Immigrating to the United States isn’t easy, even if you don’t intend to remain here permanently. The terminology alone creates considerable confusion, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. If you or someone you know is interested in coming to the United States, start with what you want to accomplish and then seek guidance from a knowledgeable immigration attorney who can identify the avenues that are available to you. 

Two Main Types of Visas for Entry into the United States

There are approximately 185 different types of visas that immigrants can apply for, divided into two main categories.

Immigrant visas: These are visas issued to people coming to the United States with the intention of remaining here permanently. This is also referred to as permanent residency or having a green card.

Nonimmigrant visas: These are visas issued for temporary visits to the United States for specific purposes, such as employment, education, family visits, or tourism, when the individual intends to remain in the United States for only a limited period of time. As a result, they are valid for only a limited period of time and the holder must return to their home country before their authorized period of stay expires, unless they can extend their authorized period of stay. Importantly, nonimmigrant visas may be denied because the applicant has “immigrant intent,” so nonimmigrant visa applicants have to prove they only intend to visit or reside in the United States temporarily. The denial of a nonimmigrant visa due to immigrant intent usually does not prevent the applicant from subsequently applying for an immigrant visa. 

Nonimmigrant Visa Validity Versus Period of Authorized Stay

One common point of confusion is how long a person is authorized to stay in the United States as a nonimmigrant. For example, a visitor visa may be issued with a ten-year validity period, but that does not mean the visa holder is authorized to stay in the United States for ten years. Oftentimes, the holder of a ten-year visa may actually only be authorized to stay in the United State during a given visit for a six-month period (known as the period of authorized stay). Once that six months is up, they would need to return to their home country, and then, assuming the visa has not yet expired, they would be able to come back to the United States at a later date again without having to make an appointment at an embassy or consulate to obtain a new visa. 

Another example arises with the student visa. A student may be authorized to stay in the United States for their entire four-year undergraduate program, but their visa may only be valid for one year. Even though the visa may have expired, the visa holder will still be authorized to stay in the United States as long as they are abiding by the rules and maintaining their student status. 

It is extremely important for nonimmigrant visa holders to be aware of their period of authorized stay, which can be found on their Form I-94 Admission Record, and to either leave the United States or submit an application to extend their stay before their period of authorized stay expires. If you are confused about whether you are allowed to be in the United States, an experienced immigration attorney can help.

Different Types of Immigrant Visas

Immigrant visas provide an important avenue for family members and workers to come to America to reunite or perform essential work to keep the U.S. economy running. There are several options for immigrating to the United States, and the best path for you depends on the specific facts of your case. 

Family-Based Immigrant Visa

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents may sponsor certain foreign national family members for a family-based immigrant visa so they may come to the United States to reside permanently. Whether you are qualified to sponsor a family member, which family members you can sponsor, what the process will look like, and how long the process may take are all highly dependent on the specific facts of your case.

K-1 Fiancé(e) Visas 

A U.S. citizen can sponsor their fiancé for a visa. One of the requirements is that the couple have met in person at least once within two years of filing a fiancé visa petition. The U.S. citizen files a petition in the United States, and the fiancé then obtains the visa abroad at an embassy or consulate. The fiancé then enters the United States, marries the U.S. citizen within 90 days of their entry, and then applies for a green card based on their marriage. K-1 visas are technically non-immigrant visas, but because the intention is for the foreign national fiancé to travel to the United States to marry a U.S. citizen and then apply for permanent residency, they are treated as an immigrant visa.

Employment-Based Immigrant Visa

U.S. employers may sponsor foreign nationals for an employment-based immigrant visa so that they may come to the United States to reside permanently. Your options will depend upon the nature of the employment and the foreign national’s qualifications. In some circumstances, an individual may also be able to self-sponsor for an immigrant visa based on their exceptional credentials. One of Lotfi Legal’s knowledgeable immigration attorneys can determine which immigration option is best for you and your business.

U Visas

If you have been the victim of certain crimes in the United States and have aided law enforcement in their investigation, you may be able to self-sponsor for a U visa. The wait for U visas is quite long, but if you’re successful, you can then apply for permanent residence. Not all crimes qualify for a U visa, and the process can be long and complicated, so it’s important to consult an immigration attorney before moving forward with your petition.

Which Type of Nonimmigrant Visa is Best for Me?

Nonimmigrant visas provide another important avenue for family members, students, and workers to come to America to reconnect, study, or perform essential work. However, there are a dizzying number of different types of visas available, and it isn’t always easy to know which one to apply for. Some visas may be applied for from within the United States, while others must be obtained through a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. An experienced immigration attorney can help you determine which nonimmigrant visa best fits your needs and help you navigate the application process. 

Contact Lotfi Legal to Discuss Your Visa Needs 

Determining which visa you need can be difficult. Whether you are having difficulty with the process or just have questions, we can help. Call or email us today to schedule an appointment with an immigration attorney who can help.