What are the main US Embassy visa types?
Foreign nationals wishing to travel to the USA will in most circumstances be required to hold a valid US visa to gain entry into the country.
In the case of a short stay of 90 days or less, nationals of the Visa Waiver countries will generally be permitted to travel to the US visa-free, where eligible under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and where they have been granted ESTA approval (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation).
If you are not eligible to travel visa-free, for example you have been refused ESTA or your are travelling to the US to work, you will need to apply for the relevant US visa.
What are the Main US Embassy Visa Types?
US visa types are split into two main categories – nonimmigrant visas and immigrant visas.
A nonimmigrant visa is required for a temporary visit to the USA. An immigrant visa is required to live permanently in the USA.
You will need to select the most appropriate visa based on your reason for travel, and the duration of stay among many other considerations.
Nonimmigrant Visa Types
B-1 Business Visa
This is a visa used for travelling to the USA on a temporary basis for the purpose of business. It could be used for business meetings, to attend a scientific convention or to meet with a prospective client. It is not intended to be used for permanent employment purposes.
The B-1 visa may also be used for:
- Taking part in an exhibition where the purpose is to attract new customers, make samples available, and take orders that will be produced and delivered in your own country, not the USA.
- Working as a service engineer travelling to the USA to install, service or make repairs to industrial or commercial machinery or equipment that has been sold by a company in your own country to a US buyer, where the accompanying contract states that the UK company provides these services. No payment must be received for these services in addition to any that was laid out in the original contract of sale.
- Travelling to the USA to take up a speaking or lecturing engagement that lasts no longer than 9 days, at 1 institution only, where the institution is a governmental research organisation, institution of higher education, a non-profit research organisation, or a related non-profit entity. The speaking engagement must be for the benefit of the institution. The speaker or lecturer must not have accepted speaking engagement related payment or expenses from 5 institutions during the last six months.
- Visiting sites in the USA that may be used for future business premises.
- Participating in a business, scientific, professional or education conference, convention or seminar, or to present a paper at a conference as long as there will be no remuneration or related expenses from a US source. The activities must not last longer than 9 days at 1 institution, and the institution must be a governmental research organisation, institution of higher education, a non-profit research organisation, or a related non-profit entity. The speaking engagement must be for the benefit of the institution. The speaker or lecturer must not have accepted speaking engagement related payment or expenses from 5 institutions during the last six months.
- Engaging in independent research as long as there is no remuneration from a US source and the findings of the research will not benefit the US institution.
- Taking an elective clerkship at a US medical school’s hospital without payment from the hospital, where you are a medical student from a foreign medical school.
- Taking part in a voluntary service program which benefits a US local community, where you are a member of and have a commitment to a recognised religious or non-profit charitable organisation.
performing services on the Outer Continental Shelf.
- Athletes, amateur or professional, travelling to the USA to compete for prize money.
- Domestic employees or nannies accompanying a foreign national employer.
B-2 Tourism Visa
This visa may be used to visit the USA for tourism purposes or to seek short-term medical treatment. The B-2 visa would therefore be the ideal visa for:
- A holiday to the USA
- A visit to friends or relatives who live in the USA
- Receiving medical treatment
- Taking part in amateur events where no payment is received
- Attending a short course of study that does not count towards a qualification
B-1/B-2 Combined Visa
When travelling on a US Embassy visa, you must adhere to the purposes assigned to that visa. If you apply for a B-1 visa, the purpose of your visit must be for business and business alone. If you apply for a B-2 visa, the purpose of your visit must fall under the permissible activities as we explain above.
Where your visit is intended to combine both business and tourism or medical treatment, you should apply for a B-1/B-2 combined visa.
E-1 Treaty Trader and E-2 Treaty Investor Visas
The E-1 visa is suitable if you wish to carry out substantial trade in the USA, from a trading firm which has the nationality of your home treaty country, where more than half of the international trade involved is between the USA and the treaty country.
The E-2 visa is used by entrepreneurs and business owners who wish to operate a business in the USA, either through setting up a new enterprise or investing in an existing business.
Anyone applying for an E-1 or E-2 visa must come from a Treaty country.
Diplomat and Foreign Government Official Visa
Diplomats and other foreign government officials who wish to travel to the USA to carry out duties or activities on behalf of their country’s government must use either an A-1 or A-2 visa.
This visa can also be used for immediate family members of diplomats and other foreign government officials.
The A-1 visa would be suitable for a head of state, government minster or European Union delegation representative, for instance, whereas the A-2 visa would be used by a full-time government employee, foreign military member stationed at a US military base, or the staff of a European Union delegation representative.
BCC Border Crossing Card: Mexico
This visa counts both as a border crossing card and a B-1/2 visitor’s visa. Produced as a laminated card, the BCC is valid for travel until the expiry date on the card, generally 10 years from being issued.
It is only available to citizens and residents of Mexico who meet the eligibility requirements of a B-1/2 visa and can show that they have such ties to Mexico that their stay in the USA would be temporary and they would return to Mexico within the required timeframe.
C Transit Visa
This type of visa is used by persons who wish to travel through the USA en route to another country in continuous transit, within the usual and reasonable travel constraints.
CW-1 CNMI-Only Transitional Worker Visa
This visa allows employers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) to employ foreign, non-immigrant workers who would otherwise be ineligible to work under other non-immigrant worker categories.
Where the CW-1 visa relates to a CNMI-Only transitional worker, the CW-2 visa is used for the dependent of such a transitional worker.
D Crewmember Visa
This visa is used by a person who works on commercial sea vessels or international airlines, either of which travel to the USA.
E-3 Australian Professional Speciality Visa
This visa is for Australian nationals only who wish to enter the USA to work in a speciality occupation requiring knowledge in the relevant profession and the minimum of a US bachelor’s degree or equivalent in the occupation.
G Employees of International Organisations and NATO Visa
This visa covers G-1 to G-5 visas and the NATO-1 to NATO-6 visas.
The G visa would be suitable for government officials, diplomats and employees who will be working for international organisations in the US.
The NATO visa would be used by officials and employees of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) who will work for NATO in the USA, including foreign military personnel stationed in the USA.
I Members of the Foreign Media, Press and Radio Visa
This visa is used by members of the foreign media, in whatever format, who will be visiting the USA on a temporary basis for work purposes within their industry, whether that be informational, educational or general news gathering.
J Exchange Visitor Visa
This kind of visa is for persons who have been approved to take part in exchange visitors programs in the USA.
This could include an au pair, a camp counsellor or a college student, to name but a few.
K-1 Fiancé or Fiancée Non-immigrant Visa
This visa allows the foreign citizen fiancé or fiancée to enter the USA to marry a US citizen within 90 days of arrival. Once married, the foreign citizen may apply for adjustment of status to permanent resident.
K-3 Spouse Visa
Where your spouse is a US citizen, the K-3 visa can be used to shorten your time apart by using this non-immigrant visa to enter the USA while your immigrant visa is processed.
A K-4 visa could be used for your children, if eligible.
R Temporary Religious Worker Visa
This visa is suitable for a person who wishes to enter the USA to work temporarily in a religious capacity.
This category covers F and M visas.
To study in the USA, it is necessary to hold a student visa and the kind of visa will depend on your level of study.
The F visa covers:
- university or college
- high school
- private elementary school
- other academic institution, including a language training program
The M visa is used for vocational studies or to attend a non-academic institution.
T Victims of Human Trafficking Visa
This type of visa may be granted to victims of human trafficking. It is generally used to allow victims to assist law enforcement authorities in their investigations.
Temporary Worker Visa
This visa covers H-1B, H-1B1, H-2A, H-2B, H-3, L, O, P-1, P-2, P-3 and Q-1 visas.
The Temporary Worker Visa is used by persons wishing to enter the USA for the purpose of employment for a fixed non-permanent period of time.
This category covers:
- H-1B – person in speciality occupation
- H-1B1 – free trade agreement professional, for example, from Chile or Singapore
- H-2A – temporary agricultural worker
- H-2B – temporary non-agricultural worker
- H-3 – trainee or special education visitor
- L – intracompany transferee
- O – person with extraordinary ability or achievement
- P-1 – member of an entertainment group or an individual/team athlete
- P-2 – artist or individual/group entertainer under a reciprocal exchange program
- P-3 – artist or individual/group entertainer performing, teaching or coaching under a program of performance or presentation
- Q-1 – person taking part in an international cultural exchange program
- TN Canadian and Mexican NAFTA Professional Worker Visa
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) creates and oversees economic and trade relationships between the USA, Canada and Mexico. NAFTA employees who are Canadian or Mexican citizens may use the TN visa to carry out pre-arranged business activities for US or foreign employers in the USA.
Their spouse and children may accompany them under a TD visa.
U Victims of Criminal Activity Visa
This type of visa may be granted to victims of certain criminal activities that happened in the USA or violated US laws. It is generally used to allow victims to assist law enforcement authorities in their investigations.
V Non-immigrant Visa for Spouse and Children of a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)
Created by the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (LIFE Act) in 2000, the purpose of this visa is to reunite families who have been apart for long periods of time due to immigration into the USA. This visa allows family members to stay in the USA with their LPR spouses or parents during the immigration process.
Immigrant Visa Types
Family-Based Immigrant Visa – Immediate Relatives
IR-1 Spouse of US Citizen
If your spouse is already a US citizen, then this visa may be suitable for you.
The IR1 visa would allow you to live permanently in the USA, however, if you have been married to your spouse for less than two years when you are granted your visa, your status will be conditional (CR1).
This conditional status can be removed if you and your spouse apply together to USCIS within the 90 days before the 2-year anniversary of your entry into the USA on your immigrant visa.
IR-2 Unmarried Child of US Citizen Visa
If you are the unmarried child of a US citizen and 21 years old or younger, then you may be eligible for the IR-2 visa.
A CR2 visa would generally be used instead of an IR-2 visa for the child of a spouse of a US citizen who holds a CR1 visa.
IR-3, IH3, IR-4, IH4 Intercountry Adoption of Orphan Children by US Citizens Immigrant Visa
For US citizens adopting orphaned children from other countries through permanent legal means, and then bringing those adopted children to live in the USA, this type of visa is generally suitable.
IR-5 Parent of a US Citizen who is at least 21 years of age
Where your child is a US citizen and aged 21 or over, you may be eligible for an IR-5 visa.
Family-Based Immigrant Visa – Family Preference
For more distant family members, the system of Family Preference is used. The categories for this are:
- First preference (F1) unmarried daughter or son, at least 21 years of age, of a US citizen, and their minor children
- Second preference (F2) spouse, unmarried child under 21 years old, and unmarried daughter or son, at least 21 years of age, of a lawful permanent resident of the USA (i.e. not a US citizen but someone who has the right to live and work in the USA on a permanent basis)
- Third preference (F3) married daughters or sons of US citizens, and their spouses and minor children
- Fourth preference (F4) siblings of a US citizen and their spouses and minor children, as long as the US citizen is at least 21 years old
Employment Based Immigrant Visa
These types of visas are split into 5 preference categories:
First preference E1 – Priority Workers
This category is further split into:
- Persons who are deemed to have extraordinary ability in the arts, education, sciences, athletics or business
Professors and researchers who are deemed to be outstanding
Multinational managers and executives
Second preference E2
Professionals who hold an advanced degree, and persons who are deemed to be of exceptional ability.
Third preference E3
Professionals, skilled workers and unskilled workers.
Fourth preference E4
Certain special immigrants, including:
- Broadcasters in the USA
- Ministers of religion and certain religious workers (SD and SR visas respectively)
- Certain employees of the US government abroad, or former employees
- Certain former employees of the Panama Canal Company, Canal Zone Government, and the US government in the Panama Canal Zone
- Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and translators who have worked directly with US armed forces (SI visa)
- Iraqi and Afghan nationals who have provided valuable and faithful service to the US government while employed by them or on behalf of them in Iraq or in Afghanistan
- Certain foreign medical graduates
- Certain retired international organisation employees
- Certain unmarried sons and daughters of international organisation employees
- Certain surviving spouses of deceased international organisation employees
- Special Immigrant Juveniles
- Individuals who have been recruited outside the USA and have served or are enlisted to serve in the US
- Armed Forces
- Certain retired NATO-6 civilians
- Certain unmarried sons and daughters of NATO-6 civilians
- Certain surviving spouses of deceased NATO-6 employees
- Persons who are beneficiaries of petitions or labour certification applications filed before 11 September 2001 if the petition or application was rendered void because of a terrorist act on 11 September 2001
Fifth preference E5
Employment Creation/Immigrant Investors.
Diversity Immigrant Visa
Also known as the ‘Green Card Lottery’, the Diversity Visa Program makes a number of immigrant visas available each year to a random selection of entries from applicants whose countries have low rates of immigration to the USA.
Returning Resident Visa
If a lawful permanent resident has spent time continuously outside the USA for over a year, or for a period of time that is longer than the limit set by their Re-entry Permit, they cannot return to the USA or their status as a lawful permanent resident until they have obtained a Returning Resident Visa.
To be eligible for this kind of visa, you must prove that you were a lawful permanent resident of the USA at the time of your departure, that you departed with the intention of returning and that this has not changed, that your visit abroad was temporary and that any delayed return to the USA was caused by factors outside your control.
Whether you wish to travel to the USA as a visitor or with the intent to live or work there permanently, it is important to select the entry route most suited to your purpose of visit and circumstances, and to navigate the relevant application correctly to avoid issues or delays with your petition.
NNU Immigration are a team of US immigration attorneys based in central London, in close proximity to the London Embassy. We can advise on all types of US visa applications, and guide applicants through the visa category selection processs, petitioning and preparation for the US visa interview. Contact us for specialist advice on a US visa petition.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.