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U.S. Travel Visas, Explained

All you need to know about U.S. nonimmigrant visas

There are many reasons to come to the United States for a short period of time; whether it’s for travel, business, education, or short-term work, the possibilities are endless. However, all non-U.S. citizens or permanent residents will still need a travel visa.

Called “nonimmigrant visas,” these temporary visas allow the holders to visit the United States for specific purposes, as long as their stays are temporary and have a clear departure date.

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What Is a Nonimmigrant Visa?

Nonimmigrant visas (also known as travel visas) are meant for those wishing to temporarily come to the United States for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, or study.

However, because a travel visa is temporary, it cannot be used to live in the United States permanently and usually has an end date or a set amount of time that can be spent in the country.

Immigrant visas, on the other hand, are for those who intend to live permanently in the United States, and usually require family or employment sponsorship.

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Who Needs a Travel Visa?

Everyone, unless a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, needs a travel visa to legally enter and stay in the United States. Whether you are ninety-days-old or ninety-years-old, you will most likely require a nonimmigrant visa to temporarily come to the United States.

Some nationals from specific countries do not need visas to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days without needing a visa. This is called the “Visa Waiver Program,” or VWP, and it’s used by nationals of 38 countries and territories, including most countries in the European Union.

Different entry requirements also apply to Canadian nationals, who typically do not need a visa to enter the US unless they plan to work, study, invest, or immigrate. The maximum length of stay can vary, depending on circumstances, between 6 months and 1 year.

Need guidance on your travel visa? With Boundless, you get personalized application and interview support from an experienced team, ready to answer any questions you may have along the way. Get started today!


What Kinds of Nonimmigrant Visas Are There?

Travel visas usually cover short-term employment, study, and temporary visits for tourism or business.

Employment

Temporary work visas are issued to people who come to the United States for employment lasting a fixed amount of time. This employment cannot be permanent or indefinite, meaning that it usually is seasonal or temporary. A petition is still required by a prospective employer, who needs to apply to the U.S. authorities beforehand. An approved petition is then used by the worker to obtain a nonimmigrant work visa.

There are several types, although the most common are H visas (H-1B, H-1B1, H-2A, H-2B, H-3) which are issued to temporary workers in the United States. H-1B and H-1B1 visas are for professional-level jobs that require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a specific academic field, as well an employer sponsor.

H-2A and H-2B visas are for seasonal work, either agricultural or non-agricultural depending on the visa, for which there are no available U.S. citizens.

Other temporary work visas are available, including for those transferring within a company that has a U.S. office (L-1A or L-1B), those with extraordinary abilities (O-1), artists or entertainers (P-1A, P1-B, P2, P-3), and international cultural exchange participants (Q visa)

Study

With many world-renowned educational institutions and study programs, the United States attracts tens of thousands of students every year. Studying in the United States does require a visa.

The F-1 visa is for a full-time student at an accredited U.S. educational institution, including colleges, high schools, seminaries, and conservatories. While on the F-1 visa, you can only have on-campus employment. There is also the F-2 visa for the spouse or children of the F-1 visa holder. Finally, there is an F-3 for “border commuters” that live in Canada or Mexico and commute to the U.S. to study.

For vocational trainees, the M visa is available for study at vocational or other recognized nonacademic institutions, other than language training programs as those require an F visa.

There is also the J-1 visa, which is issued to those participating in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs. This can include au-pairs, camp counsellors, teachers, trainees or interns. They must be participating in programs promoting cultural exchange and applicants must meet eligibility criteria, including English language proficiency. The J-2 visa is used for dependents of the J-1 visa holder.

Boundless + RapidVisa can help you complete your F-1 student or J-1 exchange visa application, prepare for your visa interview, and answer any immigration questions you may have. Learn more about what we do to help.

Visitor

The phrase “Business or pleasure?” is instantly recognizable, and can be applied to this category of temporary stays in the United States. Visitors can come to the U.S. for either tourism or to engage in temporary business, such as visiting U.S. companies and contacts.

Unless you are an eligible national of a country covered by the Visa Waiver Program, you will need to obtain a B-1 business visa or B-2 tourist visa to travel to the United States for tourism or business.

You’ll have to provide documents outlining the reasons for your visit and your intended itinerary, if available.

Depending on your nationality, the validity of your visa can vary between 3 months and 10 years. This is the period of time that you can use your visa to enter the United States, and you can make multiple entries to the United States during that time period.

The amount of time that a visitor on a B-1 or B-2 tourist visa can stay in the United States is determined by the U.S. official at the port of entry but the maximum is 6 months. It is possible to extend this time when in the United States, although the form must be filed 45 days prior to expiration and a successful outcome is not guaranteed.

The Visa Waiver Program is open to certain countries but does have conditions: you must be enrolled in the ESTA program prior to air travel, the duration of stay is 90 days and cannot be extended, and you can never have had a U.S. visa refused or denied. You must also demonstrate that you have strong ties to your home country and will not overstay in the United States.

Interested in traveling to the U.S.? Our experienced team can help you prepare a strong application and avoid common mistakes that lead to visa denial.


How Do You Apply For a Travel Visa?

With the exception of the Visa Waiver Program, all nonimmigrant U.S. visa applicants must apply for a travel visa outside the United States at a U.S. Embassy or consulate, using the following steps:

Fill in Form DS-160

Form DS-160 is the form that needs to be filed for travel visas. It is quite long and detailed, so you must be prepared to spend time answering all questions accurately and gathering the information required. For more information on how to fill in the form, check out this Boundless guide!

Pay your fee

Depending on your visa type, you will need to pay the $185 visa fee, unless you are a temporary worker and then you will have to pay a $205 fee. These fees will be payable at the time you submit your DS-160.

Schedule an interview

Once your form DS-160 has been processed, you will be asked to schedule an interview at a U.S. Embassy or consulate. Wait times for these interviews can vary greatly depending on the location you have chosen. It is very important to take interview scheduling into account when preparing to apply for visas, and check ahead of time how quickly interviews will be scheduled in your location.

Compile documents

You will be asked to bring documents to the interview for your travel visa, in addition to your passport. These include a photograph, the form DS-160 confirmation page, proof of visa payment, and a printout of your interview appointment letter.

Depending on the visa you’re applying for, you may be asked to bring proof of travel itinerary, employment-related documents, and letters of invitation from family, friends or businesses in the United States. These documents are to prove “non-immigrant intent,” namely that you will return to your home country after visiting the United States.

Attend the interview

At your interview, you will be put under oath and have your fingerprints taken.

The U.S. consular officer will check your application and any documents you have brought along. They will ask you questions about why you want to visit the United States, what you will do there, and how you will finance your stay. Sometimes the interviews are brief and sometimes they are long and detailed. Regardless, it is vital to give clear, accurate answers to all questions, remembering you are under oath.

Wait for processing

After your interview, there will be a wait for the outcome while your travel visa is processed. These can vary depending on your type of visa, nationality, embassy or consulate location, and the complexity of your individual case. If U.S. authorities require any further documents or evidence, they will reach out to you.

Boundless’ B-1/B-2 travel visa service offers more than just help with your forms. We’ll help assemble your entire application, file it with the U.S. government on your behalf, and help schedule your visa interview. You’ll even get interview prep tips from a former consular officer who knows what it takes to succeed. Learn more.


What Happens Next?

Congratulations, you have a U.S. travel visa in your hand! You can travel from now until the expiry date shown on your visa.

When you arrive at a U.S. port of entry, whether by land, sea or air, you must present your visa and passport to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. They will ask you questions about your stay and its length, and if your answers are satisfactory, they will stamp your passport and admit you into the United States.

Nowadays, U.S. authorities no longer issue the paper Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record as routine, and almost all records are kept electronically. Form I-94 is your record of entry and exits from the United States and can be found online or you can request one from a CBP agent at a port of entry.

Knowing your Form I-94 entry date is important, as it helps you avoid overstaying your travel visa. Serious penalties apply for all those overstaying visas, including lengthy travel bans from the United States.

Finally, while applying for a U.S. nonimmigrant visa with the intent of immigrating to the United States is not allowed, if you find an employer able to sponsor you or you decide to marry, there is a path to a green card through Adjustment of Status. Boundless can help smoothly guide you through this process, so check out if you’re eligible to apply.


FAQs

The most common types of US temporary visas include the following:

– B-1/B-2 Visitor Visa: This type of visitor visa is for people who are traveling to the United States for business or pleasure. It permits individuals to stay in the country up to 6 months at a time.

– F Student Visa: This type of visa is for people who wish to study in the United States. It allows students to attend school full-time and stay in the country for up to two years with an option to extend if needed.

– H Temporary Work Visas: There are several different types of temporary work visas available, such as H-1B, H-2A, and H-2B visas. These allow individuals to work in the US for a limited period of time.

– J Exchange Visitor Visa: This type of visa is for those who are traveling to the United States as part of an exchange program sponsored by a school or organization. It allows individuals to stay in the country for up to 1 year and may also be extended.

– O Visitor Visa: This type of visa is for those who are traveling to the United States as part of a cultural exchange program or who wish to participate in scientific, educational, professional or business activities. It permits individuals to stay in the country up to 3 years at a time.

– TN Visitor Visa: This type of visa is specifically for people from Mexico and Canada who are traveling to the United States on business. It allows individuals to stay in the country up to three years with an option to extend if needed.

– R Religious Worker Visa: This type of visa is for people coming to the United States to work in a religious capacity. It permits individuals to stay in the country up to 5 years at a time.

The first step in applying for a US temporary visa is to determine which type of visa you need. Once you’ve figured out what visa is right for you, you can fill out the appropriate application forms and submit it to the U.S. Department of State. You will also need to provide evidence of your identity, financial stability, and ability to support yourself while in the US. After submitting your application, you will be required to attend an in-person interview at a US Embassy or consulate. If approved, you will receive a visa that allows you to enter the United States for the specified period of time.

The requirements for a U.S. travel visa vary depending on the type of visa you are applying for. Generally, applicants need to demonstrate that they have ties to their home country and intend to return there at the end of their stay in the US. Additionally, financial documents may be required to prove that you can support yourself financially during your stay in the U.S. You may also need to provide a valid passport and proof of a clean criminal record.

The processing time for a US temporary visa varies depending on the type of visa you are applying for. Additionally, if your application is complicated or there is an error in your paperwork, the processing time could be extended.

Once you have received your approved US.. travel visa, you will need to enter the United States within the specified period of time in order to maintain its validity. Once you arrive in the US, you must abide by all local laws and regulations and ensure you do not overstay your visa. Additionally, you may need to apply for an extension of your visa if you wish to stay in the U.S. longer than what was originally approved. Finally, once your visa expires or you decide to leave the U.S., you must depart within the designated time period or risk facing legal consequences.

The cost of applying for a U.S. temporary visa varies depending on the type of visa you are seeking. Generally, most travel visa cost between $160 to $400 USD. Additionally, some visas may require additional fees such as processing fees or biometric service charges.