Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Non-immigrant visas, unlike immigrant visas, allow a person to enter the U.S. for a temporary period of time and are restricted to the activity consistent with the visa.
- B visa for visitors
- E visa for treaty traders/investors
- F visa for students
- J visas for Exchange Program Participants
- K visas for Fiancés
- L visas for Transferee Employees
- H visas for Professional Employees
- TN visas for Canadians and Mexicans
B visa for visitors
The visitor visa is a nonimmigrant visa for persons desiring to enter the United States temporarily for business (B-1) or for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2). A B-1 visa is available to foreigners visiting the United States to conduct business. A B-2 visa is available for foreign persons visiting the United States for pleasure. Citizens of certain countries are exempt for 90 days under the Visa Waiver Program.
E visa for traders/investors
E visas are issued pursuant to bilateral treaties of friendship, commerce, and navigation between the United States and various other countries. E-1 (Treaty Trader) and E-2 (Treaty Investor) visas are only available for citizens of countries which have either a “Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation” or a “Bilateral Investment Treaty” with the United States. This category is commonly used by US companies owned by one or more persons who are nationals of a country having the required treaty with the United States (“treaty nationals”) in order to bring foreign nationals of that same nationality to work in managerial or other key positions for such foreign owned companies. Common examples of qualifying E-visa employers would include US subsidiaries of foreign parent companies which are owned by treaty nationals, as well as completely independent US businesses established by treaty national owners.
The E-1 classification is authorized for a national of a country with which the United States has a commercial treaty, who is coming to the U.S. solely to engage in trade of a substantial nature principally between the U.S. and the applicant’s country of nationality.
The E-2 classification is authorized for a national of a country with which the United States has a commercial treaty, who is coming to the United States solely to direct and develop the operations of an enterprise in which he or she has invested, or is actively involved in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital.
F visa for students
The Immigration and Nationality Act provides two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the United States. The “F” visa is reserved for nonimmigrants wishing to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs, and the “M” visa is reserved for nonimmigrants wishing to pursue nonacademic or vocational studies.
J visas for Exchange Program Participants
A J-1 visa is issued to applicants who have been accepted to participate in exchange visitor programs designated by the United States Information Agency(“USIA”). This may include students, scholars, trainees, teachers, professors, specialists, foreign medical graduates, international visitors, government visitors, camp counselors, au pairs, and participants in summer travel/work programs.
K visas for Fiancés
Fiancés wishing to visit or live with their respective partners will need a K-1 visa that enables them to receive the proper authorization to remain in the United States based on their social status. K-1 visas are usually complex and time-consuming involving the same procedures as that of a Spousal petition.
There are two basic steps to getting a K-1 visa. The first one involves the petition which is completed by the U.S. citizen while the second step involves the application which is the foreign citizen’s request for a K-1 visa stamp at their home country’s U.S. consulate. Much of the fiancé visa processing takes place at the U.S. consulate abroad making it critical for an applicant to select legal counsel familiar with that particular country’s procedures.
L visas for Transferee Employees
This is a common visa used for employees transferring to a US subsidiary, parent, branch or affiliate company of their current employer. The L category allows the transfer of key employees to the U.S. from affiliated companies abroad for temporary periods. To qualify, the applicant must be working in a capacity as a manager, executive (L-1A) or in a position that requires specialized knowledge (L-1B). The employee must have at least one year of experience with the organisation at an executive/managerial level or in a technical/specialist job. This experience must be gained outside of the US.
The L-1 category can also be an option for employees being sent to the US to establish a subsidiary, parent, branch or affiliate company in the US. Timing requirements need to be discussed on a case by case basis and any transfer into the US should be planned well in advance in order to meet deadlines.
H visas for Professional Employees
The H-1B visa is for workers in specialty occupations. Examples of specialty occupations are professional positions in the fields of Architecture, Computers, Engineering, Mathematics, Physical sciences, Medicine, Education, Business, Accounting, Law, and the Arts.
Generally, the H-1B visa is available for those workers who have a bachelor’s degree in a technical field who will be working in a technical position that requires an undergraduate degree. Individuals who do not have an undergraduate degree may utilize their experience (at least 12 years experience in the specialty field) to compensate for any years unfinished in their undergraduate education.
TN visas for Canadians and Mexicans
The TN visas are also temporary work visas. The TN status is for Canadians and Mexican persons engaged in activities at a professional level. This category is similar to the H-1B except there is no statutory limitation on stay such as exists for Hs and Ls, and it generally covers a broader range of occupations. The applicant must fit within a specific group of professional occupations listed in NAFTA (e.g. lawyers, biologists, accountants, interior designers). In almost all cases, a degree or license is required.