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Which US Visa for UK Citizens?

Which US Visa for UK Citizens?

UK citizens require relevant permission to travel to the US and carry out their intended activities. Your immigration options will largely be determined by your reason for travel, planned length of stay and other circumstances relating to you as an applicant, such as your travel history and employment status.

Some of the more common US visa options for UK citizens are summarized below, but more are potentially available depending on the situation. For advice on your specific circumstances, you should seek legal advice.


Short-term US visa options for UK citizens

Visa Waiver Program & ESTA Travel Authorization

The Visa Waiver Program allows qualifying individuals of visa waiver countries entry to the US visa-free for business-related purposes or tourism for a maximum stay of 90 days.

The VWP is only open to nationals of certain countries, of which the UK is one. To travel under the VWP, individuals must also have valid ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) approval.

ESTA approval is a security pre-screen of all travelers.

To qualify under the visa waiver program, you must be traveling for tourism, or specific business activities such as job seeking, or business consultations. You may also attend business conferences or conventions for scientific, educational, professional or business purposes. You may not engage in any paid work activities or study.

A failed ESTA application means you cannot travel under the VWP, and you must instead seek an alternative immigration route.

Note that travel authorization is not a visa, if you have a relevant visa, you do not need to apply for additional travel authorization.

Key considerations

To enter the US under the VWP, you must have a valid e-passport with at least 6 months before it expires.

ESTA is valid for up to 24 months from the date it is approved, unless your passport expires before the two year mark, in which case your ESTA will expire with your passport.

You may enter the US multiple times on the same ESTA as long as you do not stay longer than 90 days each time. The 90 days begin the day you arrive in The United States.

Having travel authorization does not guarantee you entry to the US, you will need to prove you are eligible under the visa waiver program at border control and will be inspected by a Customs and Border Protection Officer. This officer will determine if you are eligible to enter the US under the visa waiver program.

You will need to have a return or onward ticket for your travel. Your travel is not allowed to end in any country sharing a border with the US or an adjacent island unless you are a resident of one of these territories.

Should you have any criminal convictions, even where they are ‘spent’, you may not qualify under the visa waiver program. It is imperative that you check your legal status with an immigration lawyer before applying to ensure you will be approved.

Travelling under the visa waiver program means that you waive your right to appeal should entry be denied upon entry to the US. You also cannot appeal if you break the terms and conditions of your admission and are removed from the US.

If you do not qualify under the visa waiver program, you will need to apply for the relevant nonimmigrant visa prior to travel. It is advisable to seek legal counsel to ensure you are applying for the correct travel documents to ensure entry to the US for your specific purpose.


US visas for UK citizens

US visas are divided into two main categories – immigrant and nonimmigrant visas.

As there are so many types of visa, some of which have overlapping criteria, it is highly advisable to seek legal advice from a specialist immigration lawyer. Requesting the incorrect visa could ultimately lead to your entry to the US being denied. It is important to get this right to ensure you have a visa that is fit for purpose.

With all visas, if you have been arrested, cautioned or convicted of a crime anywhere in the world, you will need to declare this on your visa application. This is true of spent convictions as well. If you are unsure, take legal advice on your options.

Nonimmigrant visas are short-term temporary visas issued for a set period of stay in the US. Each visa has restrictions for purpose and duration of stay.

B-1 business visitor visa

The B-1 visa, is for non-US nationals who wish to travel to the USA for a maximum 6 month stay, for business-related reasons. The B-1 visa does not allow you to work in the US or be paid by a US source.

A nonimmigrant person traveling to the US to temporarily participate in business activities such as contract negotiation, business consultation, litigation, conventions including educational and scientific, conferences and seminars may be eligible to apply for a B-1 visa.

You are not allowed to be gainfully employed or operate a business or consultancy service with a B-1 visa.

For example, you may look for business premises and sign a lease, but not run the organization under the B-1 visa. You may take part in an exhibition to promote your products/services and take orders for items produced and sold in the UK, but you cannot sell good produced in the US.

Likewise for conferences, you may attend/speak at them provided you are not being paid to do so by a US organization. Likewise researchers may use a B-1 visa providing that they are funded by a source outside of the US.

Other people who may qualify for a B-1 visa are athletes competing for prize money only in either a professional or amateur capacity and domestic employees and nannies.

Key considerations

You cannot change your purpose of visit while operating on a B-1 visa. However, you can apply to extend your visa while in the US, and you may also mix the business purpose with tourism provided you hold the combination B1/B-2 visa.

There are documents required to support your application to prove your status. For example, business visitors will need a letter from their employer with the relevant information regarding the purpose of their visit.

B-2 tourist visa

The B-2 visa is a short-term visa for travel to the US for the purpose of tourism or to receive medical treatment. It is not to be used for business-related activity.

The B-2 visa is often considered by UK travelers who do not qualify for the visa waiver program.

An amateur entertainer may require the B-2 visa, but must not be earning a living as an entertainer. You may be able to claim expenses relating to your visit, but not be making a profit or being paid for the performance.

Amateur athlete’s competing in amateur events without receiving payment, with the exception of expenses, may also qualify for a B-2 visa.

You may participate in a short course of study providing it is not helping towards a degree. For this you would need the B-1 visa. Any courses that are less than 18 hours a week and for avocational or recreational purpose are all possible qualifying courses.

Key considerations

A B-2 visa is valid for multiple visits valid for up to 10 years, each stay can last no longer than 6 months. Under certain circumstances you may be able to extend your period of stay in the US on the B-1 and B-2 visas for up to 12 months. You cannot stay beyond 12 months at any given time. Should you wish to combine your visit for business and tourism purposes, you can apply for a B-1/B-2 combined visa.

A person traveling for medical treatment may be asked to provide supporting documents such as a letter from a physician or medical facility in the US explaining why you need the treatment there. Should you be traveling under the visa waiver program, you will need to show that evidence to show to the US immigration if you are asked.

C-1 Visa

A C-1 visa may be required if you are looking to travel through the United States in continuous transit. UK citizens will require a C-1 visa to transit through the US unless they qualify under the visa waiver program.

The most commonly issued C-1 visas are for cruise liner workers. However those working on a private yacht may also qualify, unless they are in US waters for more than 29 days, in which case a B-1 visa would be required.

People working on cruise lines may wish to enter the US for a holiday, if they do not qualify under the visa waiver program, they may need to apply for a B-2 visa.

Key considerations

Take advice regarding the type of visa required if you are working on a dry dock or cruise liner. It is possible to apply for the C1 and B visa’s at the same time, but it is a complicated area and it would be beneficial to seek legal advice on the types of visa you require prior to setting off on your journey to the US.

E-1 visa

The E-1 visa is a nonimmigrant treaty trade visa. It is a temporary visa that is designed to aid trading between the treaty country (UK) and the US. It is not a stepping stone to a permanent visa or green card. The E-1 visa is valid for a period of 5 years and may be renewed if needed for continued trade. The trade needs to be substantial in order to qualify for an E-1 visa.

E-2 visa

The treaty investor, E-2 visa, is a nonimmigrant temporary visa granted for individuals who are considered to be investing a substantial amount into a US venture. You will need to demonstrate that your proposed venture is going to be able to employ US workers as well as being a legitimate and viable business. The amount invested needs to be substantial enough in comparison to the venture you are starting up and must be of benefit to the US. Again this visa may be renewed after the initial 5 year period, but is not a stepping stone to permanent residency in the US.

H visas

H visas are aimed at non-US workers such as UK nationals who are to be employed by a US based company on a temporary basis to perform a role for which there are no qualified US citizens available. Your prospective employer will need to obtain certification from the Department of Labor to prove this.

Once your H visa expires, you have the choice of returning to your home country or applying for permanent residency via a green card.

H-1B visa

To travel to the US for a qualifying role with an eligible US employer, you will need to have secured an H-1B visa.

To qualify, you must have a bachelor’s, higher degree, or the equivalent in the specific field you are being employed in. You must also have a valid job offer from a sponsoring employer.

It is worth noting that there is an annual quota of H1-B visas that are available each year. It is a highly oversubscribed application which can lead to many individuals having their applications rejected. It is advisable to file your application as early as possible to avoid missing the quota for that particular year.

H-2 visa

The H-2 visa is for traveling to the United States for a temporary or seasonal job of which the US has a shortage of workers.

L-1 Visa

An Intra-Company transfer, L-1 visa is for an employee who works for a non-US company that is temporarily being transferred to a branch, parent, affiliate or subsidiary of the same company in the US.

In order to qualify for the L-1 visa, you must be an employee who is of managerial or executive level or have specific specialized knowledge that will grant you a managerial or executive position in the US branch. You must also have been employed with the international company for at least one continuous year outside of the US within the 3 years prior to application.

There is also a blanket L-1 visa available for larger companies seeking to transfer multiple employees.

You may also apply for an L-1 visa if you are a qualified employee coming to the US to set up a parent, branch, affiliate or subsidiary of the international company.

O Visas

The O-1 visa is for individuals who can demonstrate extraordinary ability in their specific field of either science, art, education, business or film and television production.

An O-2 visa is for an individual who will be accompanying a person traveling on an O-1 visa to a specific event. They need to be essential to the production or performance with skill that are not available from a US worker.

P-1/P-2/P-3 Visas

These visas are for athletes, entertainers, artists and their support groups. This includes entertainers involved in exchange programs, performing teaching or coaching. It is advisable to seek legal advice when deciding which of the P visas you require.

Q-1 Visa

The Q-1 visa is for individuals participating in an international cultural exchange program sharing their native culture for practical training and employment purposes.

R Visa

A religious minister or worker may qualify for the R visa if they are a member of a bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the US, and have been a member for at least the two years prior to applying.

You must be seeking to carry on the vocation of minister or work in a religious vocation or organization in a professional capacity.

Permanent Visas

Generally speaking, to apply for permanent residency in the United States, you will need to be sponsored by a US Citizen, immediate relative of a lawful permanent resident or a US-based employer.

For entry into the US with the intention of staying on a permanent basis whether working or not, you will need the relevant immigrant visa.

CR/IR1, IR2, CR2, IR5, F-1, F-3, F-4, F-2A and F-2B Visas

These visas are all for family members of US citizens or immediate relatives of legal permanent residents of the US.

The spouse of a US citizen may apply for a CR1/IR1.

A child under 21, who is not married, or parent of a US citizen, siblings and children over the age of 21 of a US citizen may also qualify for a CR2, IR5, F-1, F-3, or F-4 visa.

Likewise a spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21 and unmarried child over the age of 21 of a legal permanent resident may apply for a F-2A or F-2B visa.

As you can see, there are many types of visa for family members to use to apply for permanent residency in the US, it is important to get the right one to avoid unnecessary delays. Seeking legal advice will help you determine which visa applies to your relationship.

K-3 & K-4 Visas

A spouse of a US citizen who is waiting approval from a filed I-130, may travel to the United States with the K-3 Visa.

Children who are waiting for approval of citizenship may travel on a K-4 visa to await the approval of the immigrant visa petition.

K-1 Visa

A fiancé(e), K-1 visa, is required if you wish to marry a US citizen and will be taking up indefinite residency in the US after marriage.

To qualify both you and your fiancé(e) will need to be legally free to marry and must marry within 90 days upon entering the United States.

E-1, E-2, E-3, EW, SD, SR, SE, SQ, SI, T-5 and C-5 Visas

All of the above visas are employer-sponsored Employment.

Certain special immigrants require an SD, SR, SE, SQ or SI visa. The list of these immigrants is extensive and your legal advisor will be able to inform you if you fall into this category.

Finally, employment investors and creators of employment in the US would need to apply for T-5 or C-5 visa.

Key considerations

As with temporary visas, any arrests, convictions – including spent ones, or cautions would need to be declared and may affect your application.

The list of types of visas is extensive and it is important to select the correct one for you. Seeking advice from an immigration lawyer is highly advisable as this will ensure that you have chosen the right visa for your circumstances.


Need assistance?

Specialist legal advice from NNU Immigration can assist in helping you identify which visa is most suitable for your purpose, gathering supporting documentation, and communicating with the relevant authorities on your behalf so that your visa application has the best chance possible of a successful outcome.

If you have a question about a US visa application, US travel restrictions or any other US immigration-related matter, please contact us for advice.


US visa for UK citizens FAQs

How much is an ESTA from UK?

US ESTA costs $21 per applicant.


Is it easy for a UK citizen to get a US visa?

The application requirements and process for US visas differ by category. UK citizens may be eligible to apply for ESTA, which is a straightforward online application form, while a US work or family visa is a more complex and involved process.


How long is ESTA visa valid for?

ESTA is valid for two years.


Do UK citizens need visa for USA?

UK citizens will require an appropriate permission to enter the US. If travelling for short-term tourism you may not need a visa if you are eligible for ESTA. Otherwise, if you are looking to work, study or live in the US, UK citizens will need a US visa.

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


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Nita Nicole Upadhye is the Founder & Principal Attorney at NNU Immigration. A recognized leader in the field of US immigration law, Nita successfully acts for individuals and companies from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications.

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