How to Apply for a Nonimmigrant Visa

If you want to visit the United States for a short period of time, you may need to apply for a nonimmigrant visa. These visas are different from immigrant visas, which are for permanent residency.

Nonimmigrant visas allow people to enter the U.S. for specific purposes. There are many different nonimmigrant visas for various types of travel. Read on to learn more about nonimmigrant visas.

closeup of visa
A closeup of a visa. Find out more about the process for applying for a nonimmigrant visa.

Who Needs to Apply for a Nonimmigrant Visa?

Unless you are a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident of the county, you will likely need a visa to travel to the United States. If you are planning to move to the country on a permanent basis, you will need to apply for an immigrant visa. All others will need to obtain a nonimmigrant visa.

There are exceptions to the visa requirement for foreigners traveling from certain countries. There is a growing list of a few dozen countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Citizens of VWP countries can travel to the United States without a visa for up to 90 days. 

Additionally, Canadians do not need a visa to enter the country in most circumstances. The maximum amount of time that a Canadian can stay within the country without acquiring a visa ranges from six months to one year.

Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa

To apply for a nonimmigrant visa, you’ll have to sign on to the U.S. Department of State’s website to submit Form DS-160, an online application for temporary travel to the U.S.

When you submit this form, you will also have to include fee payments.

Most of the time, you will need to attend an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country before receiving your visa. This interview includes putting you under oath and a biometrics appointment, where an official takes your fingerprints for a background check.

Preparing for Your Visa Interview

When preparing to attend your visa interview, you will need to compile several documents. Items you will need to bring with you include:

  • Your passport
  • A photograph of yourself that conforms to the visa requirements
  • The confirmation page from your DS-160 application
  • Proof of payment of your visa fee
  • A printout of your interview appointment letter

Certain visa types will require additional documentation as well, including:

  • Your travel itinerary
  • Employment-related documents
  • A letter of invitation from a U.S. citizen

The purpose of these documents is to show that you do not have the intention of remaining in the United States beyond the period of your nonimmigrant visa.

At your interview, you will be asked questions regarding your reason for visiting the United States, what you plan to do while you are there, and how you will finance your stay. The length of the interview can vary greatly.

Waiting for Approval

After you have finished your interview, you will enter a waiting period as your visa application is processed. The length of time you will have to wait for an answer can vary significantly, depending on several factors, including your nationality, the location of the embassy, and the complexity of your case. You may be asked to submit additional documents while you wait.

If your application is approved, you will receive your visa, and you can pack your bags and prepare for your trip to the United States.

Kinds of Nonimmigrant Visa

There are around 38 different nonimmigrant visas for the United States. The type of visa you select will depend on the purpose of visiting the U.S.

Some nonimmigrant visas you can apply for include:

  • Business Visa (B-1)
  • Tourist Visa (B-2)
  • Academic Student (F)
  • Vocational Student (M)
  • Professor, Scholar, Teacher Exchange (J)
  • FTA (Free Trade Agreement) Professional: Chile or Singapore
  • Media professional, Journalist (I)
  • Artist, Athlete, Entertainer (P)
  • Physician (J, H-1B)
  • Religious Worker (R)

There are many more visa types available on the Department of State’s website.

Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Visa

Nonimmigrant visitors to the United States need to usually show that they do not intend to immigrate to the U.S. This means that they should show that they intend to return to their home country in order to be granted a nonimmigrant visa.

Additionally, nonimmigrants also need to provide documents that show that they are eligible for their specific visa type.

Student visa applicants need to show that they have been accepted to a U.S. school. H-1B visa applicants need to show that they are highly-skilled workers. Religious workers need to show they are a member of a recognized religious denomination.

The visa officer at the U.S. consulate or embassy will ask about these qualifications during the visa interview.

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