How long does a US visa last?
Guide to US visa durations
Different visa classifications grant different visa periods.
Below we look at the duration of the main classifications of nonimmigrant visa, and how long you can remain in the US when travelling visa-free.
It’s important to note that the visa duration granted only specifies a period during which the holder can travel to the US to apply for admission. The final decision to permit entry into the US and on the permitted length of stay will be made at the border by the United States Customs and Border Protection Officer when you attempt to enter the country.
How long does a US visa last: ESTA
If you are travelling to the US for just a short time, you may be eligible for visa free travel. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the US for business or tourism for up to 90 days without a visa.
To travel to the US visa-free, you must have valid ESTA authorization. Once granted, ESTA is usually valid for a period of two years from the date of issuance. During this time, you can make mutiple trips to the US, provided you remain ESTA-eligibile and provided you reason for travel is permissible under the visa waiver program. If your passport expires prior to the two-year point, your ESTA status will no longer be valid.
How long does a US visa last: Business/Tourist Visa (B-1/B-2)
The B-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visitor visa for those travelling to the United States to carry out business-related activity during a time limited visit, such as attending a conference, while the B-2 tourist visa is for those temporarily travelling to the US for tourism, pleasure or undergoing medical treatment.
The B visa is initially granted for a maximum period of 6 months.
It may be possible to obtain a 6-month extension to your B-1 or B-2 visa, provided you can show you will be maintaining your visitor status and can provide good reason for this extra time.
The maximum duration permitted under a B-1 or B-2 visa on any one trip is generally 1 year, but as you are not allowed to work during that time, you must prove you can afford to stay.
If you who wish to stay in the US beyond the time initially permitted without departing, you must file an application to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to extend or change your nonimmigrant status using Form I-539 before your authorised stay expires.
In some cases, it may also be possible to request a change in your immigration status if you are planning to remain in the US for a purpose that is not a permitted business activity or recreational in nature, for example, you receive an offer of employment or you plan to marry a US citizen.
How long does a US visa last? : Trader/Investor Visa (E-1/E-2)
The E-1 treaty trader and E-2 treaty investor visas are nonimmigrant work visas for citizens of countries with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation.
Qualified treaty traders, investors and their senior or essentially skilled employees will be allowed a maximum initial stay of two years. If you continue to meet all relevant conditions, in particular that you continue to work in the activity for which you were initially approved, you may request an extension.
An extension of stay may be granted in increments of up to two years each. While there is no maximum limit to the number of extensions an E-1 or E-2 visa holder may be granted, you must still maintain an intention to depart the US when your status expires or is terminated.
The E-1 visa allows treaty traders to enter the US for the purpose of carrying out international trade, while the E-2 visa is for those who wish to invest a substantial amount of capital in a US business enterprise.
The E-1 and E-2 visas also allow for employees of treaty traders or investors to come to the US to work for them. This includes employees who are destined to an executive or supervisory role, as well as those with special skills essential to the efficient operation of the enterprise.
How long does a US visa last: Intra-Company Transfer Visa (L-1A/L-1B)
The L-1 visa is a nonimmigrant work visa for an employee of a multinational company who is being temporarily transferred to a parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary of the same company in the US.
Qualified intra-company transferees entering the US to establish a new office will be allowed a maximum initial stay of one year. All other qualified employees will be allowed a maximum initial stay of three years.
For all L-1A visa holders, requests for extension of stay may be granted in increments of up to an additional two years, until the employee has reached the maximum limit of seven years. This slightly differs for L-1B employees, where requests for extension of stay have a maximum limit of five years.
The L-1A visa is for those in a managerial or executive role, while the L-1B visa is specifically for professionals with specialised knowledge within their organisation. The L-1 visa can be used either to transfer an employee to an affiliated office in the US, or to set up a new office.
How long does a US visa last: Speciality Occupation Visa (H-1B)
The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work visa if you are travelling to the US to perform services in a professional job for a US employer, where that employment is determined by the USCIS to be a speciality occupation.
As an H-1B visa holder, you may be initially admitted to the US for a period of up to three years. Your time period may be extended, up to a maximum total of six years under H1B status.
To qualify as a specialty occupation the job must require a bachelor’s or higher degree as a minimum entry requirement, or the nature of the specific duties are so specialised and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree.
How long does a US visa last: Extraordinary Ability or Achievement Visa (O-1A/O-1B)
The O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant work visa for those who possess extraordinary ability or have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement, they have been nationally or internationally recognised as such, and are coming to the US to work in that field.
As an O-1A or O-1B visa holder you may be initially admitted to the US for a period of up to three years. Although your time period may be extended, this will be determined based on the time necessary to accomplish the initial event or activity in increments of up to 1 year.
The O-1A visa is for individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business or athletics, while the O-1B visa is for those with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry.
Intention to leave
Many of the temporary, nonimmigrant US visas, require applicants to show when making their application the intention to leave the US before your visa expiry. This requires you to provide evidence of your residence and other binding ties to your country of residence such as relatives and continued employment.
Path to US permanent residence
Whether or not you can petition for permanent residency in the US depends on your immigration category and status.
With many nonimmigrant visas you must maintain an intention to leave at the end of your stay. There are, however, what’s known as dual intent visas that will allow you to lawfully enter the US under a time-limited nonimmigrant visa, albeit with immigrant intent.
The L visa, O visa and H-1B visa are all dual intent visas that will potentially allow you to apply for lawful permanent residence when you are present in the US. This means that you may get a green card without having to return to your home country to complete visa processing.
The E visa category is a little more complicated, although expert legal advice should always be sought in the event that you are planning to immigrate to the US under any visa classification. In some limited cases, for example, where you are an immediate relative of a US citizen, you may even be able to seek an adjustment of status where you have entered under the VWP.
Do you have a question about a US visa application?
As specialists in US immigration, NNU’s London-based attorneys can guide you through your US visa application process. US visa applications are facing increasing scrutiny by adjudicators. Taking expert advice will help ensure you compile a robust application and avoid evidentiary or process issues which can result in a delayed or even refused application.
Contact us for guidance on your specific circumstances.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.