immigrant visa
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When seeking to travel to or live in the United States, foreign nationals must generally obtain a U.S. visa, which is placed in a travel document like a passport. There are two main categories of visas: nonimmigrant visas and immigrant visas. The type of visa you need depends on the purpose of your travel or move to the U.S.

Nonimmigrant Visas

A nonimmigrant visa is issued to applicants seeking to enter the U.S. on a temporary basis for tourism, business, work, study or other reasons. Some of the most common types of nonimmigrant visas include:

– Tourist visa – Allows temporary entrance into the U.S. for purposes of sightseeing, visiting friends or family, taking a vacation, receiving medical treatment, participating in social events or engaging in other tourist activities.

– Business visa – Issued to foreign nationals seeking to travel to the U.S. for business purposes like attending a conference, negotiating contracts or working for a U.S. company on a temporary assignment.

– Student visa – Issued to foreign students who plan to study in the United States. There are different types of student visas depending on the level of study (F visas for academic studies, M visas for vocational training).

– Work visa – Allows foreign nationals to work in the U.S. for a temporary period of time. Common work visas include H-1B for skilled workers, H-2A for agricultural workers, and J-1 visa for exchange visitors.

– Transit visa – A transit visa allows foreign travelers to pass through the United States on their way to another country.

Some key features of nonimmigrant visas:

– Temporary – Nonimmigrant visas are issued for a specific period of time and purpose. They allow the holder to remain in the U.S. temporarily.

– No path to permanency – Nonimmigrant visas do not provide a direct path to permanent resident status and U.S. citizenship. (There are some exceptions like the O-1 extraordinary ability visa).

– Must meet eligibility requirements – Applicants must meet certain eligibility criteria related to their purpose of travel/stay (e.g. financial means, educational credentials, job offer, etc).

– Renewable – Some nonimmigrant visas can be renewed by the holder to continue staying in the U.S. for an extended but still temporary period.

Immigrant Visas

Immigrant visas, also known as green cards, allow foreign nationals to lawfully live and work permanently in the United States. Some common types of immigrant visas include:

– Family-based – Issued to foreign nationals who have eligible family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

– Employment-based – Issued to foreign workers whose skills are needed for permanent employment in the U.S.

– Refugee/asylee – Issued to foreign nationals seeking refuge or asylum in the United States from persecution in their home country.

Diversity visa – Issued randomly each year to applicants from countries with historically low levels of immigration to the U.S.

Some key features of immigrant visas:

– Permanent resident status – Immigrant visas grant lawful permanent resident status (a green card holder) to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely.

– Path to citizenship – Green card holders can typically apply for U.S. citizenship after meeting residency requirements.

– Not tied to employer – Unlike many work visas, employment-based immigrant visas allow the holder to live and work for any U.S. employer.

Travel restrictions – Once an immigrant visa is issued, the holder must enter the U.S. within a specified time period or the visa may be voided.

– Quota system – Annual limits or quotas exist on some categories of immigrant visas like family-based and diversity visas.

Key Differences

There are several key differences between nonimmigrant and immigrant visas:

– Purpose – Nonimmigrant visas are for temporary stays; immigrant visas are for permanent U.S. residency.

– Duration – Nonimmigrant visas are time limited; immigrant visas allow you to live and work in the U.S. permanently.

– Path to citizenship – Only immigrant visas provide a direct path to U.S. citizenship.

– Flexibility – Nonimmigrant visa holders must comply with visa terms; immigrant visa holders have more flexibility.

– Quotas – Quotas and caps apply to some immigrant visas but generally not to nonimmigrant visas.

– Renewability – Nonimmigrant visas are renewable whereas immigrant visas provide permanent status.

– Employment – Some nonimmigrant visas require employer sponsorship; immigrant visa holders can work for any employer.

Understanding the difference between these two main types of U.S. visas is important for foreign nationals planning to enter, visit or live in the United States.


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