Applying for a U.S. Visa

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visa is a passport endorsement that permits foreigners to enter the U.S. The majority of visa-holders in California are sponsored by U.S.-based relatives or employers.

The U.S. offers about 185 different types of visas. Each has its own application requirements, costs, processing times, and expiration dates. The type of visa is determined by the purpose of your travel to the United States.

Type Of VisaPurpose
An immigrant visa (IV)To live permanently in the U.S.
A nonimmigrant visa (NIV)Temporary basis for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study, as examples.

Immigrant Visa

Also known as permanent resident, immigrant, green card holder, and resident alien.

The United States may issue immigrant visas to foreigners who wish to settle in the United States and make it their permanent home. Those with Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) or immigrant status may work and live legally within the United States with most of the privileges and rights as a U.S. citizen. To become a permanent resident you would need to acquire an immigrant visa through sponsorship by a U.S. based individual. Typically, these are family members who are either U.S. citizens, permanent residents or U.S. based employers.

Immediate Relative & Family SponsoredVisa Category
Spouse of a U.S. CitizenIR1, CR1
Spouse of a U.S. Citizen awaiting approval of an I-130 immigrant petitionK-3
Fiancé(e) to marry U.S. Citizen & live in U.S.K-1
Intercountry Adoption of Orphan Children by U.S. CitizensIR3, IH3, IR4, IH4
Certain Family Members of U.S. CitizensIR2, CR2, IR5, F1, F3, F4
Certain Family Members of Lawful Permanent ResidentsF2A, F2B

Other ImmigrantsVisa Category
Diversity Immigrant VisaDV
Returning ResidentSB


The U.S. government grants other foreign-born individuals a nonimmigrant visa for the purposes of a temporary visit to the United States. Generally, the terms of a nonimmigrant visa require that the visa holder depart the U.S. within a certain time frame. The purpose for the visit may be tourism, business, temporary work, or school. Once a person has entered the U.S. in nonimmigrant status, they are restricted to the activity or reason for which they were allowed entry. For example, someone with a student visa must continue to be enrolled in school to keep within the terms of the visa. Most nonimmigrant visas are issued only to applicants who can demonstrate their intentions to return to their home country.

Purpose of TravelVisa CategoryRequired: Before applying for visa
Athlete, amateur or professional (competing for prize money only)B-1(NA)
Au pair (exchange visitor)JSEVIS
Australian professional specialtyE-3DOL
Border Crossing Card: MexicoBCC(NA)
Business visitorB-1(NA)
CNMI-only transitional workerCW-1(USCIS)
Diplomat or foreign government officialA(NA)
Domestic employee or nanny – must be accompanying a foreign national employerB-1(NA)
Employee of a designated international organization or NATOrG1-G5, NATO(NA)
Exchange visitorJSEVIS
Foreign military personnel stationed in the United StatesA-2
Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Professional:
Chile, Singapore
H-1B1 – Chile
H-1B1 – Singapore
International cultural exchange visitorQUSCIS
Intra-company transfereeLUSCIS
Medical treatment, visitor forB-2(NA)
Media, journalistI(NA)
NAFTA professional worker: Mexico, CanadaTN/TD(NA)
Performing athlete, artist, entertainerPUSCIS
Professor, scholar, teacher (exchange visitor)JSEVIS
Religious workerRUSCIS
Specialty occupations in fields requiring highly specialized knowledgeH-1BDOL then USCIS
Specialty occupations in fields requiring highly specialized knowledgeH-1BDOL then USCIS
Student: academic, vocationalF, MSEVIS
Temporary agricultural workerH-2ADOL then USCIS
Temporary worker performing other services or labor of a temporary or seasonal nature.H-2BDOL then USCIS
Training in a program not primarily for employmentH-3USCIS
Treaty trader/treaty investorH-3USCIS
Transiting the United StatesC(NA)
Victim of Criminal ActivityUUSCIS
Victim of Human TraffickingTUSCIS
Nonimmigrant (V) Visa for Spouse and Children of a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)V(NA)

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