Someone who wishes to enter the U.S. must present a valid visa at inspection at a U.S. border or port of entry, such as an airport. To obtain the visa, the person must apply at a U.S. Consulate, generally in the person’s country of citizenship.
Every U.S. Consulate has different procedures for applying for a visa. The forms are the same for each consulate; the differences are in how the forms are to be presented for consideration. Additionally, all visa applications require a face-to-face interview. However, each consulate has its own procedures for arranging the interview. Before submitting an application for a visa, visit the consulate’s website to confirm its procedures.
Visas are issued by category. For example, the visa that allows for temporary business or pleasure in the U.S. is classified as a B1 or B2 visa. This visa cannot be used to enter the country to go to school as an F-1 student or as an H-1B professional worker. The F-1 visa must be issued to allow the holder to go to school as an F-1 student, and similarly for the H-1B.
The expiration date on a visa limits only the amount of time the holder may seek admission to the U.S. A B-1 visa holder frequently will be given a 10-year visa but may not stay for 10 years. The visa simply allows the person to seek admission to the U.S. with that visa for 10 years.
A person’s authorization to be in the U.S. for a specific purpose is referred to as status. For example, a person who enters the U.S. on a B-2 visa is given status for that purpose. The person is not authorized to work in that status. But if the person were eligible and offered a job, he or she could seek to change status to an employment-authorized category without leaving the country and obtaining a new visa in that category.
If the same B-2 visitor files to change status to H-1B professional worker and that change of status is granted, the person can begin work immediately for the sponsoring employer. However, if the person who has changed status leaves the country for a visit back home, he or she will need to obtain the H-1B classification of visa from the U.S. Consulate to be able to re-enter the U.S. and resume employment.
The U.S. has agreements with several countries, including Australia, France, Japan and the U.K., that allow citizens of those countries to enter the U.S., either for business or pleasure, without a visa. All that is needed for entry is a passport from an approved country.
Citizens of Canada also may enter the U.S. without a visa for most visa categories.
Last update: Sept. 24, 2008