Types of Visas
Nonimmigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the U.S. but
who wish to visit the U.S. temporarily. The major disctinction is between those visas
that only allow visits for pleasure or business trips and those that allow employment
Visitor Visa/Visa Waiver Program
B-1/B-2 - 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). See here for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's discussion of the
visitor visa. The visitor applies for a B visa at the appropriate U.S. Consulate in their
home country. The visitor may be required to show the purpose of the visit, that
they have continuing ties to their home country and that they intend to return to their
home country at the conclusion of their visit to the US. For further information on
applying for a visitors visa, check with the website for a U.S. Consulate in your home
Visa Waiver - You may not need a visa to enter the United States for a visit for
business or pleasure. The Visa Waiver Program "VWP" allows foreign nationals
from certain countries to be admitted to the United States under limited conditions
and for a limited time without obtaining a visa. Nationals from designated countries
may apply for admission to the United States for 90 days or less as non-immigrant
visitors for business or pleasure without a visa.
The following countries are currently in the Visa Waiver Program:
Andorra, Austria, Australia, 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, and the United Kingdom*.
For citizens with the unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland,
Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man, the Secretary of
Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, may add countries to
the program or remove them from the program at any time.
After May 15, 2003, citizens of Belgium must present a machine-readable passport
in order to be granted admission under the VWP. This requirement also applies to
citizens of Andorra, Brunei, Liechtenstein and Slovenia.
To qualify for Visa Waiver, you must:
For a detailed FAQ on the VWP, please go to the website of U.S. Customs and
Visas For Work or Study
A person who is not a citizen of the United States or a lawful permanent resident (a
"green card" holder) requires permission to work in the United States. In most cases,
an employer must file a petition requesting a visa status that authorizes the
individual to work for the employer. In most cases, they may not start working for the
employer until the petition is approved. The rule is different for workers who already
hold H-1B visas with other companies and are merely transferring to a new
employment. See H-1B, below.
There are a variety of different visas available for individuals who seek to enter the
US for work or study. Some of the more commonly used are:
H-1B - Temporary workers in a Specialty Occupation - The H-1B categories apply to
aliens coming temporarily to perform services in a specialty occupation, or as a
fashion model of distinguished merit and ability. A specialty occupation is one which
requires the theoretical and practical application of highly specialized knowledge
requiring completion of a specific course of higher education which normally leads to
a Bachelor's degree in the specialized area.
Accordingly, the candidate for this visa must have a bachelor’s degree, or the
equivalent and the position for which the candidate is being considered must require
a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in experience and education, as a minimum
requirement for employment. This visa is normally valid for a total of six years (three
years initially, renewable for three years.)
However, if the employee is the beneficiary of a labor certification application (See
Permanent Residency) filed more than 365 days prior to the end of his/her six years
of authorized H-1B stay, then the individual is eligible for additional one year
extensions of H-1B status.
H-1B Quota - There is currently an annual limitation of 65,000 H-1B's. The limit was
reached on the first day of availability for FY 2007 and 2008.
New H-1B's will not be available again until October 2009. However, an amendment
to the law now exempts holders of Masters degrees from the quota limit. This
exemption is for a maximum of 20,000 visas. This quota usually runs out within a few
days after availablity begins.
H-2A - Temporary or seasonal agricultural workers.
H-2B - Temporary or seasonal nonagricultural workers. This classification requires a
temporary labor certification issued by the Secretary of Labor and is also subject to
a quota of 66,000 visas per fiscal year. The quota has been reached for this year.
H-3 classification applies to trainees other than medical or academic. This
classification also applies to practical training in the education of handicapped
children. It is extremely limited in number (50).
L-1 - Intracompany transferees who, within the three preceding years, have been
employed abroad continuously for one year, and who will be employed by a branch,
parent, affiliate, or subsidiary of that same employer in the U.S. in a managerial,
executive, (L-1A) or specialized knowledge capacity (L-1B). The L-1A is valid for a
total of seven years. The L-1B is valid for a total of five years.
E-1/E-2 - Treaty Trader/Treaty Investor. Generally, for individuals who will carry on
substantial trade, international in scope between U.S. and native country or who are
investing capital in a bona fide enterprise in the U.S. The two countries must be
parties to an applicable treate of friendship, commerce and navigation or a Bi-lateral
Investment Treaty or other arrangement.
TN- NAFTA professionals. Applies to nationals of Mexico or Canada who will be
employed in professions as set forth in the NAFTA. Valid for one year but
O-1 - Extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or
extraordinary achievements in the motion picture and television field.
O-2 - Persons accompanying an O-1 alien. The O-2 holder assists in an artistic or
athletic performance for a specific event or performance;
P-1 - Individual or team athletes, or members of an entertainment group that are
internationally recognized. This is limited to 25,000 visas per fiscal year.
P-2 - Artists or entertainers who will perform under a reciprocal exchange program;
P-3 Artists or entertainers who perform under a program that is culturally unique
(same as P-1); and
Q-1 - Participants in an international cultural exchange program for the purpose of
providing practical training, employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and
traditions of the alien's home country.
J-1 - Exchange Visitors. The Exchange Visitor Program' purpose is to enhance
understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other
countries through educational and cultural exchanges. The J-1 holder is a
participant in a cultural exchange program that is approved by the State
F-1 - Foreign students in an academic course of study.
M-1 - Foreign students in a vocational course of study.
See the Resources page for links to instructions on how to apply for a visa.