U.S. immigration law defines an immigrant visa as a type of visa document which allows a foreign national to enter into the U.S., and eventually apply for lawful permanent residency. Lawful permanent residents are generally granted the same rights as natural-born citizens, such as the right to work in the country, as well as the right to pursue citizenship.

Immigrant visas can be thought of as three broad categories. Generally speaking, a person seeking an immigrant visa must find a person or organization who will petition them to relocate to the U.S. Because of this, immigrant visas are generally categorized according to the applicant’s relationship to their petitioner.

An example of this would be the following types of immigrant visa categories:

  • Family-Based: The petitioners may include immediate relatives, close family members, fiancés, and other people who are willing to help the applicant receive their visa;
  • Employment-Based: Employers may act as a petitioner, in order to petition a worker to relocate permanently to the U.S; and
  • Special Immigrants: An example of special immigrants as employees would be religious workers, or applicants from selected countries.

It is important to note that for some employment-based immigration visas, work certification may be required. The employer will need to verify that the person is filling a legitimate employment need.

Immigrant visas are characterized by the applicant’s general intent to relocate permanently to the United States. This is in contrast to other types of non-immigrant visas in which the applicant only intends to stay temporarily, such as student visas or temporary work visas.

An applicant for nonimmigrant status must show that they do not intend to stay or live permanently in the United States. There are certain factors that may exclude an applicant from receiving a non-immigrant visa, such as a criminal felony record.

What Are the Most Common Types of Nonimmigrant or Temporary Visas?

If a person is traveling for purely business purposes, they will need a temporary B-1 Visitor visa for Business. B-1 Visas allow business travelers of other countries enter into the United States for temporary business purposes only, as visitor visas are not allowed to accept permanent employment. A B-1 visa is used for a variety of business related activities, including but not limited to:

  • Consulting with business associates;
  • Attending a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention, conference, or seminar;
  • Giving a lecture at one of the aforementioned events;
  • Running and maintaining a business;
  • Conducting independent research at a scientific or educational institution;
  • Participating in a voluntary service program; and/or
  • Participating in a sporting event, such as a professional athlete traveling to compete in the Olympics.

To reiterate, those with B-1 visas generally may not receive salaries or money from U.S. sources.

Another type of temporary visa would be the F-1 visa, which is required for foreign students to study in the U.S. Under the F-1 visa, students may be employed under certain circumstances. Generally speaking, students will be allowed to remain in the U.S. for the duration of their studies, plus one year of authorized Optional Practical Training (“OPT”). This is training in their area of study. Additionally, students may stay another sixty days in order to prepare to leave the U.S., or transfer to another school to continue pursuing their studies.

F-2 visas are issued to the spouse and minor children of foreign students who have been granted F-1 visas. They are intended to allow dependents of foreign students to accompany them while they are studying in the United States. It is important to note that dependents on an F-2 visa cannot study full time at the college) level. In order to be allowed to study for a degree, the dependent will must apply for an F-1 visa of their own. However, children are allowed to attend K-12 schools full time, and spouses may take part-time classes that are vocational or recreational in nature. Examples of such classes would be cooking or language classes.

An H-1B visa is a specific type of work permit, allowing an immigrant to work for an employer in the United States temporarily in a specialty occupation. A person may hold a H-1B visa for a maximum of six years, which can be issued in increments of three years at a time. Only under certain circumstances can an employee hold a H-1B visa for a period beyond the six-year period. There are only 85,000 H-1B visas given per year, and distribution is generally restricted to those who have received an advanced degree from a U.S college or university.

Three other common temporary visas include:

  • I Visa: The I visa is used by representatives of foreign media on assignment in the United States. It is for the purpose of disseminating information or news to be distributed outside of the United States. What this means is that the I visa is not for entertainment projects, such as fictional films created solely for entertainment value;
  • J-I Visa: The J-1 visa allows entry for those in cultural exchange programs, and is also known as one of the exchange visitor visas. They are available for participants in programs sponsored by schools, businesses, and other U.S. State Department authorized institutions; and
  • T-1 Visa: The purpose of the T-1 visa is to protect victims who are physically present in the U.S. due to human and/or sex trafficking. In order to receive a T-1 visa, victims must have had contact with law enforcement, either by reporting a crime or by responding to questions.

What Else Should I Know About Temporary Visa Laws?

Some immigrants may be permitted to enter the United States without having to go through the regular visa application procedures. This is referred to as a visa waiver.

Some examples of criteria for obtaining a visa waiver include, but may not be limited to:

  • The recipient’s stay must amount to ninety days or less;
  • The immigrant must be a citizen of a visa waiver country;
  • All recipients must possess a valid passport;
  • Immigrants are generally required to provide a round trip ticket with their return date; and
  • Recipients must fill out certain forms from the Bureau of Citizenship, as well as Immigration Services.

No matter the visa being sought, whether temporary or nonimmigrant, you will be subject to a maximum length of stay in the United States. This is because these visas are issued for a limited length of stay. As such, if the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services have reason to believe that you intend on staying past that date, they could revoke your temporary visa.

In order to obtain any kind of visa, you must first schedule an appointment for a visa interview at a U.S Embassy or Consulate of your country. Alternatively, this appointment may take place at any U.S Embassy or Consulate; however, it is best to schedule an appointment in the country of your permanent stay.

Do I Need an Attorney For Issues Involving a Temporary Visa?

If you wish to apply for a temporary visa, or are experiencing issues related to your temporary visa, you should consult with a local experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible. Each different type of visa has its own criteria as well as procedural rules, and failure to comply could result in serious legal issues.

An experienced attorney can help you determine which type of visa you should apply for, as well as assist you throughout the application process. Finally, should any legal issues arise, your immigration attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.