the visa. All holders of nonimmigrant visas must intend to stay in the United States for a period that will not exceed the time limit stated in their visas. If a foreign national intends to stay beyond the time limit established in his visa, the applicant is actually an immigrant and must pursue the immigrant visa process. Information on the immigrant visa process is discussed in the immigrant visa section of this website.
Nonimmigrant visas permit numerous activities in the United States, such as opening a business, working, studying and/or visiting. The Immigration Act of 1990 (the “Act”) created visa categories identified by combinations of letters and numbers. The letters and numbers correspond to sections of the Act. Each nonimmigrant category has a maximum stay limitation and a list of permissible activities for holders of each visa.
A nonimmigrant who is in the United States may apply to change to another nonimmigrant category or to extend the length of his stay. Most nonimmigrant visa categories have maximum stay limitations. A nonimmigrant can also become eligible for permanent resident status. Information on changing from a nonimmigrant status to an immigrant status is discussed in the immigrant visa section of this website.
Common Nonimmigrant Visas
1) The Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program permits nationals of certain countries to visit the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining B visas from United States consular posts outside the United States before their visits. The countries are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. This list of countries changes from time to time. Anyone planning to use the Visa Waiver Program for a United States visit should contact the United States embassy in his country to confirm his country’s status on the list before traveling.
If the Visa Waiver Program is used to enter the United States, an extension of the stay or a change of status is generally not permitted. However, certain immediate relatives of United States citizens may file for adjustment of status in the United States even if they were admitted under the visa waiver program.
2) B-1 Visa (Visitor for Business)
B-1 visas are issued to non-immigrants temporarily visiting the United States to do business on behalf of foreign employers. United States employers cannot employ B-1 visa holders. B-1 visa holders can negotiate contracts, sell products, develop business contacts, and attend conferences for the benefit of their foreign employer. B-1 visa holders cannot receive salaries or other compensation while in the United States, other than reimbursement for incidental expenses. B-1 visa holders must perform services in the United States that clearly benefit their permanent foreign employer. B-1 visa holders must also remain domiciled in the foreign country to which they intend to return once their temporary United States visa expires.
B-1 business visitors can enter the United States for a period of up to six months. Usually the B-1 visitor is permitted to stay for a 180-day period, however, shorter periods of 30-60 days are also granted. Initial entry for a period longer than six months is not permitted. However, an application for an extension beyond the initial entry period can be approved when circumstances justify the extension.
3) H-1B (Specialty Occupations)
The H-1B visa category applies to foreign nationals employed in specialty occupations that involve theoretical and practical application of highly specialized knowledge and which require a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in work experience. A college degree alone does not qualify a foreign national as a specialty worker; the job must require a degree related to the foreign nationals particular field and the college degree that the foreign national earned must be a normal requirement for comparable jobs in the industry and with the prospective employer.
An employer must file a labor condition application with the Department of Labor before the employer can apply for an H-1B visa with the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services. The prospective employer must post a notice of filing the application in two conspicuous locations at the employment site for a period of at least ten business days. If an employer meets the requirements for an extension, the H-1B visa holder is allowed a maximum six-year stay in the United States. A seventh year is available under certain circumstances. The H-1B cap for the fiscal year 2004, which extends from October 1, 2004 to October 1, 2005, has already been reached. Absent congressional action to increase the cap on the number of H-1Bs permitted for the fiscal year, applications for new H-1Bs cannot be filed until April of 2005 for start dates of October 1, 2005. However, certain H-1B applications are cap exempt. These cap exempt H-1Bs include H-1Bs who work for universities or governmental nonprofit research organizations. H-1B renewals are also cap exempt. A foreign national who holds an H-1B visa can work for a new employer as soon as the new employer files a “nonfrivolous” application with the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services.
4) H-2B Visas (Temporary Workers)
H-2B visas are issued to foreign nationals who are to work temporarily in jobs for which employers can prove a shortage of qualified American workers. A major limitation of the H-2B visa is that the position essentially must be temporary. An employer cannot use an H-2 B visa to place a foreign national in a permanent job that is currently vacant. The employer must prove that the need for the H-2B foreign national comes from a unique, intermittent, or seasonal need and that the need will end within a certain period of time which will not exceed the visa’s expiration date. An H-2B worker is permitted to enter the United States for an initial period of one year.
5) H-3 Visas (Trainees)
H-3 visas are issued to foreign nationals who enter the United States for up to two years for training and skill development which will be used in their careers in other countries. Trainees must enroll in structured training programs in the United States at United States companies. Theoretical and practical instruction must be part of the training program; programs that consist solely of on-the-job training are not acceptable for this visa category. The training program must be unavailable in the foreign nationals home country. The skills learned must be relevant to the foreign nationals work outside the United States.
6) E visas (Treaty Traders and Treaty Investors)
A foreign national who is a citizen of a country that has a Bilateral Investment Treaty or Treaty of Friendship, Commerce or Navigation with the United States can be admitted to the United States to invest in a business or to engage in international trade under two categories of visas based on treaties: E-1 (Treaty Traders) and E-2 (Treaty Investors).
The E-1 (Treaty Trader) visa category permits foreign nationals to enter the United States to engage in substantial trade in goods, services, or technology with treaty countries. The United States enterprise for which the foreign national works must be majority-owned by treaty country nationals. The majority owners can be companies or individuals. The nationality of an enterprise is determined by the nationality of the entity owning at least 50% of the enterprise. An E-1 treaty trader must be an executive or manager or hold a job that requires skills essential to the employer.
The E-2 Treaty Investor category allows investors who are nationals of treaty countries and who invest substantial sums of money in an active business in the United States to remain in the United States to develop, direct and oversee the business. The E-2 visa is available to a foreign national who invests in services, technology, or tangible goods. Managers, executives, and essentially skilled employees from treaty countries are also admissible on E-2 visas.
Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age, regardless of their nationality, may receive derivative E visas to accompany the principal holder of an E visa. A spouse of an E visa holder can apply for an Employment Authorization Document after entry to the United States. Dependents of E visa holders other than spouses are not eligible for employment authorization based on their derivative E status.
The countries listed below have agreements with the United States authorizing either (E-1) treaty trader status, (E-2) treaty investor status, or both, with the United States.
LAST UPDATED: 01 February 2002
|Albania||E-2||January 04, 1998|
|Argentina||E-1||December 20, 1854|
|Argentina||E-2||December 20, 1854|
|Armenia||E-2||March 29, 1996|
|Australia||E-1||December 16, 1991|
|Australia||E-2||December 27, 1991|
|Austria||E-1||May 27, 1931|
|Austria||E-2||May 27, 1931|
|Azerbaijan||E-2||August 02, 2001|
|Bahrain||E-2||May 30, 2001|
|Bangladesh||E-2||July 25, 1989|
|Belgium||E-1||October 03, 1963|
|Belgium||E-2||October 03, 1963|
|Bolivia||E-1||November 09, 1862|
|Bolivia||E-2||June 06, 2001|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina11||E-1||November 15, 1882|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina11||E-2||November 15, 1882|
|Brunei||E-1||July 11, 1853|
|Bulgaria||E-2||June 02, 1994|
|Cameroon||E-2||April 06, 1989|
|Canada||E-1||January 01, 1993|
|Canada||E-2||January 01, 1993|
|China (Taiwan)1||E-1||November 30, 1948|
|China (Taiwan)1||E-2||November 30, 1948|
|Colombia||E-1||June 10, 1848|
|Colombia||E-2||June 10, 1848|
|Congo (Brazzaville)||E-2||August 13, 1994|
|Congo (Kinshasa)||E-2||July 28, 1989|
|Costa Rica||E-1||May 26, 1852|
|Costa Rica||E-2||May 26, 1852|
|Croatia11||E-1||November 15, 1882|
|Croatia11||E-2||November 15, 1882|
|Czech Republic2||E-2||January 01, 1993|
|Denmark3||E-1||July 30, 1961|
|Ecuador||E-2||May 11, 1997|
|Egypt||E-2||June 27, 1992|
|Estonia||E-1||May 22, 1926|
|Estonia||E-2||February 16, 1997|
|Ethiopia||E-1||October 08, 1953|
|Ethiopia||E-2||October 08, 1953|
|Finland||E-1||August 10, 1934|
|Finland||E-2||December 01, 1992|
|France4||E-1||December 21, 1960|
|France4||E-2||December 21, 1960|
|Georgia||E-2||August 17, 1997|
|Germany||E-1||July 14, 1956|
|Germany||E-2||July 14, 1956|
|Greece||E-1||October 13, 1954|
|Grenada||E-2||March 03, 1989|
|Honduras||E-1||July 19, 1928|
|Honduras||E-2||July 19, 1928|
|Iran||E-1||June 16, 1957|
|Iran||E-2||June 16, 1957|
|Ireland||E-1||September 14, 1950|
|Ireland||E-2||November 18, 1992|
|Israel||E-1||April 03, 1954|
|Italy||E-1||July 26, 1949|
|Italy||E-2||July 26, 1949|
|Jamaica||E-2||March 07, 1997|
|Japan5||E-1||October 30, 1953|
|Japan5||E-2||October 30, 1953|
|Jordan||E-1||December 17, 2001|
|Jordan||E-2||December 17, 2001|
|Kazakhstan||E-2||January 12, 1994|
|Korea (South)||E-1||November 07, 1957|
|Korea (South)||E-2||November 07, 1957|
|Kyrgyzstan||E-2||January 12, 1994|
|Latvia||E-1||July 25, 1928|
|Latvia||E-2||December 26, 1996|
|Liberia||E-1||November 21, 1939|
|Liberia||E-2||November 21, 1939|
|Lithuania||E-2||November 22, 2001|
|Luxembourg||E-1||March 28, 1963|
|Luxembourg||E-2||March 28, 1963|
|Macedonia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of (FRY)||E-1||November 15, 1882|
|Macedonia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of (FRY)||E-2||November 15, 1882|
|Mexico||E-1||January 01, 1994|
|Mexico||E-2||January 01, 1994|
|Moldova||E-2||November 25, 1994|
|Mongolia||E-2||January 01, 1997|
|Morocco||E-2||May 29, 1991|
|Netherlands6||E-1||December 05, 1957|
|Netherlands6||E-2||December 05, 1957|
|Norway7||E-1||January 18, 1928|
|Norway7||E-2||January 18, 1928|
|Oman||E-1||June 11, 1960|
|Oman||E-2||June 11, 1960|
|Pakistan||E-1||February 12, 1961|
|Pakistan||E-2||February 12, 1961|
|Panama||E-2||May 30, 1991|
|Paraguay||E-1||March 07, 1860|
|Paraguay||E-2||March 07, 1860|
|Philippines||E-1||September 06, 1955|
|Philippines||E-2||September 06, 1955|
|Poland||E-2||August 06, 1994|
|Romania||E-2||January 15, 1994|
|Senegal||E-2||October 25, 1990|
|Slovak Republic2||E-2||January 01, 1993|
|Slovenia11||E-1||November 15, 1882|
|Slovenia11||E-2||November 15, 1882|
|Spain8||E-1||April 14, 1903|
|Spain8||E-2||April 14, 1903|
|Sri Lanka||E-2||May 01, 1993|
|Suriname9||E-1||February 10, 1963|
|Suriname9||E-2||February 10, 1963|
|Sweden||E-1||February 20, 1992|
|Sweden||E-2||February 20, 1992|
|Switzerland||E-1||November 08, 1855|
|Switzerland||E-2||November 08, 1855|
|Thailand||E-1||June 08, 1968|
|Thailand||E-2||June 08, 1968|
|Togo||E-1||February 05, 1967|
|Togo||E-2||February 05, 1967|
|Trinidad & Tobago||E-2||December 26, 1996|
|Tunisia||E-2||February 07, 1993|
|Turkey||E-1||February 15, 1933|
|Turkey||E-2||May 18, 1990|
|Ukraine||E-2||November 16, 1996|
|United Kingdom10||E-1||July 03, 1815|
|United Kingdom10||E-2||July 03, 1815|
|Yugoslavia11||E-1||November 15, 1882|
|Yugoslavia11||E-2||November 15, 1882|
|1||CHINA (TAIWAN) – Pursuant to Section 6 of the Taiwan Relations Act, (TRA) Public Law 96-8, 93 Stat, 14, and Executive Order 12143, 44 F.R. 37191, this agreement which was concluded with the Taiwan authorities prior to January 01, 1979, is administered on a nongovernmental basis by the American Institute in Taiwan, a nonprofit District of Columbia corporation, and constitutes neither recognition of the Taiwan authorities nor the continuation of any official relationship with Taiwan.|
|2||CZECH REPUBLIC AND SLOVAK REPUBLIC – The Treaty with the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic entered into force on December 19, 1992; entered into force for the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic as separate states on January 01, 1993.|
|3||DENMARK – The Treaty which entered into force on July 30, 1961, does not apply to Greenland.|
|4||FRANCE – The Treaty which entered into force on December 21, 1960, applies to the departments of Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Reunion.|
|5||JAPAN – The Treaty which entered into force on October 30, 1953, was made applicable to the Bonin Islands on June 26, 1968, and to the Ryukyu Islands on May 15, 1972.|
|6||NETHERLANDS – The Treaty which entered into force on December 05, 1957, is applicable to Aruba and Netherlands Antilles.|
|7||NORWAY – The Treaty which entered into force on September 13, 1932, does not apply to Svalbard (Spitzbergen and certain lesser islands).|
|8||SPAIN – The Treaty which entered into force on April 14, 1903, is applicable to all territories.|
|9||SURINAME – The Treaty with the Netherlands which entered into force December 05, 1957, was made applicable to Suriname on February 10, 1963.|
|10||UNITED KINGDOM – The Convention which entered into force on July 03, 1815, applies only to British territory in Europe (the British Isles (except the Republic of Ireland), the Channel Islands and Gibraltar) and to “inhabitants” of such territory. This term, as used in the Convention, means “one who resides actually and permanently in a given place, and has his domicile there.” Also, in order to qualify for treaty trader or treaty investor status under this treaty, the alien must be a national of the United Kingdom. Individuals having the nationality of members of the Commonwealth other than the United Kingdom do not qualify for treaty trader or treaty investor status under this treaty.|
|11||YUGOSLAVIA – The U.S. view is that the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) has dissolved and that the successors that formerly made up the SFRY – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Slovenia, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia continue to be bound by the treaty in force with the SFRY and the time of dissolution.|
|12||ERITREA – The Treaty with Ethiopia has continued to be applied with respect to Eritrea, following its independence from Ethiopia.|
7) L-1 Visas [Intercompany Transferees]
L-1 visas permit foreign companies with branches or affiliated groups in the United States to transfer needed employees to their United States facilities. L-1 visas can be issued to foreign nationals employed abroad in executive or managerial positions, or employed in jobs which require specialized knowledge, for at least one year during the three years prior to admission to the United States. The foreign national must assume comparable duties in the United States with the same employer or with an affiliate or subsidiary of the same employer. In order for an L-1 visa to remain valid the foreign operation must continue to do business in the foreign country during the entire period of validity of the L-1 visa.
8) O Visas (Extraordinary Ability)
The O visa category applies to persons of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. Foreign nationals must prove their extraordinary ability by demonstrating national or international acclaim. They can enter the United States only to work in their specific field and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services must find that their admission substantially benefits the United States. The spouses and minor children of O visa holders can enter the United States as O-3 visa holders. Employment authorization is not available to those admitted in the O-3 visa category. The maximum time for this visa category is three years, one year at a time.
9) P Visas (Performing Artist)
P-1 visas are issued to internationally recognized entertainers and athletes. P-2 visas are given to reciprocal exchange artists and entertainers. P-3 visas are given to culturally unique artists and entertainers. P-4 visas are granted to family members of P-1, P-2 and P-3 visa holders.
10) J Visas
J visas are issued to exchange visitors so that sponsoring institutions can bring students, researchers and business or industrial trainees into the United States to participate in training programs authorized by the United States Information Agency. If the United States Information Agency approves, a company may start its own training program or use an organization that is already recognized for sponsoring training programs. The trainee can be engaged in any productive employment that gives him knowledge of specific company practices in the United States or of United States business practices in general.
11) F Visas
F visas are issued to students enrolled in academic institutions and F visa holders may work on campus during their studies and school vacations. They may, with authorization, also engage in practical training during the course of their studies or for one year after graduation. An F visa holder seeking post-graduation practical training needs to obtain school approval and employment authorization documents from the U. S.Citizenship and Immigration Services before beginning to work.
All non-United States citizens who remain in the country for 30 days or more must report any change in address to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within 10 days of the change on Form AR-11.