The concept of a visa is simple—except when it isn’t. Full of contradictions and complex distinctions, a visa will likely be a critical part of your journey if you are visiting or moving to the United States.
The following is a compilation of answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about visas. If you have any additional questions or would like to get started on your case right away, please get in touch with our team here at Sintsirmas & Mueller Co. L.P.A.
1. What is a visa?
A visa is the legal authorization that a government grants to a foreign national, allowing them to seek entry for either a temporary or permanent stay. Temporary visas are called nonimmigrant visas, and permanent visas are called immigrant visas.
2. How long does a visa last?
There is a critical difference between the expiration date of a visa and how long the visa will allow you to stay in the United States.
The expiration date tells you how much time you have to seek entry. If you don’t attempt to enter the U.S. before this date, you will need to get a new visa.
The length of time you can stay in the U.S., on the other hand, is technically up to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officer upon your inspection at a U.S. port of entry. However, they will typically grant a length of stay that is standard for your particular nonimmigrant visa. This length of stay may range from several months to several years.
An immigrant visa does not grant a finite length of stay. Once the DHS allows you to enter the United States, you will receive your green card in the mail.
3. What if I don’t leave before the end of my authorized period of stay?
4. Is a visa the same as a green card?
No. If you obtain an immigrant visa, the visa will result in a green card if you pass through inspections at a U.S. port of entry.
But nonimmigrant visas typically do not result in lawful permanent residence (a green card). This is because you must demonstrate nonimmigrant intent in order to qualify for a nonimmigrant visa. In other words, you must convince the adjudicating officer that you fully intend to stay in the U.S. temporarily and return to your country of origin at the end of your authorized stay. If the officer believes you possess immigrant intent (i.e. the goal of living in the U.S. permanently), they may accuse you of committing fraud.
Some nonimmigrant visas, however, allow you to possess dual intent. A dual intent visa is one that grants a temporary stay but allows you to apply for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residence if you qualify. Only a small handful of nonimmigrant visas are dual intent (e.g. H-1B, L-1, O-1, and K-1).
Learn more about the differences between green cards and visas here.
5. Who can qualify for a visa?
Each visa has a very specific purpose and corresponding set of qualifications. For example, a family-based immigrant visa requires your relative (who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident) to sponsor you for a green card. An H-1B visa is a temporary employment visa reserved for workers in highly specialized positions.
6. What is the Visa Bulletin?
If you are applying for lawful permanent residence (either from within the U.S. or from abroad), the U.S. government will first need to approve an immigrant petition. Usually, you will need a sponsor to file this petition on your behalf.
Once the government approves this petition, you will need to wait until a visa becomes available in your category before moving forward with the actual application. The Visa Bulletin is the monthly publication that provides updates regarding visa availability.
If you are adjusting your status (the green card process you use if you are already in the U.S. lawfully), you will need to check the Visa Bulletin even though you are not technically obtaining an immigrant visa. This is because the U.S. government uses visa numbers to track the number of green cards distributed to immigrants each year.
7. If I enter the U.S. with an immigrant visa, will I need to adjust my status?
No. You will receive your green card in the mail once you enter the United States.
8. Can I visit the U.S. without a visa?
In limited circumstances, yes. Many countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows their citizens to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa first. Visit here to learn whether your country is currently on this list.
Let Our Team Answer All Your Questions
The above information is intended as general guidance, and it does not take the unique factors of your situation into account. When you bring your case to Sintsirmas & Mueller Co. L.P.A., however, our team can provide fully personalized recommendations and tenacious representation from start to finish. We have 50+ years of combined experience, which is why you can trust us to help you accomplish your immigration goals as soon as possible.