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What is a U.S. visa?

A visa to the United States allows someone to come to a U.S. port-of-entry and apply for entry to the U.S. Visas are necessary for many people from other countries to come to the U.S. to visit or work.

Visas typically come in the form of a small slip of paper or a stamp in one's passport. Visitors may be asked to present their visa to the authorities at the border when entering the U.S., such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Visas do not necessarily guarantee entry into the United States, but instead allow a person to enter a port-of-entry whether by land, sea or air.

Some visitors may not need a visa for some short visits. Residents of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) may be able to enter a port-of-entry with only their passport.


Visa types and categories

Visas come in many varieties, which correspond to the kinds of activities one may participate in while visiting the United States. In general, there are three overall types of visa:

  • Immigration visas allow a foreign resident to live permanently in the U.S. These visas are also known as permanent residency cards or Green Cards.

  • Non-immigrant visas allow foreign residents to visit the United States temporarily to for business or pleasure or a number of other purposes. These visas are non-permanent.

  • Dual-intent visas allow people to enter the U.S. as a non-immigrant and to eventually change their status to immigrant. Examples include the fiancé visa and the H-1B work visa.


Getting a visa to the U.S.

When applying for a visa to the United States it is important to file your forms carefully. Incorrectly filed applications can further delay your visit to the United States and can be a hassle.

Some things to keep in mind when applying for a visa to the United States include:

  • When you want to travel to the U.S. Applying for your visa well in advance of your trip is a good idea.

  • Which visa is most appropriate for your travels to the United States. Also, it's a good idea to establish that you are eligible for the visa before applying.

  • Is there a limit on the number of visas available for this type? Some visas have limits, so it's better to apply during certain times of the year.

When you apply for the visa at your nearest U.S. consulate or embassy, you will need to send in the proper paperwork, supporting documentation and the requested fee. During the process of getting your visa you will be asked to be fingerprinted at the U.S. consulate or embassy. This is a routine procedure and is an important step in getting a visa.