Frequently Asked Questions about Nonimmigrant Visas

Q: What is a nonimmigrant visa? How is it different from an immigrant visa?

A: Nonimmigrant visas are granted to foreign nationals who wish to travel to the US for a temporary purpose, such as to visit friends and family, sight-see, attend an American university or participate in a temporary work program, among others. Immigrant visas allow foreign nationals to move permanently to the US and receive lawful permanent resident status. Those visiting the US on nonimmigrant visas are required to return to their home country once their allotted time has expired.

Q: What do you have to do to get a nonimmigrant visa?

A: Generally, you submit an application to the US embassy or consulate in your country of residence. Most applicants also will need to complete an interview with a consular or embassy officer prior to receiving approval or denial of their visa application. Applicants must have a current passport or other travel document, be able to prove they have applied for the correct nonimmigrant category and be eligible under US law for a visa. Applicants also must submit evidence of their ties to their home country and their intent to return there once their stay in the US has come to an end. Applicants may also need to prove their ability to provide for themselves financially while in the US.

Q: How long does it take to get a nonimmigrant visa?

A: Processing times vary. The type of nonimmigrant visa you are applying for, your country of residence, your age, the completeness of your application and other factors determine how long it will take. Your local embassy or consulate can provide you with an estimate of the wait time. It is best to apply for your visa as soon as you are able, and keep in mind that the busiest months for processing visas are June, July and August.

Q: Once you are granted a visa, does this mean you are admitted to the US?

A: No. A visa allows a foreign national to travel to a US port of entry. Some visas are only valid for a certain amount of time while other visas do not have expiration dates. Once the foreign national arrives at the US port of entry, a US government official will determine whether he or she can enter the US.

Q: How long can you stay in the US once you are granted a nonimmigrant visa?

A: When you arrive in the US, a Homeland Security officer will determine at that time how long you are permitted to stay and stamp this date on a small card called the I-94. On this date, you must leave the US, unless you have been granted an extension of your stay by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Q: What do employers have to do to hire foreign nationals as temporary workers?

A: To hire temporary workers, employers must file a petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Employers seeking to hire certain categories of workers, H-1B (specialty occupations), H-2A (temporary agricultural workers) and H-2B (skilled and unskilled workers), must receive certification from the US Department of Labor prior to filing their petition with the USCIS. Once the employer has received notice from the USCIS that he or she can hire temporary workers, the foreign nationals then can file for nonimmigrant worker visas.

Q: What happens if you remain in the US after your date of departure?

A: Staying even one day after your scheduled date of departure is a violation of US law and places you out of status. Your visa is automatically invalidated and you may not be able to return to the US in the future. In some limited situations, the overstay may be excused if it was due to extreme circumstances out of your control. If you wish to stay in the US longer than you have been authorized, you should file for an extension with the USCIS. Otherwise, on your date of expiration, you must leave the country and return home, where you can file for a new visa.

Q: What is the visa waiver program?

A: Under the visa waiver program, foreign nationals from certain countries are permitted to travel to the US without a visa. The program currently applies to 27 countries and only applies to those traveling to the US for business or pleasure with a B-class visa. Visitors who qualify under the visa waiver program are not permitted to stay in the US longer than 90 days and may not request an extension of their stay or change of status.

Q: Can you change your visa status once you are in the US?

A: You can apply for a change of visa status to another nonimmigrant visa status while you are in the United States. For example, someone on a B-1 visitor visa may decide he or she would like to attend an American university and apply for a student visa. To change your nonimmigrant status, you must submit an application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Not all nonimmigrant classes are permitted to change status. An immigration attorney can provide you with further information about your eligibility.

Q: Once you enter the US on a nonimmigrant visa, can you decide to stay permanently?

A: The short answer is yes, but it can be very difficult to do so. If you know at the outset that you want to live for an indefinite period of time or even permanently in the US, it is best to apply for lawful permanent resident status. Those who use nonimmigrant visas as a pretext to gain entry into the US and then try to change their status to permanent residents can face removal proceedings if it is determined they misrepresented their intentions for coming to the US. However, there are legal ways to become a permanent resident if you came to the US on a temporary visa. It is best to consult an attorney as soon as possible to find out whether you will qualify for this change in status.

There are many types of nonimmigrant visas. However, no matter what type of temporary visa is right for you, the job of convincing the United States Consular Officer in your country that should receive a visa is entirely your responsibility and your burden of proof. The biggest hurdle is establishing that you have such strong connections to you're your home country that you will be compelled to return there because of them. By contacting an attorney who understands immigration law and the consular process, you will be prepared for the consul interview and reduce the risk that your visa will be denied.

The Law Offices of Marcine A. Seid practice exclusively in the area of U.S. immigration law, including Non-Immigrant Business Visas.  The firm is dedicated to providing the latest and most-appropriate immigration strategies for our clients, who include employers and individuals in California and throughout the United States and the world.

When you need a U.S. immigration lawyer who is well-versed in U.S. immigration and naturalization laws and will provide you with unsurpassed personal attention, contact the Law Offices of Marcine A. Seid.

Discuss your Visa Needs with a Leading U.S. Immigration Attorney:
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