Who Qualifies for a Nonimmigrant (Temporary) Visa

Nonimmigrant visas, such as tourist and student visas, permit you to enter the U.S. for a short time.

If you're planning a short trip to the United States, you must, with certain exceptions, obtain a "nonimmigrant" (temporary) visa. Below we summarize who qualifies for the various types of visas. For details, including how to apply for a visa, see U.S. Immigration Made Easy, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).

Types of Nonimmigrant Visas

You must choose the specific purpose of your trip (such as tourism or going to school) and apply for a specialized visa that authorizes that activity and no other. Each type of nonimmigrant visa is identified by a letter-number combination, as well as a name. You may already be familiar with the more popular ones: B-2 visitors, E-2 investors, F-1 students, and H-1B employees. See the chart below for a complete list.

Summary List of Nonimmigrant Visas

A-1. Ambassadors, public ministers, or career diplomats, and their immediate family members.

A-2. Other accredited officials or employees of foreign governments, and their immediate family members.

A-3. Personal attendants, servants, employees, and the immediate family members of A-1 and A-2 visa holders.

B-1. Business visitors.

B-2. Visitors for pleasure or medical treatment.

C-1. Foreign travelers in immediate and continuous transit through the U.S.

D-1. Crewmen who need to land temporarily in the U.S. and who will depart aboard the same ship or plane on which they arrived.

E-1. Treaty traders working for a U.S. trading company that does 50% or more of its business with the trader's home country.

E-2. Treaty investors working for a U.S. company with 50% or more of its investment capital coming from the worker's home country.

E-3. Australian professionals coming to the United States to perform services in a specialty occupation (similar to an H-1B, but with a separate allotment of 10,500 visas). Spouses and children may accompany the E-3 visa holder.

F-1. Academic or language students.

F-2. Immediate family members of F-1 visa holders.

F-3. Citizens or residents of Mexico or Canada commuting to the U.S. to attend an academic school.

G-1. Designated principal resident representatives of foreign governments coming to the U.S. to work for an international organization, and their staff members and immediate family members.

G-2. Other accredited representatives of foreign governments coming to the U.S. to work for an international organization, and their immediate family members.

G-3. Representatives of foreign governments and their immediate family members who would ordinarily qualify for G-1 or G-2 visas except that their governments are not members of an international organization.

G-4. Officers or employees of international organizations, and their immediate family members.

G-5. Attendants, servants, and personal employees of G-1 through G-4 visa holders, and their immediate family members.

H-1B. Persons working in specialty occupations requiring at least a bachelor's degree or its equivalent in on-the-job experience, and distinguished fashion models.

H-2A. Temporary agricultural workers coming to the U.S. to fill positions for which a temporary shortage of American workers has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

H-2B. Temporary workers of various kinds coming to the U.S. to perform temporary jobs for which there is a shortage of available, qualified American workers.

H-3. Temporary trainees coming for on-the-job training unavailable in their home countries.

H-4. Immediate family members of H-1, H-2, or H-3 visa holders.

I. Bona fide representatives of the foreign press coming to the U.S. to work solely in that capacity, and their immediate family members.

J-1. Exchange visitors coming to the U.S. to study, work, or train as part of an exchange program officially recognized by the U.S. Department of State.

J-2. Immediate family members of J-1 visa holders.

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Summary List of Nonimmigrant Visas

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K-1. Fiancés or fiancées of U.S. citizens coming to the U.S. for the purpose of getting married.

K-2. Minor, unmarried children of K-1 visa holders.

K-3. Spouses of U.S. citizen petitioners awaiting USCIS approval of their immigrant visa petition and the availability of an immigrant visa.

K-4. Children of K-3 visa holders.

L-1. Intracompany transferees who work as managers, executives, or persons with specialized knowledge.

L-2. Immediate family members of L-1 visa holders.

M-1. Vocational or other nonacademic students, other than language students.

M-2. Immediate family members of M-1 visa holders.

M-3. Citizens or residents of Mexico or Canada commuting to the U.S. to attend vocational school.

N. Children of certain special immigrants.

NATO-1, NATO-2, NATO-3, NATO-4, and NATO-5. Associates coming to the U.S. under applicable provisions of the NATO Treaty, and their immediate family members.

NATO-6. Civilians accompanying military forces on missions authorized under the NATO Treaty, and their immediate family members.

NATO-7. Attendants, servants, or personal employees of NATO-1 through NATO-6 visas holders, and their immediate family members.

O-1. Persons of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.

O-2. Essential support staff of O-1 visa holders.

O-3. Immediate family members of O-1 and O-2 visa holders.

P-1. Internationally recognized athletes and entertainers, and their essential support staff.

P-2. Entertainers coming to perform in the U.S. through a government-recognized exchange program.

P-3. Artists and entertainers coming to the U.S. in a group to present culturally unique performances.

P-4. Immediate family members of P-1, P-2, and P-3 visa holders.

Q-1. Exchange visitors coming to the U.S. to participate in international cultural exchange programs.

Q-2. Participants in the Irish Peace Process Cultural and Training Program (Walsh visas)

Q-3. Immediate family members of Q-1 visa holders.

R-1. Ministers and other workers of recognized religions.

R-2. Immediate family members of R-1 visa holders.

S-1. People coming to the U.S. to supply critical information to federal or state authorities for a criminal investigation or prosecution.

S-2. People coming to the U.S. to provide critical information to federal authorities or a court, who will be in danger as a result of providing such information and are eligible to receive a reward for the information.

S-3. Immediate family members of S-1 or S-2 visa holders.

T. Women and children who are in the United States because they are victims of trafficking, who are cooperating with law enforcement and who fear extreme hardship (such as retribution) if returned home.

U. People who have suffered "substantial physical or mental abuse" as a result of certain U.S. criminal violations including domestic violence and who are assisting law enforcement authorities.

V. Spouses and children of U.S. lawful permanent resident petitioners who have already waited three years for the approval of their visa petition or for an immigrant visa to become available, so long as their visa petition was submitted on or before December 21, 2000.

Your next step is determining how and where to apply for your visa; for more information, see U.S. Immigration Made Easy, by Ilona Bray (Nolo).

Limits on Activities in the U.S.

Your visa allows you to enter the United States and to engage in certain activities while you're there. For example, if you receive a student visa, you're allowed to study in the United States -- but not to work off campus (unless you seek special permission) and not to stay permanently.

How Long Your Visa Will Last

Just as nonimmigrant visas vary in purpose, they also vary as to how long they last. Each nonimmigrant visa is given an expiration date according to what the law allows. Most can also be extended a certain number of times.

An important caution: The expiration date on your visa does not indicate how long you can stay in the U.S. once you arrive. It indicates only the period of time during which you have the right to enter the United States using that visa. How long you can stay is shown by the date on your "I-94 card," which is a small white or green card you'll be given when you enter the country.

If your visa is "multiple entry," however, you can use it to enter the United States again, as soon as you like. If it's not multiple entry, you can use it only once.

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