How to Get a Visa to the United States

There are many types of visas available to immigrants and visitors to the United States. Our immigration law firms assist people from North Carolina to California and worldwide to find the visa that is right for them and then to help them do what is necessary to qualify.

No matter if you are currently in the United States illegally or if you are just planning to visit here from a foreign country, our Tustin, California immigration attorneys are qualified, experienced and affordable. Solving your immigration problems alone is not easy. Let our immigration lawyers do it for you. You will save time and money with our immigration team on your side.

Two Classes of United States Visas

There are generally two classes of visas in the United States:

  1. Immigrant Visas – Immigrant visas are issued through the United State Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) and various other government agencies to immigrants who want to permanently immigrate to the United States. A Green Card is eventually issued to most immigrants granted an immigration visa.
  2. Non-immigrant Visas – Non-immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals who want to visit the United States for a variety of reasons. Tourist visas, student visas, and many employment-based visas are non-immigrant visas.

B-1 and B-2 Visas: Also known as “visitor visas” can be issued for business or leisure. This type of non-immigrant visa is generally issued for periods of 6 months to 1 year.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

The United States currently has a non-immigrant Visa Waiver Program that allows visitors from 27 countries (mostly European) to visit the United States for up to 90 days without the need for a visa. Prior to visiting the U.S. visitors under the VWP must register themselves online before actually departing.

EB Visas:

  • EB-1 Visa: EB-1 Visa is available to immigrants with extraordinary ability in the areas of science, arts, education, business or athletics; persons who are outstanding professors or researchers; and, persons who are managers and executives subject to international transfer to the United States are eligible for this category. Immigrants with extraordinary ability do not require a job offer from a U.S. employer or a labor certification.
  • EB-2 Visa: The EB-2 visa is for professionals with advanced degrees or people with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business; professionals with advanced degrees; and, qualified physicians who will practice medicine in an area of the U.S. which is underserved are eligible for this category.
  • EB-3 Visa: The EB-3 visa is reserved for immigrants who are skilled or professional workers with bachelor’s degrees; persons who are skilled workers with at least two years of education or experience are eligible for this category. Unskilled immigrant workers may also qualify for this category in some situations.
  • EB-4 Visa: The EB-4 visa, also known as the “Special Immigrant” visa is reserved for religious workers and employees and former employees of the U.S. government abroad.
  • EB-5 Visa: The EB-5 visa, also known as the “Investor” visa is reserved for immigrants who will be starting or operating a business in the U.S. or will be investing at least $500,000 in the U.S. Essentially this is for people who will create jobs in the U.S.

F-1 Visas: The F-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for foreign students to attend qualifying institutions in the U.S. for the purpose of furthering their education. The student must demonstrate that they have the ability to support themselves without public assistance while in the United States.

H1-B Visas: The H1-B visa is a nonimmigrant visa for foreign nationals who desire to work temporarily in the United States usually as a professional in a specialty occupation. Some fashion models may also qualify for this visa. The U.S. currently limits the number of H1-B visas granted every year.

L Visas: L visas, including L-1A, the L-1B and the L-2 is reserved for immigrants who are or have worked as a manager, executive or in a position requiring specialized knowledge outside of the United States and now want to transfer to the U.S. to perform the same job for the same company. L-2 is specifically for the spouse and children of the L-1 recipient.

Extending Your Visa

Because many visas limit how long you can stay in the United States, a common question our immigration attorneys are asked is, “can I renew or extend my visa?” The answer is usually, “it depends.” Each different visa has different rules about renewals. Some may be extended for a period of 2-3 years, others require you to leave the country for a period of time before reapplying, some cannot be readily renewed.

Overstaying Your Visa

Most people who accumulate unlawful status in the United States do so by overstaying their visas. Overstaying your visa is a serious immigration violation that can get you barred from re-entering the United States. If you want to stay legal and remain eligible to renew your visa, you need to be aware of the expiration date. If you want to renew your visa, you should start the process about 6 months prior to the expiration date if you are working with an immigration attorney. If you are renewing your visa on your own, you should start working on the process earlier.

Unlawful Status and Bar from Re-entry

You begin to accumulate unlawful status on the first day that you are present in the United States illegally. If you have overstayed your visa, you are here illegally, and you should contact one of our immigration attorneys in Tustin, California immediately. We may be able to help you minimize the consequences. If you have accumulated less than 6 months of unlawful status, you may be subject to a 3-year bar from re-entering the U.S. If you have accumulated more than 6 months of unlawful status, you may be subject to a 10-year re-entry bar. In some cases, you may be able to qualify for a provisional waiver of unlawful status. Immigration waivers are discussed in another section of this website but, you will generally have more success in obtaining a waiver if you are working with an experienced immigration attorney.

Adjustment of Status

A common way for people who are in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa to receive an immigrant visa or Green Card is to adjust their status. Some types of nonimmigrant visas can be changed to immigrant visas under the right circumstances. In some cases, you can adjust your status in the United States but for some visas, you must return to your home country to adjust your status. We discuss how to adjust your status in another section of this website, but it is generally best to consult with an immigration attorney before attempting to adjust your status.

Other Visa Types

The visas listed above only represent the most common nonimmigrant types of visas in the United States but there are many others. If you do not see the visa that you need help with listed above, don’t worry, our immigration attorneys can still help you. Give us a call today and speak to a Tustin, California or North Carolina immigration lawyer about your specific situation. The initial consultation is free and there is never a charge unless we believe that we can help you.