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A Guide to US Visas & Immigration Routes

Explore our comprehensive guide on US immigration, covering visas, work, study, family moves, permanent residency, asylum, appeals, and travel.

A Guide to US Visas & Immigration Routes

The United States continues to offer a unique proposition of hope and opportunity, attracting millions seeking a new beginning or promising prospects.

At its core, US immigration is governed by laws that dictate who can enter, stay, work, study, or settle permanently within its borders. These laws are implemented through various visas and immigration routes, each designed for specific purposes, from temporary visits to permanent residency.

Understanding the different visas and immigration routes is crucial for those looking to choose the pathway best aligned with their goals, whether for tourism, employment, education, family reunification, asylum, or permanent residence.

It can also significantly enhance the chances of making a successful application. Immigration regulations are stringent, and each category has specific eligibility criteria, required documentation, and procedural nuances.

Knowledge of the US immigration system can also help to avoid common pitfalls and legal missteps that can impact your US experience and restrict the availability of certain immigration pathways.

As a team of US immigration attorneys, NNU Immigration help companies, individuals and families navigate the stringent US immigration rules and regulations to succeed in their US-based plans.

Whether you see yourself walking through the bustling streets of New York, pursuing a cutting-edge tech career in Silicon Valley, or studying in some of the world’s most prestigious universities, the first step is always understanding the US immigration routes that can turn these dreams into reality.

In this guide, we’ll explore the various visas and routes to help you navigate the complexities of the US immigration system.

Table of Contents

Contact our US immigration experts

For advice on any aspect of a US visa application, contact our US immigration attorneys.

Contact our L-1 visa experts

For advice on any aspect of an L-1 visa application, contact our US immigration attorneys. 

Contact our L-1 visa experts

For advice on any aspect of an L-1 visa application, contact our US immigration attorneys. 

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Role of Immigration in the US

Immigration plays a foundational role in shaping the social, cultural, and economic landscape of the United States. As a nation built by immigrants, the US has historically been a mosaic of cultures and ideas, continually rejuvenated by newcomers from around the world. 

Immigration enriches the American workforce with diverse skill sets and perspectives, fostering global competitiveness in every sector of society—from business to science, education to the arts—driving innovation and economic growth. 

It also strengthens cultural ties and promotes understanding across borders, enhancing the US’s influence and relationships worldwide. Additionally, immigrants play a vital role in demographic growth, helping to sustain the US population and workforce as birth rates decline.

However, the impact of immigration extends beyond mere numbers; it is a testament to the US’s enduring identity as a land of opportunity. The US immigration system, with its variety of visas and pathways for newcomers, reflects a complex but deliberate structure to balance the nation’s economic needs, humanitarian obligations, and security concerns.

Understanding this system’s nuances is crucial not only for potential immigrants but also for policymakers and the general public. It underscores the ongoing dialogue about how best to harness and regulate the flow of new residents in support of the nation’s ideals and interests.

The US immigration system is built upon a set of fundamental principles that aim to balance national security, economic prosperity, family reunification, and humanitarian responsibility. These principles not only define the framework of immigration law but also reflect the nation’s values and priorities.

a. National Security

A core priority of US immigration policy is to safeguard the nation’s borders and ensure the security of its citizens. Rigorous screening processes and eligibility criteria are designed to prevent the entry of individuals who might pose a threat to safety or national interests.

b. Economic Benefit

The US immigration system recognizes the significant contributions immigrants make to the economy. Policies are structured to attract skilled workers, entrepreneurs, and other individuals who can contribute to economic growth and innovation. Employment-based visas, such as the H-1B and L-1 visas, facilitate the entry of workers who fill critical roles in various industries, driving economic development and competitiveness.

c. Family Reunification

One of the most longstanding pillars of US immigration policy is the emphasis on family unity. The system allows US citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) to sponsor relatives for immigration, underscoring the value placed on family as a foundation of community and societal stability.

d. Humanitarian Protection

The US is committed to providing refuge to individuals fleeing persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Through its asylum and refugee policies, the US demonstrates its dedication to human rights and international humanitarian standards.

e. Rule of Law and Fairness

The US immigration system is governed by a complex set of laws and regulations that aim to ensure fairness, transparency, and justice in the processing and adjudication of immigration applications. Adherence to the rule of law is fundamental, with procedures in place to handle appeals and remedies for those who face adverse decisions.

Types of US Immigration Routes & Visas

1. Visit the US

Whether sightseeing or conducting business, find out how to visit the US with a B-1 or B-2 visa or as a visa-free visitor with ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program. 

2. Work in the US

The US continues to offer unparalleled business and career opportunities, with various work visas available for different purposes.

Read more about Work Visas here >>

3. Study in the US

From prestigious universities to cutting-edge vocational schools, understand the essentials of F-1 and M-1 visas and how they can transform your educational journey.

4. Moving Your Family to the US

Family-based visas allow US citizens and Green Card holders to sponsor relatives to reunite and start a new life together in America.

5. Living Permanently in the US

Find out how you can secure your permanent status in the US through family, work, or luck in the diversity lottery. 

6. Seek Protection or Asylum in the US

The US offers asylum and refugee status to those fleeing danger. Delve into the protections offered and the profound impact they can have on securing your safety and rights.

7. Immigration Appeals

If your US immigration application is denied, find out how to navigate the appeals process to overturn decisions and what steps you can take to potentially change the outcome.

8. Travelling to the US

Planning a trip to the US? From applying for travel visas to entering through the Visa Waiver Program, learn what it takes to embark on your American adventure.

Visit the US

The US remains a favorite destination for visitors from around the world. Before you can come to the US, you must ensure you have the required permission. 

Under the US immigration system, there are specific visas and programs for those who wish to visit for leisure, business, or medical treatment. 

Citizens from Canada and Bermuda generally do not need visas to visit the US. 

 

1. Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Visitors from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) may be able to come to the US for tourism or business for stays of up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Travelers must apply for authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) pre-screening process before their trip. 

The VWP emphasizes the ease of travel but requires travelers to have an e-passport and an ESTA approval. 

The ESTA application system is preferable for visitors as it is notably easier, faster and costs less than a visa application. However, certain eligibility criteria must be met. If you’re not eligible for ESTA, you’ll need to apply for a B1/B2 visitor visa. 

Read our detailed guide to applying for ESTA authorization here. 

 

2. B-1/B-2 Visitor Visas

 

For travelers who are not eligible under the VWP, the B-1 and B-2 visas are the most common types of nonimmigrant visas for visitors. 

 

a. What is the B-1 Visa?

 

This visa is intended for business-related visits from those who are not eligible to travel visa-free. Permissible activities permitted under a B-1 visa include consulting with business associates, attending scientific, educational, professional, or business conventions/conferences, settling an estate, or negotiating contracts. 

It’s important to note that this visa does not allow employment in the US. To work in the US, you will need to secure the relevant work visa. 

 

b. What is the B-2 Visa?

 

This visa is designed for tourists on vacation, visiting family or friends, and people coming to the US for medical treatment. It’s also used by those participating in amateur musicals, sports, or similar events or contests if not being paid for participating. 

 

c. B1/B2 Visa Application Process

 

Applying for a B-1/B-2 visa typically involves the following steps:

 

Step 1: Complete the Online Visa Application

Form DS-160 is the online nonimmigrant visa application form which is required for US visa interviews.

 

Step 2: Schedule an Interview

Visa applicants aged 14 through 79 must be interviewed at the US Embassy or Consulate in their country.

 

Step 3: Prepare Documentation

Applicants need to prepare documentation, including a passport valid for travel to the US, a photo for the visa application, and the application fee payment receipt. Additional documents might include evidence of your intent to return to your home country after your visit and proof of your ability to cover your expenses while in the US.

 

Step 4: Attend the Visa Interview

During the interview, a consular officer will determine your eligibility for a visa.

 

d. Tips for US Visitors 

 

Start your visit in the best way by:

 

1. Understanding the Requirements: Be clear on the purpose of your visit to ensure you apply for the correct visa category.


2. Planning Ahead: Visa wait times can vary greatly depending on the location, season, and visa type, so it’s important to apply well in advance of your travel date.


3. Preparing for Your Interview: Be ready to clearly and concisely describe your travel plans and intentions.

 

Work in the US

Working in the United States offers a wealth of opportunity, with its dynamic economy, diverse industries, and the potential for innovation and growth. 

The US immigration system provides various visas for individuals looking to work temporarily or permanently in the country, catering to different levels of skills, employment types, and specializations. 

1. H-1B Visa for Specialty Occupations

The H-1B visa is designed for foreign workers in specialty occupations requiring theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields such as IT, finance, engineering, architecture, and more. 

To qualify, the job must meet certain criteria, including a minimum entry requirement of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. 

The number of H-1B visas issued each year is capped, making the application process competitive.

Read our in-depth guide to the H1B visa here. 

2. L-1 Visa for Intracompany Transfers

The L-1 visa facilitates the transfer of key employees from a foreign corporation to a US branch, subsidiary, or affiliated company. There are two categories within the L-1 visa:

a. L-1A for executives or managers

b. L-1B for employees with specialized knowledge

This visa is particularly useful for global companies looking to transfer staff to the US for managerial roles or to utilize specialized knowledge.

Read our detailed guide to the L1 visa here >>

3. E-2 Visa for Investors and Entrepreneurs

The E-2 visa enables foreign nationals to establish or invest in a US-based business, provided their investment is considered ‘substantial’ and that they can demonstrate significant economic contribution.

Key aspects include:

a. Eligibility

Applicants must be nationals of a treaty country and have invested or are actively in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital in a bona fide enterprise in the US.

b. Investment Criteria

The investment must be substantial relative to the total cost of purchasing or creating the enterprise, ensuring a significant financial commitment with the risk to the investor.

c. Business Requirement

The enterprise must be real and operating, and it must not be marginal; that is, it must have the capacity to generate more than enough income to provide a minimal living for the investor and their family.

Extensive supporting documentation, including a detailed business plan, will be required when applying for the E-2 visa to evidence that the requirements are met. 

d. Duration and Renewals

E-2 visas may be granted for up to five years and can be renewed indefinitely as long as the business continues to operate and comply with the terms of the visa.

e. Family Members

Spouses and minor children of E-2 visa holders can accompany the principal visa holder. Spouses may apply for work authorization in the US, and children may study but cannot work.

Read our in-depth guide to the E2 visa here >>

4. E-1 Visa for Treaty Traders 

The E-1 visa is intended for individuals who engage in substantial international trade between the United States and the treaty country. 

Key details include:

a. Eligibility

To qualify for an E-1 visa, the applicant must be a national of a treaty country, and the trade must be substantial, with the majority of the trade occurring between the US and the treaty country.

b. Trade Definition

Trade can include the exchange of goods, services, and technology. It must be principally between the United States and the treaty country.

c. Duration and Renewals

E-1 visas are generally issued for up to five years and can be renewed indefinitely as long as the conditions for the visa are met.

d. Family Members

Spouses and children under 21 of E-1 visa holders can also apply to enter and stay in the US. Spouses are eligible to apply for work authorization.

Read our comprehensive guide to the E1 visa here. 

5. O-1 Visa for Those with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

The O-1 visa is reserved for individuals with extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics or who have a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and have been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements. 

The O-1 visa requires a high standard of proof of the individual’s accomplishments, which have to be evidenced through extensive supporting documentation.

Read our guide to the O-1 visa here. 

6. Additional Work Visas

The US immigration system also offers specific programs and routes for specific types of workers, including:

a. E-3 Visa: Similar to the H-1B, but specifically for Australian citizens, this visa allows for temporary work in specialty occupations.

b. TN Visa: Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), citizens of Canada and Mexico can work in the US in prearranged business activities for US or foreign employers.

Taking professional advice will help you determine the available and most suitable immigration options in your circumstances. 

7. US Work Visa Application Process

The application process for work visas varies by visa type, with some requiring a labor certification or proving that there are no suitable US workers available for the position.

The process typically involves the prospective employer filing a petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of the employee. Once approved, the employee can apply for the visa. 

Take professional advice to ensure you are following the relevant procedure for your visa category. 

Study in the US

Studying in the US is an enriching experience that offers academic growth, cultural exchange, and personal development. 

The US welcomes millions of international students from all over the globe, pursuing a wide range of academic and vocational disciplines. To facilitate their stay, the US immigration system provides specific visa categories, primarily the F-1 and M-1 visas, tailored to the needs and objectives of international students.

 

1. F-1 Visa for Academic Studies

 

The F-1 visa is the most common type of student visa for those looking to engage in academic studies in the United States at an accredited college, university, private secondary school, or approved English language program. F-1 students must maintain a full course of study, and they are allowed to work on campus for up to 20 hours a week while school is in session, with more flexible work permissions during holidays and vacation periods. 

Under certain conditions, F-1 students may also be eligible for off-campus employment through programs like Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT), which allow students to gain practical experience in their field of study.

 

2. M-1 Visa for Vocational and Non-Academic Studies

 

The M-1 visa is designed for international students pursuing vocational or other non-academic programs, except language training, in the United States. M-1 visa holders are admitted to the US for the fixed time period necessary to complete the course of study, plus any practical training followed by a grace period of 30 days. 

Unlike the F-1 visa, M-1 students are generally not permitted to work during their studies. They may engage in practical training only after completing their studies.

 

3. Application Process to Study in the US

 

Follow these steps to apply to study in the US: 

 

a. Apply and Get Accepted

Before applying for a visa, students must be accepted by a school certified in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

 

b. Receive Form I-20

Upon acceptance, the institution will provide the student with a Form I-20, which is necessary to apply for a student visa.

 

c. Pay the SEVIS Fee

Students must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee prior to scheduling their visa interview.

 

d. Complete the Visa Application

Complete the DS-160 form online, pay the visa application fee, and schedule an interview at a US Embassy or Consulate.

 

e. Prepare and Attend the Visa Interview

Gather the required documents, including the Form I-20, passport, DS-160 confirmation page, application fee payment receipt, and financial evidence showing you can support yourself during your studies. During the interview, a consular officer will determine your eligibility for the visa.

 

f. Tips for Student Visa Applications 

 

 – Financial Support: Applicants must prove they have sufficient funds to cover their tuition and living expenses during their stay.

 

 – Academic Readiness: Students should be prepared to discuss their academic plans and prove they are qualified for the program of study.

 

 – Ties to Home Country: Applicants must demonstrate strong ties to their home country and an intention to return home after completing their studies.

 

4. What is the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)?

 

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is pivotal for international students and exchange visitors in the US educational landscape. 

It is a web-based system that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses to manage and track the status of international students (F and M visa holders) and exchange visitors (J visa holders) in the United States. SEVIS ensures that these individuals maintain their status while studying or participating in exchange programs in the US. 

Key aspects of SEVIS include:

 

a. Compliance

SEVIS allows schools and program sponsors to report important information about F, M, and J visa holders to the DHS, ensuring compliance with US immigration laws. This includes changes in enrollment status, such as dropping below a full course of study, changing majors or degrees, or transferring to a different school.

SEVIS also helps students and exchange visitors keep their visa statuses up-to-date by providing a platform for reporting required information, including address changes, program extensions, and employment authorizations.

 

b. Monitoring and Reporting

SEVIS provides a real-time mechanism for educational institutions and program sponsors to report and access information about students and exchange visitors. This is crucial for maintaining accurate records and ensuring timely updates on the status of these individuals.

The system tracks the entry and exit of international students and exchange visitors, ensuring that they arrive as scheduled and comply with their visa conditions, including departing the US or changing their status before their authorized stay expires.

 

c. Security and Data Integrity

SEVIS enhances national security by ensuring that only eligible students and exchange visitors are allowed to enter and remain in the US for their designated programs. It helps in identifying individuals who may pose a risk or fail to comply with their visa conditions.

By collecting detailed information on international students and exchange visitors, SEVIS helps in maintaining the integrity of the US educational and cultural exchange programs. It provides valuable data for policy-making and resource allocation within the educational and security sectors.

 

d. Facilitating Support Services

SEVIS aids schools and program sponsors in administering their programs more effectively by providing a streamlined process for handling visa-related matters for international students and visitors.

The system can be used to assist students and exchange visitors in emergencies by facilitating communication between them, their sponsors, and government agencies.

 

Moving Your Family to the US

The US immigration system offers certain pathways for US citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to be joined by their loved ones to begin a shared future in the USA. 

Sponsoring family members for immigration, however, requires careful planning, patience, and a thorough understanding of the legal requirements and procedures.

This process is facilitated through two main categories of family-based visas: Immediate Relative visas and Family Preference visas. Each category has its criteria, application process, and waiting times.

 

1. Immediate Relative Visas (IR Category)

 

Immediate Relative visas are for close family relationships with US citizens. Unlike the Family Preference category, there is no cap on the number of visas available each year in this category, which can expedite the immigration process. 

The types of Immediate Relative visas include:

 

a. IR-1: Spouse of a US Citizen

b. IR-2: Unmarried Child Under 21 Years of Age of a US Citizen

c. IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a US Citizen

d. IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the US by a US citizen

e. IR-5: Parent of a US Citizen who is at least 21 years old

 

2. Family Preference Visas

 

The Family Preference category is for more distant family relationships with US citizens and some specified relationships with LPRs. There are annual numerical limits on family preference visas, which can result in longer waiting periods. The family preference categories are:

 

a. F1: Adult sons and daughters of US citizens

b. F2: Spouses and minor children, and unmarried adult sons and daughters of LPRs

c. F3: Married sons and daughters of US citizens, along with their spouses and minor children

d. F4: Brothers and sisters of US citizens, along with their spouses and minor children, provided the US citizens are at least 21 years old

 

3. Process of Sponsoring a Family Member

 

Step 1: Petition

The process begins with the US citizen or LPR sponsor filing a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) with USCIS to confirm the relationship between the sponsor and the ‘beneficiary’ (their non-US relative).

 

Step 2: Visa Application 

Once the petition is approved and a visa number becomes available, the foreign family member can apply for the visa. For family members outside the US, this involves processing through a US Embassy or Consulate. Those already in the US on a different visa may apply to adjust their status to that of a lawful permanent resident.

For Family Preference visas, there are numerical limitations on the number of visas that can be issued each year, which are governed by priority dates. The priority date is when the I-130 petition is filed on behalf of the relative and is officially received by USCIS. This date effectively determines an applicant’s place in line for a visa.

When the priority date becomes current according to the US Visa Bulletin, this means that an immigrant visa number is available, and the family member can either apply for an adjustment of status to permanent resident if they are in the US or process their visa at a US consulate abroad.

There are no numerical limits for immediate relative visas, and priority dates do not apply. Applicants in these categories can proceed with their visa application process as soon as their petitions are approved since these visas are always available.


Step 3: Evidence of Financial Support

The sponsor must submit an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) proving they have adequate means to support the family member they are sponsoring at 125% above the mandated poverty line. This ensures the family member will not become a public charge.

 


Step 4: Interview and Approval

The beneficiary will then undergo a visa interview at a US Embassy or Consulate. If approved, they will receive a visa to travel to the US. Upon arrival, they will be granted LPR status, often referred to as obtaining a Green Card.

 

4. Application Tips 

 

Sponsors must accept financial responsibility for the family members they are sponsoring, and this must be evidenced within the application. Proper documentation and adherence to legal procedures are critical throughout the process to avoid delays or denials.

For Family Preference visas, the wait times can vary significantly based on the visa category and the beneficiary’s country of origin due to annual caps, so it will be important to understand the processing timescales.

 

Living Permanently in the US

Living permanently in the United States is a goal for many people around the world. Achieving this status means obtaining a Permanent Resident Card, commonly known as a Green Card. This status allows individuals to live and work in the US with indefinite lawful status and is a stepping stone to becoming a US citizen, should the holder choose to apply for naturalization. 

 

1. Permanent Resident Cards (Green Cards)

 

A Green Card holder is officially known as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) of the United States. The card itself is proof of this status and grants the holder the right to reside and work anywhere in the country, re-enter the US after traveling abroad, and eventually apply for US citizenship after meeting certain requirements. 

There are several categories under which an individual might qualify for a Green Card, including through family relationships, employment, asylum or refugee status, and other special provisions.

 

2. Paths to Obtain a Green Card

 

a. Family-Based Immigration

One of the most common ways to obtain a Green Card is through a family member who is either a US citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident. 

Immediate relatives of US citizens, including spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21, and parents of adult US citizens, have priority. 

Other family members, such as adult children and siblings of US citizens, as well as spouses and children of Green Card holders, may also be eligible under the family preference system, though there are numerical limits on these visas.

 

b. Employment-Based Immigration

Green Cards can also be obtained through employment. There are five preference categories, ranging from individuals with extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational managers or executives to skilled workers and special immigrants. 

Some categories may require a US employer to sponsor the applicant and prove that there are no suitable US workers available for the job.

 

c. Diversity Lottery

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program) makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually, drawn from random selection among all entries from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. 

The DV Program is intended to diversify the immigrant population in the US by selecting applicants primarily from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States in the previous five years.

 

d. Refugee and Asylum

Individuals who have been granted asylum or refugee status in the US can apply for a Green Card one year after being granted asylum. 

This path is designed for individuals who are unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

 

e. Special Categories

There are also special categories and programs that may allow individuals to obtain a Green Card, such as the Cuban Adjustment Act, the U Visa for victims of crime, and special immigrant juvenile status, among others.

 

Seek Protection or Asylum in the US

Seeking protection or asylum in the United States is a vital pathway for individuals fleeing persecution or fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. 

The US immigration system offers protection under its asylum and refugee programs, each designed to support individuals in need of safety.

Understanding eligibility, the application process, and the distinction between asylum and refugee status is crucial for those seeking refuge.

 

1. Eligibility for Asylum

 

To be eligible for asylum in the United States, an individual must demonstrate that they have suffered persecution or have a well-founded fear of persecution due to one of five protected grounds: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. 

This fear of persecution must be both subjective (the applicant genuinely fears persecution) and objective (a reasonable person in the applicant’s circumstances would fear persecution).

 

2. How to Apply for Asylum in the US

 

Step 1: Arrival in the US

An individual must be physically present in the United States to apply for asylum, regardless of how they arrived or their current immigration status.

 

Step 2: Filing the Application

The applicant must file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, within one year of their arrival in the US. Exceptions to this deadline include changes in conditions in the applicant’s country of nationality or if extraordinary circumstances prevented timely filing.

 

Step 3: Interview

After the application is filed, the applicant will be scheduled for an interview with an asylum officer who will determine the eligibility for asylum. The interview is a critical component where the applicant can present their case evidence and testify about their fear of persecution.

 

Step 4: Decision

If the asylum officer approves the application, the individual is granted asylum and can eventually apply for lawful permanent resident status (a Green Card). 

If the case is not clearly approvable, it may be referred to immigration court for a hearing before an immigration judge.

 

3. Difference Between Asylum and Refugee Status

 

Asylum is sought by individuals who are already in the United States or at a port of entry. Asylum seekers apply for protection under the same criteria as refugees but do so from within the US.

Refugee status, however, is for individuals who are outside the United States and unable or unwilling to return to their home country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. The application for refugee status is made from outside the US, typically through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or a US Embassy or Consulate.

 

4. Asylum Application Considerations 

 

Both asylum and refugee statuses offer protection to individuals fleeing persecution, but the processes and eligibility criteria differ based on the individual’s location and the manner of application. 

Asylum applicants are those already in the US or at a US border or entry point, while refugees apply for resettlement from outside the US.

This is important procedurally as asylum seekers file their application with USCIS, whereas refugee status applications are processed by the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) outside the US.

There is no annual limit on the number of individuals who may be granted asylum each year in the US. In contrast, the number of refugees admitted to the US is capped annually by the President in consultation with Congress.

 

Immigration Appeals

Navigating the US immigration system can be complex and challenging, especially when an application or petition is denied by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or another immigration authority. 

However, applicants have the right to appeal or seek a review of many unfavorable decisions. Understanding the immigration appeals process is crucial for those who find themselves in this situation. 

 

1. Immigration Appeals

 

Immigration appeals are formal requests to review and overturn unfavorable decisions made by immigration authorities. These appeals are typically directed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) or the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), depending on the type of case. 

The BIA reviews decisions of immigration judges and some types of USCIS decisions, while the AAO reviews decisions made by USCIS officers.

 

2. US Immigration Appeals Process

 

Step 1: Identify the Appropriate Appeals Body

The first step in the appeals process is to determine which body will hear the appeal. For most USCIS decisions, the AAO is the appropriate venue. For decisions made by immigration judges, such as deportation orders, the appeal would go to the BIA.

 

Step 2: File the Notice of Appeal

To initiate an appeal, the appellant must file a Notice of Appeal with the appropriate appeals body. This must be done within a specific timeframe, usually 30 days from the date of the decision. For USCIS decisions, the form used is typically Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion.

 

Step 3: Submit the Brief and Supporting Documents

After filing the notice of appeal, the appellant may need to submit a brief, a written statement outlining the reasons for the appeal and citing relevant laws, regulations, and precedents. Supporting documents and evidence should also be included to strengthen the appeal.

 

Step 4: Pay the Required Fees

An appeal usually requires the payment of a filing fee. The fee amount and payment instructions will be specified in the denial notice or on the agency’s website.

 

Step 5: Wait for a Decision

Once the appeal is submitted, it will be reviewed by the appeals body, which will make a decision based on the information provided. The processing time for appeals can vary significantly depending on the complexity of the case and the workload of the appeals body.

 

Step 6: Outcome of the Appeal

The appeals body may either uphold the original decision, reverse it, or remand the case back to the original decision-maker for further consideration with specific instructions.

 

3. Appeal Applications Considerations 

 

In addition to filing an appeal, an individual may have the option to file a motion to reopen or reconsider the case with the office that made the original decision. This is typically used when new evidence has emerged or when there’s an argument that the decision was based on an incorrect application of law or policy.

If the appeal is denied by the BIA or AAO, it may be possible to seek review in a federal court, although this is generally reserved for cases involving significant legal or constitutional issues.

 

Traveling to the US

Traveling to the United States requires careful planning, especially concerning the entry requirements and visa application processes. 

Whether you are visiting for tourism, business, or transit, understanding these requirements is crucial for a smooth entry. 


1. Entry Requirements for Traveling to the US

 

Travelers to the US have to meet certain entry requirements. These are subject to change, for example, in response to international health crises. As such, it will be important to check the latest US immigration guidance and rules before you travel. 

US entry requirements generally include: 

 

a. Valid Passport

Travelers must have a passport valid for at least six months beyond the period of intended stay in the US. Some countries are exempt from the six-month rule, and their passports need only be valid for the duration of their visit.

 

b. US Visa

Unless eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), travelers need to obtain the appropriate US visa. Common types include B-1 for business visitors and B-2 for tourists. Each visa type has specific criteria and purposes.

 

c. Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Citizens of VWP countries can enter the US for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Travelers must obtain approval through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to departure.

 

d. ESTA Approval

For VWP travelers, an approved ESTA is mandatory before boarding a U.S.-bound air or sea carrier. ESTA applications should be filed at least 72 hours before travel, but it is advisable to apply as soon as travel plans are made.

 

e. Proof of Financial Support

Travelers may be required to demonstrate that they have sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay in the US.

 

f. Return or Onward Ticket

Visitors are often required to show that they have a return ticket or an onward ticket to another destination outside the US.

 

g. Compliance with Health Requirements

Depending on current health advisories, travelers may need to meet certain health requirements, which could include vaccinations or health screenings.

 


2. C1 US Transit Visa 

 

If you’re planning to pass through the US en route to another country, you might need to apply for a C-1 transit visa, depending on your nationality and the specifics of your itinerary. 

Travelers from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) who have an approved ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) may transit through the US without a C-1 visa if they meet all other VWP criteria.

Some US airports have direct transit areas where you may not need a transit visa. However, this is not common in the US, and it is generally advisable to assume that a transit visa will be necessary if you are not eligible for ESTA.

The Transit Visa requirements include: 

 

a. Purpose of Transit

The primary requirement for a C-1 visa is that you intend to pass in immediate and continuous transit through the United States. The transit visa is designed for those whose final destination is not the US and who are merely stopping over as part of their journey to another country.

 

b. Valid Onward Ticket

Applicants must have a confirmed onward ticket showing their itinerary to their final destination outside the US.

 

c. Limited Duration

The stay in the US on a transit visa is generally brief. The duration is typically limited to a maximum of 29 days or less, just enough to allow for a reasonable layover to catch an onward flight or other transportation.

 

d. Proof of Funds

Transit visa applicants may need to provide evidence that they have enough funds to cover their expenses while in the United States.

 

e. Entry Into Another Country

Evidence may be required to demonstrate permission to enter the next country after transiting the US, such as a visa to the destination country if required.

 


3. Process for Obtaining a US Travel Visa

 

a. Determine the Type of Visa Needed 

Depending on the purpose of your visit (tourism, business, study, etc.), determine the appropriate visa category or whether you qualify for visa-free travel under ESTA.

 

b. Complete the Online Visa Application

Complete the DS-160 form, the online application for a nonimmigrant visa. Print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview.

 

c. Schedule and Prepare for Your Interview

Visa appointments are required for most travelers between 14 and 79 years old. Prepare by gathering required documentation, including your passport, confirmation page of your DS-160 application, a photo, and proof of visa fee payment.

 

d. Attend Your Visa Interview

During the interview, a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive a visa. To assess your intentions, you will be asked about your travel plans and ties to your home country.

 

e. Visa Issuance

If your visa application is approved, you may need to pay a visa issuance fee if applicable, and arrange for the pickup or delivery of your passport containing the visa.

 

4. Key Considerations When Traveling to the US

 

a. Visa Fees
There are non-refundable visa application fees, which vary depending on the visa type. Some applicants might also need to pay a visa issuance fee if the visa is approved.

 

b. Processing Times

Visa processing times vary by location, visa type, and individual circumstances. Check the current wait times at the US Embassy or Consulate where you will apply.

 

c. Health and Safety Regulations
Depending on the current global health situation, there may be additional health screenings or vaccination requirements for entry into the US.

 

d. Validity and Duration of Stay

The visa validity period and duration of stay are determined by the visa type and individual circumstances. Visa holders must comply with the terms of their visa, including not remaining in the US beyond the relevant visa validity period. 

Overstaying in the US with expired status will impact future US immigration applications and can result in detention and deportation when attempting to re-enter the US. 

 

Summary 

The US immigration system offers a variety of pathways for individuals worldwide to visit, work, study, reunite with family, and build a life in the United States. Whether it’s through employment-based visas that acknowledge skills and talents, family-based visas that prioritize unity, or humanitarian programs that offer refuge and protection, the system strives to accommodate diverse needs and aspirations. 

Yet, the intricacies of application procedures, eligibility criteria and the ever-evolving legal landscape can pose challenges for applicants.

In light of these complexities, seeking accurate information and legal advice is paramount. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I need a visa to visit the United States?

Yes, most travelers need a visa to visit the US. However, citizens of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries can enter the US for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without a visa, provided they have ESTA authorization.

How do I apply for a US tourist visa?

To apply for a US tourist visa (B-2), you must complete the Online Visa Application (Form DS-160), schedule and attend a visa interview at the US Embassy or Consulate in your country, and provide the required documentation, including a valid passport and photo.

What is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)? 

The VWP allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the US for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa, requiring only an ESTA authorization.

How can I work in the US?

To work in the US, you typically need to obtain a work visa. Common work visas include H-1B (specialty occupations), L-1 (intracompany transferees), and O-1 (individuals with extraordinary ability). Your employer must file a petition on your behalf.

How can I study in the US?

To study in the US, you need to obtain a student visa. F-1 visas are for academic studies, and M-1 visas are for vocational or non-academic studies. You must first be accepted by a US institution approved by the SEVP before applying.

How can I move my family to the US?

US citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) can sponsor certain family members for immigration. Immediate Relative visas are available for close family members of US citizens, while the Family Preference system covers other family relationships.

What is the process for becoming a permanent resident in the US? 

There are several paths to obtaining permanent residency (a Green Card), including through family sponsorship, employment, the Diversity Lottery, and for refugees or asylees. The specific process depends on the basis for your application.

Can I appeal if my visa application is denied? 

Yes, if your visa application is denied, you may have the option to appeal the decision or file a motion to reopen or reconsider, depending on the reason for denial and the type of visa.

What is SEVIS and why is it important?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a system that manages data about foreign students and exchange visitors during their stay in the US It’s important for maintaining your immigration status while studying or participating in exchange programs in the US.

How long does it take to process a visa application? 

Processing times for visa applications vary based on the visa type, the applicant’s nationality, and the workload at the US Embassy or Consulate. It’s recommended to apply as early as possible to accommodate potential delays.

 

Glossary of US Immigration Terms

Adjustment of Status (AoS): The process by which an individual changes their legal status from nonimmigrant (temporary) to immigrant (permanent resident) while in the United States.

Affidavit of Support (Form I-864): A document an individual signs to accept financial responsibility for a newcomer who is seeking a Green Card.

B-1/B-2 Visas: Nonimmigrant visas for individuals visiting the US temporarily for business (B-1) or for tourism, pleasure, or medical treatment (B-2).

Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA): The highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws in the United States. It reviews decisions made by immigration judges and some Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers.

Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (DV Program): Also known as the “Green Card Lottery,” it’s a program that makes up to 50,000 immigrant visas available annually, drawn from random selection among entries from countries with low rates of immigration to the US.

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA): An automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

F-1 and M-1 Visas: Nonimmigrant visas for students. F-1 visas are for academic or language students, while M-1 visas are for vocational or non-academic students.

Family Preference Visas: Limited number visas for certain family members of US citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs).

Green Card: Officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, it allows an individual to live and work permanently in the United States.

H-1B, L-1, O-1 Visas: Types of employment-based nonimmigrant visas for workers in specialty occupations (H-1B), intracompany transferees (L-1), and individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement (O-1).

Immediate Relative Visas: Visas for close family members of US citizens, including spouses, children, and parents, without a limit on the number of visas available each year.

Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR): An individual who has been granted the right to live in the US indefinitely, also known as a Green Card holder.

Nonimmigrant Visa: A visa for temporary stay in the US, such as for tourism, business, work, or study.

Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130): A form filed by US citizens or LPRs to establish the relationship to certain alien relatives who wish to immigrate to the US.

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP): A program that administers the F and M visa categories, maintaining information on nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): The government agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP): A program that allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the US for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa, provided they meet specific requirements.

Additional Resources

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
https://www.uscis.gov/
Learn about all aspects of US immigration, including how to apply for visas, Green Cards, citizenship, and access to immigration forms.

 

US Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs
https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas.html
Comprehensive details on nonimmigrant and immigrant visa processes, including instructions and requirements for each visa type.

 

US Visa Bulletin
https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin.html
Monthly updates on visa availability and priority dates for immigrant visas.

 

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/
Essential for travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries planning to enter the US.

 

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors
Information on what to expect at US entry points and tips for a smooth entry.

 

US Department of Labor – Foreign Labor Certification
https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/foreign-labor
Information related to the labor certification process, which is part of obtaining employment-based visas.

 

Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)
https://www.justice.gov/eoir
Learn about the immigration court system and how to find representation.

 

Need specialist advice? Speak to our experts.

Need specialist advice? Speak to our experts.