A guide to US visas

There are a number of different visas available in the U.S., and knowing which one is right for you can be difficult to determine. Between work and study visas, immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, the process of applying for one can become complex.

What is a US visa?

The U.S. government awards visas to those entering the country following the proper legal process. This is a travel document that is issued for specific purposes of travel including tourism, employment, business, study, or to join family that already lives in the U.S.

Are there different types of visas?

Yes, there are two types of U.S. visas: nonimmigrant and immigrant.

A nonimmigrant visa is given to those who are only staying in the U.S. for a set amount of time. It’s issued to travelers who are in the U.S. for business, tourism, work or study. A nonimmigrant visa is typically valid for any time between three months and two years. However it can be extended under certain circumstances.

The other type of visa is an immigrant visa, and it is issued to individuals who want to permanently stay in the U.S. Immigrant visas allow you to establish residency. After receiving an immigrant visa,  you’ll be able to become a permanent resident and be issued a green card. There are three types of immigrant visas: special immigrant, employment-based and family-sponsored.

The differences between a visa, green card and citizenship

What often becomes confusing is determening the difference between green cards, visas and U.S. citizenship. However, all three of these terms relate to an individual’s immigration status.

Visa holder: An individual with a visa is only permitted to stay in the U.S. temporarily. Visa holders have the right to the following in the U.S.:

  • Visiting friends and family
  • Conducting business
  • Attending conferences
  • Participating in events
  • Receiving medical treatment
  • Studying at a school in the U.S.
  • Training or interning with a company in the U.S.
  • Working

Permanent resident: A permanent resident is also known as a green card holder and can permanently stay in the U.S. Green card holders have the right to the following in the U.S.:

  • Working
  • Applying for citizenship after three to five years
  • Traveling in and out of the country without needing to apply for a visa

U.S. citizen: Once a permanent resident becomes a U.S. citizen, they have the right to the following:

  • Unlimited protections under the Constitution and its laws
  • A U.S. passport
  • Voting in local, state and federal elections
  • Working and receiving full employment benefits

Applying for a US visa

The application process for a U.S. visa depends on the type for which you’re applying, but all applicants must complete these steps:

  • Obtain a valid passport
  • File an application with the U.S. Department of State and Bureau of Consular Affairs
  • Attend a visa interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country
  • Fill out forms such as a DS-160, I-526 or I-94, depending on the visa they’re applying for

Immigration Direct can help those who want to apply for a U.S. visa.