U.S. ARRIVAL INFO FOR NONIMMIGRANTS
Responsibilities for visa issuance and admission are split between the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes three Bureaus that assumed the functions of the agency formerly known as INS: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). For many types of visas, the first step is for USCIS to approve a petition or application (the “underlying petition”) determining that the foreign national is eligible for a specific status. The foreign national then applies for a visa at a U.S. consular post abroad. DOS is responsible for the consulates, with some input from DHS. Once the foreign national receives an entry visa, he or she appears for inspection and entry to the U.S. CBP determines admissibility and specifies the period of stay.
The information provided below is intended to generally assist individuals with visa issuance. Contact immigration counsel for specific information about eligibility for a visa and travel restrictions. Always check with the local consulate to get current information on processing of visa applications. Consulates vary widely in their procedures.
Visa Issuance and Reissuance
Once USCIS has approved a nonimmigrant visa petition, if the foreign national beneficiary of that petition is outside the U.S., he or she must obtain a visa from a U.S. consulate abroad in order to enter the U.S. in the approved status. Foreign nationals already in the U.S. who are changing status from one visa category to another (or one employer to another) generally do not need to leave the U.S. in order to effect the change. However, if the foreign national leaves the U.S. and needs to re-enter, he or she must present a valid visa with the appropriate classification at the port of entry.
Foreign nationals seeking admission to the U.S. based on an approved nonimmigrant petition must have a valid visa of the appropriate type in their passport to enter the U.S. (unless visa exempt). Usually, the validity date of the entry visa in the foreign national’s passport will be the same as the validity date of the approved petition, but this is not always the case. For example, if a foreign national extends his or her status in the U.S., his or her petition validity period would be extended, but his or her passport visa, issued for the initial petition, might have expired. The validity of the visa is not extended by the nonimmigrant petition. In this example, the foreign national would require a new visa to re-enter the U.S.
If you are obtaining a visa outside the U.S.-know before you go. Find out about local consular procedures prior to planning your trip. Consulates change their hours of operations, fees and application requirements on a regular basis and often without prior notice.
Click here for links to U.S. consulate websites.
Click here to find out about visa wait times at U.S. consulates worldwide.
Visa Application in Canada or Mexico
Some foreign nationals prefer to apply for visas at U.S. consulates and embassies in Canada and Mexico rather than returning to their home country to apply. Issuance of nonimmigrant visas at U.S. consulates in Canada or Mexico to third country nationals is discretionary; applicants may be required to return to their home country to obtain a visa. Be certain to confirm that your appointment is on schedule at the consulate prior to departing the U.S. Procedures may change without notice. The consulate may cancel the appointment if there are heightened security concerns or staff shortages. If you have questions or concerns about your eligibility to apply in Canada or Mexico, contact immigration counsel before you travel.
Click here for more information about third country national visa processing in Canada or Mexico.
Standard Visa Application Forms
Form DS-160: This is the DOS Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application form. Each family member applying for a visa must complete a DS-160, which is available from all consular posts.
We recommend that foreign nationals make a copy of all completed forms for their records before submitting them to a consulate. USCIS and DOS will keep this information in a shared database accessible to multiple agencies; thus, it is critical that the form be carefully and honestly completed. If you have specific questions or concerns, contact your immigration counsel.
Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables citizens of participating countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business for 90 days or less without obtaining a U.S. visa. Visa Waiver is like a B-1/B-2 visa, without the actual visa stamp. All applicants for the VWP must have machine-readable passports and a valid ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) approval. Currently there are 27 participating countries in the VWP: Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Click here for more information on the visa waiver program and ESTA.
Visa Exemptions for Canadian Citizens
Canadian citizens generally do not need to obtain a visa in order to apply for admission to the U.S.; however, Canadian citizens do need a passport to enter the U.S. Individuals who are permanent residents of Canada and hold citizenship in a British Commonwealth country require a visa to enter the U.S. This does not affect individuals who are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.
Click here for more information about visa issuance in Canada.
Form I-94 and Arrival in the U.S.
The I-94 card is the critical evidence of a foreign national’s current legal status in the U.S. It is a good idea to keep copies of the I-94 card you receive at each entry. It is the I-94 card—not the visa—that controls how long a foreign national may remain in the U.S. If you do not receive an I-94 card upon entry, you should keep your own record of arrival and departure information (including dates and ports of arrival/departure) along with any other evidence available such as passport stamps or boarding passes.
If you have questions or concerns about your I-94 arrival/departure record (including immigrant status, expiration dates, or erroneous information), contact immigration counsel immediately.
Click here for general information about arrival/departure records (I-94 cards).
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