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- Frequently Asked Questions
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. 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). Persons planning to travel to the U.S. for a different purpose such as students, temporary workers, crewmen, journalists, etc., must apply for a different visa in the appropriate category. The consular officer can provide additional information. Travelers from certain eligible countries may also be able to visit the U.S. without a visa on the Visa Waiver Pilot Program. (See below).
Qualifying for a Visa
Applicants for visitor visas must show that they qualify under the provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The presumption in the law is that every visitor visa applicant is an intending immigrant. Therefore, applicants for visitor visas must overcome this presumption by demonstrating that:
- The purpose of their trip is to enter the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment;
- That they plan to remain for a specific, limited period; and
- That they have a residence outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit.
Applying for a Visitor Visa
Applicants for visitor visas should generally apply at the American Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.
Each applicant for a visitor visa must pay a nonrefundable US$45 application fee and submit:
- An application Form OF-156, completed and signed. Blank forms are available without charge at all U.S. consular offices;
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay in the United States. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application;
- Two photographs 1 and 1/2 inches square (37×37 mm) for each applicant, showing full face, without head covering, against a light background.
Applicants must demonstrate that they are properly classifiable as visitors under U.S. law. Evidence which shows the purpose of the trip, intent to depart the United States, and arrangements made to cover the costs of the trip may be provided. It is impossible to specify the exact form the evidence should take since applicants’ circumstances vary greatly.
- Persons traveling to the U.S. on business can present a letter from the U.S. business firm indicating the purpose of the trip, the bearer’s intended length of stay and the firm’s intent to defray travel costs.
- Persons traveling to the U.S. for pleasure may use letters from relatives or friends in the U.S. whom the applicant plans to visit or confirmation of participation in a planned tour.
- Persons traveling to the U.S. for medical treatment should have a statement from a doctor or institution concerning proposed medical treatment.
- Those applicants who do not have sufficient funds to support themselves while in the U.S. must present convincing evidence that an interested person will provide support.
Visitors are not permitted to accept employment during their stay in the U.S. Depending on individual circumstances, applicants may provide other evidence substantiating the trip’s purpose and specifying the nature of binding obligations, such as family ties or employment, which would compel their return abroad.
A person whose passport contains a previously issued visitor visa should inquire about special expedited procedures available at most consular offices for issuance of a new visitor visa.
Unless previously canceled, a visa is valid until its expiration date. Therefore, if the traveler has a valid U.S. visitor visa in an expired passport, he or she may use it along with a new valid passport for travel and admission to the United States.
If there is a fee for issuance of the visa, it is equal as nearly as possible to the fee charged to United States citizens by the applicant’s country of nationality.
Applicants for visitor visas should not find it necessary to employ persons to assist them in preparing documents or securing access to the U.S. consular office.
Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material fact, or fraud, may result in the permanent refusal of a visa or denial of entry into the United States.
If the consular officer should find it necessary to deny the issuance of a visitor visa, the applicant may apply again if there is new evidence to overcome the basis for the refusal. In the absence of new evidence, consular officers are not obliged to re-examine such cases.
U.S. Port of Entry
Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has authority to deny admission. Also, the period for which the bearer of a visitor visa is authorized to remain in the United States is determined by the INS, not the consular officer. At the port of entry, an INS official must authorize the traveler’s admission to the U.S. At that time the INS Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted, is validated. Those visitors who wish to stay beyond the time indicated on their Form I-94 must contact the INS to request Form I-539, Application to Extend Status. The decision to grant or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely by the INS.
Visa Waiver Pilot Program
Travelers coming to the U.S. for tourism or business for 90 days or less from qualified countries may be eligible to visit the U.S. without a visa. Currently, 29 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Pilot Program: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, 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, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. Visitors entering on the Visa Waiver Pilot Program cannot work or study while in the U.S. and cannot stay longer than 90 days or change their status to another category.