Nonimmigrant visas are temporary visas that allow foreign nationals to enter the U.S. for a specific purpose for a specific amount of time.
If you have questions about any aspect of the nonimmigrant visa process, contact an experienced immigration attorney at Hanlon Law Group, P.C.
During a free, confidential consultation, we can answer your questions and help you determine which nonimmigrant visa best fits your needs. We can also help you move forward with the application process and position your status change request for a favorable outcome.
Nonimmigrant (Temporary) Visas
Applying for nonimmigrant visas starts by submitting an application with the U.S. consulate or embassy in a foreign national’s the home country. The amount of time it takes to get a visa can vary. Therefore, it’s best to begin the process well in advance of the time you need to travel to the U.S. If you are unsure about whether you need to apply for a nonimmigrant visa for your planned trip to the U.S., contact your local consulate for more information.
In order to get a nonimmigrant visa, you will need to:
- Complete a Nonimmigrant Visa Application (Form DS-156)
- Have a current and valid passport
- Provide passport-style photographs
- Pay application fees.
Due to the heightened security measures in the U.S. post-9/11, most applicants for nonimmigrant visas will have to submit to an in-person interview with a consular officer before the application can be approved. During this interview, applicants can expect to be questioned extensively about their:
- Purpose for seeking the visa
- Intent to return to their homeland
- Ability to pay for their own expenses while in the U.S.
Applicants may also have to provide other documentation, depending on the purpose for the nonimmigrant visa. For example, if the applicant is applying for a business visitor visa, (s)he should provide a letter from the employer stating the purpose and duration of the visit.
Since individual applications vary greatly, it is best to contact the consular office directly or review its website for information about additional documentation.
Types of Nonimmigrant Visas
The most common types of nonimmigrant visas are issued for travelers, business visitors, students and temporary workers. There are 26 other nonimmigrant visa categories available including those for:
Additionally, spouses and unmarried minor children may also be issued nonimmigrant visas to travel with the principal visa holder to the U.S. It is best to apply for the spousal and/or child visa(s) at the same time as the original visa.
You Have the Visa – Now What?
Once you are issued a visa, you are not guaranteed entry into the U.S. The visa gives you a set amount of time during which you can travel to a U.S. port of entry.
Once you reach a U.S. port of entry, you will have to provide your visa, passport and other documentation to an officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS officer will then:
- Determine whether to permit your entry into the U.S.
- Determine how long you will be allowed to stay in the U.S.
- Stamp the date by which you must leave the U.S. on the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94). You should keep this form in your passport.
Extending a Stay in the U.S.
When holders of nonimmigrant visas enter the U.S., they receive an I-94 card that specifies the date by which they must leave the country. To extend a stay beyond that date, permission must be obtained from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Permission to extend a stay must be sought prior to the expiration date on the I-94 card.
There are a few exceptions to this requirement. Specifically, USCIS will consider an extension request submitted after the expiration date on the I-94 card if the person requesting an extension can show that:
- The delay was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond his or her control.
- The length of the delay was reasonable.
- The petitioner has not violated any of the conditions of his or her visa (such as working illegally).
- The petitioner is still a nonimmigrant.
- The petitioner is not in deportation or removal proceedings.
Nonimmigrant Visa FAQs: More Helpful Answers about Temporary Visas
The following provides more important answers to common questions about nonimmigrant visas. This information is important to understand when applying for visas or visa extensions.
What is a nonimmigrant visa? How is it different from an immigrant visa?
Nonimmigrant visas are granted to foreign nationals who wish to travel to the U.S. for a temporary purpose, such as to:
- Visit friends and family
- Attend an American university
- Participate in a temporary work program.
In contrast, immigrant visas allow foreign nationals to move permanently to the U.S. and receive lawful permanent resident status. Those visiting the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas are required to return to their home country once their allotted time has expired.
What do I have to do to get a nonimmigrant visa?
Generally, you submit an application to the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence. Most applicants will also need to complete an interview with a consular or embassy officer prior to receiving a decision regarding their visa application.
To be eligible for a nonimmigrant visas, the applicant must have a valid passport. (S)he must also:
- Prove that (s)he’s applied for the correct nonimmigrant category
- Be eligible under U.S. law for a visa
- Submit evidence of his or her ties to the home country and the intent to return there once the stay in the U.S. has come to an end
- Establish his or her ability to financially provide for him- or herself while in the U.S.
How long does it take to get a nonimmigrant visa?
Processing times vary according to factors that include (and may not be limited to):
- The type of nonimmigrant visa you are applying for
- Your country of residence
- Your age
- The completeness of your application.
Your local embassy or consulate can provide you with an estimate of the waiting time. Also, please be advised that:
- It is best to apply for your visa as soon as you are able.
- The busiest months for processing visas are typically June, July and August.
Once I’m granted a visa, does this mean I am admitted to the U.S.?
No. A visa allows a foreign national to travel to a U.S. port of entry. Some visas are only valid for a certain amount of time while other visas do not have expiration dates.
Once the foreign national arrives at the U.S. port of entry, a U.S. government official will determine whether (s)he can enter the U.S. (and, if so, the duration of the visit/stay).
How long can I stay in the U.S. once I have been granted a nonimmigrant visa?
As noted above, a U.S. government official will determine how long you are permitted to stay in the U.S. once you arrive at a port of entry. The expiration date for your stay will be stamped on your I-94 card. This is the date by which you must leave the U.S., unless you have been granted an extension of stay by USCIS.
What do employers have to do to hire foreign nationals as temporary workers?
To hire temporary workers, employers must file a petition with USCIS. Employers seeking to hire certain categories of workers, such as H-1B (specialty occupations), H-2A (temporary agricultural workers) and H-2B (skilled and unskilled workers), must receive certification from the U.S. Department of Labor (i.e., a PERM labor certification) prior to filing their petition with the USCIS.
Once USCIS issues an approval for an employer to hire a foreign national as a temporary worker, the foreign national can then apply for a nonimmigrant worker visa.
What happens if I remain in the U.S. after my date of departure?
Staying even one day after your scheduled date of departure is a violation of U.S. law and places you out of status. Your visa is automatically invalidated, and you may not be able to return to the U.S. in the future.
In certain situations, an overstay may be excused if it was due to extreme circumstances out of your control. If you wish to stay in the U.S. longer than you have been authorized, you should file for an extension with USCIS. Otherwise, on your date of expiration, you must leave the country and return home, where you can apply for a new visa.
What is the visa waiver program?
Under the visa waiver program, foreign nationals from certain countries are permitted to travel to the U.S. without a visa. The program currently applies to 27 countries and only applies to those traveling to the U.S. for business or pleasure with a B-class visa.
Visitors who qualify under the visa waiver program are not permitted to stay in the U.S. longer than 90 days and may not request an extension of their stay or change of status.
Can I change my visa status once I’m in the U.S.?
You can apply for a change of visa status to a nonimmigrant visa status while you are in the U.S. For example, someone on a B-1 visitor visa may decide (s)he would like to attend an American university and apply for a student visa.
To change your nonimmigrant status, you must submit an application to USCIS. Not all nonimmigrant classes are permitted to change status. An immigration attorney can provide you with further information about your eligibility.
Once I enter the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa, can I decide to stay permanently?
Yes. However, it can be very difficult to do so. If you know at the outset that you want to live for an indefinite period of time or even permanently in the U.S., it is best to apply for lawful permanent resident status.
Those who use nonimmigrant visas as a pretext to gain entry into the U.S. and then try to change their status to permanent residents can face removal proceedings if it is determined they misrepresented their intentions for coming to the U.S.
Please note, however, that there are legal ways to become a permanent resident if you came to the U.S. on a temporary visa. It is best to consult an attorney as soon as possible to find out whether you will qualify for this change in status.
Need More Answers about Nonimmigrant Visas? Contact a Los Angeles Immigration Lawyer at the Hanlon Law Group, P.C.
If you need experienced help securing or renewing a visa, contact a Los Angeles immigration lawyer at the Hanlon Law Group, P.C. Our attorneys have more than two decades of experience successfully representing clients in various types of immigration cases.
Offering state-of-the art case management technology backed by old-fashioned personal service, we have the skills, resources and experience you can count on for exceptional, cost-effective representation in any immigration matter.
Call (800) 976-5675 to learn more about our immigration, citizenship and deportation defense services. We are ready to provide you with:
- A free, confidential consultation during which you can receive expert legal advice
- Immigration services in various languages, including in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Bahasa Indonesian, Tagalog and Fukienese
- Flexible payment options
- High-quality representation to help you position your status change request for approval.
From Pasadena, we represent clients throughout Los Angeles, the state of California and the world.