American visa advice: Eligibility & applications 

The US is an incredibly popular destination for travellers and those looking to emigrate for work or family reasons. It’s 40 times the size of England and offers countless opportunities for travel and career development in an English-speaking country with a similar culture.

To gain entry to the US, you will generally need to secure a visa if you are ineligible for visa-free travel. There are many different types of visa and the US immigration process can be complex and involved. This article will look at the various types of visas available and offer American visa advice that can help with making a successful application.

Securing an American visa

A visa is an official document issued by the US embassy or a consulate that permits you to travel to the US and apply for admission. It does not guarantee entry, this is ultimately determined by an immigration official at your point of entry to the United States.

Your reason for travelling and your background, nationality and other facts will determine the kind of visa you need to apply for. It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure they are applying for the correct visa and can demonstrate they meet the requirements.

If you were born in the US or hold dual citizenship with the United States, are a citizen of Canada or Bermuda you will not require a visa.

Types of American visa

There are many different types of visa you can apply for, but they all fall under two broad categories.

  • Nonimmigrant visas are for foreign citizens who want to enter the US on a temporary basis.
  • Immigrant visas are for foreign citizens looking to move to live in the US on a more permanent basis.

Nonimmigrant visas
If you are planning on visiting the US temporarily the reason for your visit will dictate the kind of visa you need to apply for.

Tourist or visitor
If you are planning a visit to the US there are a number of ways to do this. It may be possible for you travel to the US without applying for a visa if you have a valid ESTA in place. An ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) acts like a visa in that it allows you to travel to the US but is easier and less time-consuming to apply for.

The ESTA is part of the US Waiver Program and allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the country for up to 90 days without needing to apply for a visa.

If you plan to travel on an ESTA, you must obtain authorisation through the online ESTA system before travelling to the US. In the past travellers have been able to get ESTA’s granted instantly and even in the airport on arrival in the US but more stringent immigration rules now mean that you are advised to apply for an ESTA no later than 72 hours before departing for the US.
If you do not receive approval for an ESTA you must apply for a visa at a US Embassy or Consulate before travelling to the United States.

The B2 visa is the non-immigrant visa for foreign tourists and visitors. You will need to apply for your visa in person at the embassy or consulate through a scheduled appointment and undertake an interview.

Temporary business visas
If you are looking to visit the US on business for a short period you will usually need to travel on a B1 visa.

The B1 visa allows you to enter the country for activities such as meeting with business associates, negotiating contracts or deals, litigation or attending conventions, conferences or educational seminars.

If you want to operate a business or take on consultancy work this is not usually permitted under the B1 visa.

Less common activities that may be allowed under the B1 visa include voluntary work that benefits the US community, working as a service engineer on equipment supplied by a UK business to a US buyer, some medical electives, working in the Outer Continental Shelf.

Temporary employment visa
To work in the US for a temporary period of time you will need a work visa – you cannot work on any other type of visa. The US does not issue casual work visas, when you apply for a visa to work in the US it will usually relate to a specific offer of employment.

If you are applying for a petition-based visa your new employer will need to file a petition on your behalf. After it has been approved by the USCIS you will receive a Notice of Action or a Petition Receipt number with which to apply.
The main visas that fall under this category are:

  • H1B – Specialty Occupation visa: This is for people who are filling a specialist role in a US company
  • H2B – Skilled/unskilled worker: These are seasonal or temporary workers filling shortages in the US job market
  • H3 Visa – Trainee: A visa for those receiving training in a field of endeavor (not medical education)
  • L1 – Intra Company Transfer: This is for people temporarily moving to a branch or affiliate of their company in the US. You must be a manager, executive or have specialist knowledge.

Treaty Trader or Investor
This type of visa is for citizens of countries where the US has a treaty of commerce and navigation. The applicant should be visiting the US to negotiate trade in services or technology or to oversee a US enterprise that they are investing or have invested substantial funds in.

Study/exchange
Usually if you want to study in the US you will require an F1 or M1 visa – which you need depends on whether your study will be academic or vocational. If you are a student looking to take part in an exchange program, training or research under an official US program you will need a J1 visa.

Immigrant visas
If you want to apply for an immigrant visa you will usually need to be sponsored by a US citizen or prospective US employer. When they have completed a petition on your behalf you will then need to apply for a visa.

There are various immigrant visas. The main types and those that people tend to seek American visa advice on are:

Family immigration
If you have a relative who is a US citizen they can sponsor your visa application. The nature of your relationship and the country you live in will dictate the likely success and processing time of your application. Generally, the closer the relative – i.e. a child or a fiancé, the more likely your visa application is to be granted.

Employment
An employer may be able to sponsor your immigrant visa. These are usually granted to people who have extraordinary ability in their fields such as eminent scientists, artists or athletes. They may also be granted to investors who are seeking to establish a new commercial enterprise and invest a minimum of $1 million or $500,000 in a targeted employment area.

Application and interview process

The application and interview process differ for each visa. The instructions and requirements can be involved and you should read the official guidance carefully and may need to seek advice and support from a specialist in US immigration.
It is vital that you collate and check all supporting documentation to ensure the success of your application.
When called for interview at a US consulate or embassy you should consider the following:

Show ties to your home country
This is key for all non-immigrant visas. You must be able to demonstrate that if your time in the US is temporary you have sufficient ties to your home country to guarantee your return. This can be family, financial, property or job ties.

Be prepared to articulate your case
You will be asked questions and required to speak on your own behalf to state your case for a visa and entry to the US. It is vital that you are prepared and have answers to common questions prepared. You should be able to explain your past education, employment, family background and plans for your future in the US.

Have the right documentation
Your application will be rejected if you do not have the evidence to support your case. Your documentation should be clear, concise and well presented.

Need assistance?

Whether you are looking to move to the US temporarily or secure a permanent stay getting American visa advice could be vital to the success of your application. The requirements of the US immigration authorities can be exacting, and the process can be lengthy – and costly. Working with an expert in the US immigration system could make the difference and help you secure a successful future in America.

Specialist US visa advice for UK citizens can help to alleviate the stresses involved with making your application and optimizing your chances of being granted the visa.  Seeking legal advice from a US immigration specialist can also help to avoid costly re-submissions and delays in the application process. Similarly, if your visa application has been refused obtaining the specialist support of a legal professional could ensure you and your family secure entry to the United States.

NNU Immigration specialize in helping British nationals across all US visa and immigration needs. Whether you are travelling for business, leisure or any other reason, we can help you identify the relevant visa category and compile a compelling and robust submission to the US authorities. If you have already applied and you have been refused, talk to our specialists about your next steps.

This post does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only. 

Last updated: 24 December 2019