A-Visas: Foreign Government Officials

Foreign government officials or employees of foreign government officials are classified as non-immigrants in the A category. The A-1 subcategory is reserved for officers of permanent diplomatic missions or consular posts in the United States and visiting high-level officials of a foreign state. The A-2 subcategory is reserved for other accredited officials and employees of a foreign government, including consular employees. The A-3 subcategory covers personal employees of foreign nationals in the A-1 and A-2 categories. Family members of an A-1, A-2, or A-3 foreign national are included in the same A subcategory as the principal foreign national.


A-1 and A-2 visa holders are admitted to the United States for an indefinite period of stay, dependent on their continued recognition by the State Department as qualified A nonimmigrants. A-3 visa holder are admitted to the United States for a period of no more than three years, and can receive extensions of stay in two-year increments.

B-Visas: Temporary Visitors for Business or Pleasure

Foreign visitors for business and pleasure are classified as nonimmigrants in the B category. The applicant must be coming to the United States temporarily, must have a foreign residence that he or she has no intention of abandoning, and must not work or act as a representative of the foreign media. The B visa applicant must not come to the United States to study, although some study incident to a legitimate visit to the United States is permissible.


The B category is comprised of two subcategories: B-1 business visitors and B-2 visitors for pleasure. B-1 business visitors may engage in commercial transactions but may not receive a salary or fee from a U.S. source. B-2 visitors may travel to the United States as tourists, to visit to friends and relatives, for medical treatment, to take part in conferences or conventions, or as amateur athletes, musicians, or artists who will receive no compensation.

Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of 36 participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. VWP eligible travelers may apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so. Nationals of VWP countries must meet eligibility requirements to travel without a visa on VWP, and therefore, some travelers from VWP countries are not eligible to use the program. VWP travelers are required to have a valid authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to travel, are screened at the port of entry into the United States, and are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security¹s US- VISIT program. The 36 countries currently participating in the Visa Waiver Program include Andorra, Hungary, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Norway, Austria, Ireland, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, San Marino, Brunei, Japan, Singapore, Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovakia, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, South Korea, Finland, Luxembourg, Spain, France, Malta, Sweden. Germany, Monaco, Switzerland, Greece, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Citizens from these countries with a valid passport, flying on certain airlines may enter the U.S. for up to 90 days for business or tourism. But VWP travelers who overstay, even by a day, may be barred from using the VWP again and may even be refused admission to the U.S. subsequent trips if you try to enter without a valid visa stamp.

E-Visas: Treaty Merchant, Treaty Investor

Citizens of countries with treaties allowing for trade and/or investment with the United States may be eligible to enter the United States on an E visa.


The E visa can be used by companies owned by a single investor, as well as by large multinational companies that are nationals of certain countries which the United States has a treaties designed to promote trade and investment. It is also available to key foreign personnel of companies that are owned by Treaty Foreign Nationals (TFN), provided the requirements listed below apply. TFNs are from the following countries: http://travel.state.gov/visa/fees/fees_3726.html

There are two types of E-visas: 1. E-1 treaty trader visas which are set aside for companies that trade goods and services, and 2. E-2 investor visas for individuals or enterprises that invest substantial funds in the United States with the prospect of creating U.S. jobs.

THE E-1 VISA

To qualify for an E-1 trader visa, a foreign business person must seek entry into the United States to carry on “substantial trade in goods or services in a capacity that is supervisory or executive or involves essential skills.” The term “trade” includes service activities such as banking, insurance, transportation, communications and data processing, advertising, accounting, design and engineering, management consulting, tourism, and technology transfer. As a TFN, you may be issued a treaty trader (E-1) nonimmigrant visa if you meet all of the following requirements:
  1. 1. You or your firm is a TFN (at least 50% of the company is owned by TFNs);
  2. 2. You enter the United States to carry on substantial trade (more than 50%) between your U.S. business and a TFN country; it does not matter if your TFN company is engaged primarily in trade with countries other than the United States, if the U.S. business in a separate legal entity (e.g. not a branch office of the foreign entity).
  3. 3. The trade exists at the time you apply for E-1 status; and includes binding contracts calling for the immediate exchange of trade items;
  4. 4. Your executive or managerial duties or special skills make your services essential to the employer’s operations; and
  5. 5. You confirm you intend to depart the United States upon termination of this status.

THE E-1/E-2 VISA

An applicant for an E-2 investor visa, must “develop and direct operations of an enterprise in which he or she has invested or is actively in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital.” As a foreign citizen, you may be issued an E-2 nonimmigrant visa if you meet all of the following requirements:
  1. 1. You or the firm are TFNs (at least 50% of the company is owned by TFNs)
  2. 2. You or the firm for which you work will invest or have invested substantial capital (generally in excess of $100,000) which is subject to potential loss if the business does not succeed, in a bona fide enterprise in the United States. “Substantial” means:
    1. a. Usually more than half of the value of the business, or
    2. b. An amount normally considered necessary to establish a new business.
  3. 3. You engage in executive or managerial duties or possess special skills that make your services essential to the employer’s operations. The consular officer must be convinced that the a U.S. worker would be unable to replace the foreign national’s or that the employer is making good-faith efforts to recruit and/or train U.S. workers to perform the job.
  4. 4. The investment not your sole means of support and/or the goal of the investment is to create jobs for U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
  5. 5. The investment enterprise actually exists or you are actively in the process of investing.
  6. 6. You confirm you intend to depart the United States upon termination of this status.

Trader and investor visas must be applied for at a U.S. Consulate with a visa application and an interview with a U.S. consul is required. E visas are generally issued for a five year period and can be reissued through a U.S. Consulate or Embassy for a time equal to that originally issued. Traders and investors can remain in the United States indefinitely, so long as they maintain their eligibility and treaty status.

Your spouse and unmarried minor children are eligible for E visas. Spouses can apply for work authorizations after entry. Servants of the E visa holder can be issued B-1 visas with work authorization.

F-Visas: Students

Foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States to engage in a full course of academic study may be admitted in the F-1 category. Students may also enter the United States to study with a J visa if the educational institution has an exchange visitor program approved by the U.S. Information Agency. Vocational students must enter the United States in the M nonimmigrant category.


In order to qualify for F student status, the applicant must: be enrolled in a full-course of study at an educational institution approved by the Attorney General for attendance by foreign students; be proficient in English or enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency; have sufficient funds available to cover study and living expenses; and maintain a residence abroad which he or she has no intention of abandoning. The first step in applying for an F-1 visa is to secure admission to a qualifying school and to receive from the school Form I-20A-B, Certificate of Eligibility. Students in F-1 status are eligible for employment only in limited circumstances, which should be explored either with an international student advisor at the educational institution or with an immigration attorney. Accompanying family members are accorded F-2 status and are ineligible for employment in the United States.

G-Visas: International Organization Representatives and Employees

The G category is available to representatives and employees of international organizations covered by the International Organizations Immunity Act, as well as the attendants and household help of the representatives and employees.

The purpose of your intended travel to the U.S. must be pursuant to official duties.
  1. • G-1: Permanent mission members of a recognized government to a designated international organization
  2. • G-2: Representatives of a recognized government traveling to the U.S. temporarily to attend meetings of a designated international organization
  3. • G-3: Representatives of non-recognized or non-member governments
  4. • G-4: Offers and employees of recognized international organizations, including the United Nations

H-Visas: Temporary/Specialty Workers

H1-B Workers of Distinguished Merit and Ability

The H-1B visa status is used to employ professionals temporarily for periods of up to six years. The professional must be coming to the United States to perform services in "specialty occupations" for which the professional holds the requisite qualifications. The H-1B category can also be used by fashion models of "distinguished merit and ability," and by foreign medical graduates if they have passed the Federation Licensing Examination (FLEX) or an equivalent examination. A nurse with a B.S. may be sponsored for H-1B status if the nursing position actually requires a B.S. degree.


The position must be one for which a bachelor's degree or an advanced degree is the usual entry-level requirement. The applicant must possess the qualifications (degree) needed for the position or education, specialized training, and experience that is equivalent to training acquired by the attainment of a U.S. bachelor's or higher degree in the field. The position itself may be permanent in nature, but the visa holder must be planning to only temporarily fill the position. The H-1B category requires the filing of a labor condition application (LCA) with the Department of Labor prior to the filing of a petition with the USCIS. This application includes certain attestations, a violation of which can result in fines, bars on sponsoring nonimmigrant or immigrant petitions, and other sanctions to the employer. The holder of an H-1B visa may only work for the sponsoring employer. The holder of an H-1B visa may intend to become an immigrant (permanent resident) of the United States at the time he or she applies for and holds an H-1B visa.


As an H-1B nonimmigrant, you may be admitted for a period of up to three years. Your time period may be extended, but generally cannot go beyond a total of six years, though some exceptions do apply under sections 104(c) and 106(a) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act (AC21). Family members are given H-4 Dependent Visas and are not eligible to work in the United States, although they may undertake full-time studies. The H-1B visa has an annual numerical limit "cap" of 65,000 visas each fiscal year. The first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of beneficiaries with a U.S. master’s degree or higher are exempt from the cap. Additionally, H-1B workers who are petitioned for or employed at an institution of higher education or its affiliated or related nonprofit entities or a nonprofit research organization, or a government research organization are not subject to this numerical cap.


H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers

The H-2A category is reserved for foreign nationals who will work on a temporary basis in agricultural positions of a temporary or seasonal nature. The employer must demonstrate that it has only a temporary need for the type of services or labor to be performed by the foreign nationals and it must demonstrate that United States workers are not available who are unemployed and qualified for the position. In addition, the applicant for an H-2A visa must demonstrate that he or she has a foreign residence that he or she has no intention of abandoning, and must intend to depart from the Untied States at the end of his or her temporary stay. Family members are classified in the H-4 category and cannot receive work authorization unless they change to a nonimmigrant category for which employment is authorized.


The employer's permission to hire the foreign national is usually valid for up to one year. An employer can obtain an extension of the permission to employ a foreign national for an H-2A position, although a foreign national who has held H-2A status for a total of three years may not be granted H-2A status (or H or L status) until he or she remains outside the United States for an uninterrupted period of six months.


H-2B Temporary Workers Filling Non-Agricultural Positions

H-2B visa holders can hold skilled or unskilled positions. The employer must demonstrate that it has only a temporary need for the type of services or skills to be performed, and it must demonstrate that U.S. workers are not available who are unemployed and qualified to fill the position. In addition, the foreign national must have a foreign residence which he or she has no intention of abandoning, and must intend to depart the United States at the end of his or her temporary stay.


The employer's petition can be approved for up to one year. The petition can be extended for up to three years, which must be followed by at least six continuous months out of the United States at a foreign residence before the foreign national can be the beneficiary of a new H or L petition.

J-Visas: Exchange Visitors

The J-1 visa category is reserved for participants in exchange-visitor programs approved by the U.S. government. Foreign medical graduates who enter the U.S. on a J-1 visa can only remain for as long as is typically required to complete their program. The J-1 visa holder must make a commitment to return to his or her home country upon completion of the program. The home government must also certify that there is a need in its country for the foreign national's skills. The foreign medical graduate must return to his or her home country for a period of two years before being permitted to apply for permanent residence in the United States or for an H or L visa.

Other groups of exchange visitors who are also subject to the two year foreign residence requirement are foreign nationals whose participation in the exchange-visitor program was funded in whole or in part by the U.S. government or the foreign national's government, and foreign nationals who possess skills which have been determined by the U.S. Information Agency to be in short supply in the foreign national's home country. This generally excludes most European and Asian countries. The two years must be spent in the foreign national's country of citizenship or last residence, and need not be continuous. The requirement applies no matter how short a time the exchange visitor spent in his or her exchange program.

Note that since Canadians are visa exempt, they no not need to apply for this visa at the U.S. Consulate. If you are a Canadian citizen, merely submit Form DS-2019 and proof of non-immigrant intent to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officer at the time of admission to the United States.

Waiver of the Two Year Foreign Residence Requirement

The two year foreign residence requirement may be waived on one of four bases:
  1. 1. the waiver is requested by an interested government agency;
  2. 2. the foreign national can show that imposition of the requirement will result in "exceptional hardship" to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or child;
  3. 3. the foreign national can show that he or she would be subject to persecution in his or her home country; and
  4. 4. the foreign national's home government issues a letter of "no objection" to the foreign national's remaining in the United States (foreign medical graduates are not eligible for this waiver).

Family Members

Family members of J-1 visa holders, who are classified in the J-2 category, are subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement if the principal alien is subject to it. While in the United States, the J-2 family members may apply for employment authorization. An application for employment permission must be accompanied by evidence that the employment will be used to cover expenses for the family members, but not for the principal exchange visitor.

L-Visas: Intra-Company Transferees and Their Families

If you have worked abroad for one continuous year within the preceding three years for a qualifying, related business entity, in an executive, managerial, or specialized knowledge capacity, and are being transferred temporarily to a qualifying, related business entity in the United States to work in one of these capacities, you may be eligible for a L-1 visa. The U.S. company must be a parent, branch, subsidiary, affiliate, or joint venture with the company abroad. The relationship between companies is demonstrated either by showing that the corporations are the same or that one is a subsidiary, affiliate or branch office of the other.

As a L-1 visa holder, you must establish only that you are coming to the United States temporarily, even if you eventually intent to immigrate to the United States. Seeking permanent residence does not constitute intent to abandon your foreign residence.

If you as a L-1 beneficiary enter the U.S. in your capacity as an employee of the organization on some other type of visa, the time spent working in the U.S. under that visa will not be counted in assessing the one year requirement. But it will not be counted as applicable to the one-year previous foreign employment either.

L-1A, Executives and Managers

L-1A visas are available to Executives and Managers. Executives direct the management of an organization or a major component or function of the organization by establishing goals and policies and exercising wide latitude in discretionary decision-making, receiving only general supervision or direction from higher- level executives, the board of directors, or stockholders of the organization.

Managers supervise and control the work of other supervisory, professional or managerial employees, or manage an essential function, department or subdivision of an organization. A manager has the authority to execute or recommend personnel actions if others are directly supervised. If no other employees are supervised, he or she must function at a senior level within the organization or with respect to the function managed, and must exercise discretion over the day-to-day operations of the organization or function managed.

L-1B, Employees with Specialized Knowledge

L-1B visas are also available to employees with specialized knowledge, which means possessing special knowledge of the petitioning employer’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management or other interests, and its application in the international markets. The employee may also qualify under L- 1 classification if he or she has an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes or procedures.

If you will be stationed primarily offsite, a specialized knowledge L-1B classification may be inappropriate.

For a business that is just starting up, an L-1 visa is valid for one year. For businesses that have been doing business in the United States for a year or longer, the visa is valid for up to three years with two-year extensions available for a total of up to five years for an employee with specialized knowledge, and up to seven years for an executive or manager.
As the L-1 visa holder, your spouse and unmarried minor children are entitled to L-2, for your length of stay. Your spouse may seek employment authorization from USCIS. Minor children cannot. If you have domestic workers, they should be eligible for a B-1 visa with work authorization.

THE O VISA FOR PERSONS OF EXTRAORDINARY ABILITY IN THE ARTS, ATHLETICS, SCIENCES, EDUCATION, BUSINESS, OR THE MOTION PICTURE OR TELEVISION INDUSTRY

A foreign national who has extraordinary ability in the arts, athletics, sciences, education, business, or the motion picture or television industry and is coming to the United States temporarily to perform services for a U.S. employer in his or her area of expertise may be granted an O-1 visa.

“Extraordinary ability” means that you are one of a small percentage who have risen to the very top of your field. In addition, the position your U.S. employer is seeking to fill must require the services of an individual of extraordinary ability.

The “Arts” may include the motion picture or television industry. Individuals in this industry are held to a slightly different standard that others applying for an O-1 visa. These individuals must document “extraordinary achievement” through a demonstrated record of “distinction” or prominence by being considered renowned, leading, or well-known in the field.

To establish that you have extraordinary ability in your field, you may present evidence of receipt of a major, internationally recognized award, such as a Nobel Peace Prize, or in lieu of such award, the you may also qualify by submitting at least three (3) of the following forms of documentation:
  1. • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
  2. • Membership in associations in the field, which require outstanding achievements as judged by recognized international experts;
  3. • Published material in professional or trade publications or newsletters about you and your work in the field;
  4. • Evidence that the you have participated on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the field or an allied field;
  5. • Evidence of original scientific or scholarly research contributions of major significance in the field;
  6. • Evidence of authorship of scholarly articles in the field in professional journals or other major media; or
  7. • Evidence that you command a high salary or other high remuneration for services.

An O-1 visa may be valid for the period necessary to accomplish the event or activity, but cannot exceed three years.

If you hold an O-1 visa, your spouse and unmarried minor children are eligible for O-3 visas, but may not accept employment while in the United States.

If you are coming to the United States temporarily to accompany and assist in the athletic or artistic performance of someone granted an O-1 nonimmigrant visa. You may be granted an O-2 nonimmigrant visa.

The P-1 Visa FOR CERTAIN ARTISTS, ENTERTAINERS, AND ATHLETES

If you are coming to the United States to perform for a U.S. employer or a sponsor as an internationally recognized athlete or member of an internationally recognized entertainment group may qualify under the P-1 category.

To qualify for a P-1 visa, the you must be coming temporarily either to perform at specific athletic competition, individually or as part of a team, at an internationally recognized level of performance, or to perform with an entertainment group that has been recognized internationally as being outstanding in your discipline. You must be an integral and essential part of the performance and have had a sustained and substantial relationship with the group for at least one year.

A P-1 visa for an individual athlete may initially be valid for up to five years. Extensions may be granted, but the total period of stay may not exceed ten years. The validity period for an athletic team or entertainment group is the period of time necessary to complete the competition or event, but may not initially exceed one year.

The P-1 visa holder’s spouse and unmarried minor children are eligible for P-4 visas, but may not accept employment.

THE P-2 VISA

If you are coming to the United States to perform as an artist or entertainer, individually or as part of a group, under a reciprocal exchange program between an organization in the United States and an organization in another country, you may qualify for a P-2 Visa.

TN Visas for Canadians and Mexicans

TN-1 Visas for Canadian Professionals and Consultants

This classification of work visa is limited to Canadian professionals employed as professionals. The job must require an individual to have at least a baccalaureate degree or appropriate license demonstrating status as a professional, where this degree is its minimum entry-level requirement. Canadian management consultants are required to have either a bachelor’s degree or “five years of experience in consulting or related field.” If you are a Canadian management consultant, you should either be an independent consultant or the employee of a consulting firm under contract to a U.S. entity, or, if salaried, you should be in a temporary position. Unlike business persons and professionals admitted in the B business visitor category, professionals are permitted to be employed in the United States by either Canadian or U.S. companies and receive remuneration in the United States. Athletes, entertainers, and the self-employed are ineligible for TN status.

A TN visa is granted for up to one year. At the end of each one- year period, the Canadian citizen may reapply for another TN visa.

As a TN-visa holder, your Canadian or non-Canadian spouse or unmarried minor child of a TN visa holder is entitled to a TD classification for the same length of stay as yours, is ineligible to work while in TD status.

TN-NAFTA for Mexicans

The TN-NAFTA work visa for Mexican citizens is limited to Mexican professionals employed in the U.S. as professionals. (qualifying professions)

Generally this means having at least a baccalaureate degree or appropriate license demonstrating your professional status, where the job in question requires this degree as its minimum entry-level requirement. Normally, a bachelor’s degree of three or four years is the minimum requirement for professionals. If you are a Mexican management consultant, you are allowed to have either a bachelor’s degree or “five years of experience in consulting or related field.” Please note that if you are a management consultant, you should not assume an existing position, replace someone in an existing position, or fill a newly created permanent position. In short, as a management consultant you should be either an independent consultant or the employee of a consulting firm under contract to a U.S. entity. If you are a salaried employee, you should be in a temporary position. You must be employed and paid in the United States by a U.S. company. TN status precludes self-employment.

To apply, Mexican citizens qualifying for TN status must file the necessary paperwork with a U.S. Consulate anywhere in the world in order to receive a TN visa.

To demonstrate business activity at a professional level, you will need to be prepared to submit documentation in the form of a job offer letter from the prospective employer in the United States, as well as supporting documents such as licenses, diplomas, degrees, certificates, or membership in professional organizations.

If a license is required to practice a certain profession in the U.S., you will not be required to possess the license in order to obtain the visa or to be admitted into the U.S. It can be acquired later once in the U.S.

U.S. Consulates grant TN visas for a period of up to six months. Once you are admitted into the United States, USCIS will grant up to a one year stay on Form I-94. A similar period of stay applies to extensions or new TN visas of up to one year. There are no limits on the number of possible extensions. But remember, all TN employment is temporary.
As a TN visa holder, your Mexican or non-Mexican spouse or unmarried minor child is entitled to TD classification for the same length of stay as you. But your spouse and unmarried minor children cannot accept employment in the United States. If you are bringing your own domestic workers, they can receive a B-1 visa.

E-3 Certain Specialty Occupation Professionals from Australia

The E-3 classification applies only to nationals of Australia. You must be coming to the United States solely to perform services in a specialty occupation. This means that the job is in a professional field, requiring at least the attainment of a bachelor's degree, or its equivalent, as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.

To qualify for an E-3 visa, you must be able to demonstrate that you:
  1. 1. Are a national of Australia;
  2. 2. Have a legitimate offer of employment in the United States;
  3. 3. Possess the necessary academic or other qualifying credentials;
  4. 4. Will fill a position that qualifies as a specialty occupation;
  5. 5. Have the academic or other credentials demonstrating qualifications for the position;
  6. 6. Have a job offer letter or other documentation from the employer establishing that you will be engaged in a specialty occupation and that you will be paid the higher of the actual or prevailing wage;
  7. 7. Have the appropriate license, if the job requires one.

If required, before commencing employment you must have the necessary license or other official permission to practice in the specialty occupation

If your potential employer petition on your behalf for the E-3 visa is approved, you will have to apply for the visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, generally in your country of residence abroad.

The E-3 visa is initially grated for up to 2 years, and 2 years per extension. With some exceptions, there is no maximum number of extensions. If you wish to switch jobs, your new employer must file a new Labor Condition Application and a new E-3 visa application. The gap between the jobs must be 10 days or less.

Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age are entitled to the same E-3 classification. Your spouse is entitled to work authorization, but not your children.