There are two types of visas: immigrant and nonimmigrant.

An immigrant visa is a permanent visa. It is issued to people who are granted U.S. permanent residency (green card status). Immigrant visas are issued through family relationships, employment, and refugees, for example. There are 32 categories of immigrant visas.

A nonimmigrant visa is a temporary visa. It is issued to people who plan to be in the U.S. for a short period of time. Nonimmigrant visas are issued for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study, for example. There are 20 categories of nonimmigrant visa classifications.

The Immigrant Visa Process: How To Get a Green Card While Living Abroad

People who live abroad apply for a U.S. green card through consular processing. Here’s an overview of that process.

  • Find your green card category.

There are 32 categories of immigrant visas. You can apply for a green card through family, employment, a special class, or a humanitarian program.

  • File the immigrant petition.

In most cases, you will need an immigrant petition as the first step of the process.

Generally, this application is completed by a U.S. sponsor, such as a relative or employer, and filed on your behalf with the USCIS.

  • Wait for the decision on your petition.

The USCIS will notify the petitioner when the application is approved.

  1. Wait for a notification from the National Visa Center.

The USCIS will send your approved petition to the Department of State’s National Visa

Center where it will remain until an immigrant visa number is available. The NVC will notify you when the petition is received when a visa number is available, and when to submit visa processing fees and supporting documentation.

  • Go to your visa interview.

All visa applicants must attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Ultimately this is where the decision on your application is made.

  • Get your immigrant visa and travel to the U.S.

If your application is approved, you will be granted an immigrant visa and a “Visa Packet.”

This packed is to be given to Customs and Border Patrol upon entering the U.S.

  • Receive your green card.

Once you are in the U.S., you will receive your green card by mail.

The Nonimmigrant Visa Process

Here are the steps to get a temporary, nonimmigrant U.S. visa.

  • Find your visa category.

There are several nonimmigrant visa categories, including tourism, business, study, and work.

  • Complete the DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.

This is an online application available on the U.S. Department of State website.

  • Schedule a visa interview.

All applicants must attend an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate near you. There you will be interviewed for country-specific questions.

  • Pay the visa application processing fee.

Get your visa and travel to the U.S.