We know: All About United States Visas

What's a U.S. visa?

If you're a citizen of a foreign country, in most cases you'll need a visa to enter the United States.

A visa doesn't permit entry to the U.S., however. A visa simply indicates that your application has been reviewed by a U.S. consular officer at an American embassy or consulate, and that the officer has determined you're eligible to enter the country for a specific purpose. Consular affairs are the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State.

What does a visa allow me to do?

A visa allows you to travel to the United States as far as the port of entry (airport or land border crossing) and ask the immigration officer to allow you to enter the country. Only the immigration officer has the authority to permit you to enter the United States. He or she decides how long you can stay for any particular visit. Immigration matters are the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

What kinds of visas are there?

There are two categories of U.S. visas: immigrant and nonimmigrant.

  1. Immigrant visas are for people who intend to live permanently in the U.S.
  2. Nonimmigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the U.S. but who wish to be in the U.S. on a temporary basis - for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study.

How do I get a U. S. visa?

Recently, the U.S. has updated its visa policies to increase security for citizens and visitors. It will likely take you longer to get a visa than it used to, and you will find that a few new security measures have been put into place.

For details that may apply specifically to your country, see information posted by your nearest consulate or embassy. While individual differences may differ slightly, here are the basic steps you should follow and what you can expect throughout the process.

Basic steps for obtaining a U.S. visa:

  1. Schedule an appointment at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country. Be sure to do this early, because there may be a wait.
  2. Ask the embassy what applications or forms you will need and where you can obtain them. Get the forms.
  3. Ask the embassy about what fees you must pay before your appointment. Pay these fees and get a receipt.
  4. Ask the embassy what documentation you will need for your appointment. Get your documentation ready, including:
    • a valid passport,
    • any required application forms
    • any required documentation such as employment details, reason for travel and financial status
    • proof of payment of fees
    • If you are applying for a student visa, talk to the U.S. school or exchange program to obtain all the forms you need to present them with your application.
  5. Submit your application, passport and supporting documents to the U.S. embassy or consulate for review.

When will I get my visa?

There is no guarantee you will be issued a visa, but visas are usually issued within a few weeks of making the application.

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