Immigration Information

Immigrant Classifications and Visas

Categories of Non-Immigrant Visas » Business/Work »
Tourism » Law Enforcement-Related Visas »
Educational » Governmental or Quasi-Governmental »
Family-Related Visas » Miscellaneous »
   

Immigrant Classifications and Visas

Government Information

Immigrant Visas

•     Lawful Permanent Residency
•     Dept. of State: Tips for U.S. Visas: Immigrants
•     Green Card Renewal

Family-Based Immigration

•     Immigration Through A Family Member
•     Dept. of State: Tips for U.S.
•     Visas: Family-Based Immigrants
•     How Do I Get My Spouse or Children Derivative Asylum Status in the United States ?

Immediate Relatives (Spouses of US citizens (USCs), unmarried children under 21 years of age of USCs, and parents of USCs
Note: A USC must be over the age of 21 to petition for his/her parent

Spouse
•     Petitioning Procedures: Bringing A Spouse to Live in the United States
•     How Do I Bring My Spouse to Live in the United States ?
•     How Do I Remove the Conditions on Permanent Residence Based on Marriage?
Child
•     Petitioning Procedures: Bringing a Child, Son or Daughter to Live in the United States
•     How Do I Bring My Child, Son or Daughter to Live in the United States ?
•     How Do I Prevent My Child From Losing Benefits at Age 21 ("Aging Out")
Parent
•     Petitioning Procedures: Bringing a Parent to Live in the United States
•     How Do I Bring My Parents to Live in the United States
INA Section 201; 8 CFR 204 and 205

First Preference (Unmarried sons or daughters over 21 years of age of USC)

•     Petitioning Procedures: Bringing a Child, Son or Daughter to Live in the United States
•     How Do I Bring My Child, Son or Daughter to Live in the United States ?
INA Sections 201 and 204: 8 CFR 204, 205

Second Preference (Spouses and children of Legal Permanent Resident, or LPR)

Spouse
•     Petitioning Procedures: Bringing a Spouse (Husband or Wife) to Live in the United States
•     How Do I Bring My Spouse (Husband or Wife) to Live in the United States ?
INA Sections 202, 203(a)(2)(A) and 204; 8 CFR 204, 205
Child
•     Petitioning Procedures: Bringing a Child, Son or Daughter to Live in the United States
•     How Do I Bring My Child, Son or Daughter to Live in the United States ?
INA Sections 202, 203(a)(2)(B) and 204; 8 CFR 204, 205

Spouses and children

INA Sections 202, 203(a)(2)(A), and 204; 8 CFR 204, 205

Unmarried sons or daughters over 21 years of age of LPR

INA Sections 202, 203(a)(2)(B), and 204; 8 CFR 204, 205

Third Preference (Married children of USC)

•     Petitioning Procedures: Bringing a Child, Son or Daughter to Live in the United States
•     How Do I Bring My Child, Son or Daughter to Live in the United States ?
INA Sections 202, 203(a)(2)(B), and 204; 8 CFR 204, 205

Fourth Preference (Siblings of adult USC)

•     Petitioning Procedures: Bringing a Sibling to Live in the United States
•     How Do I Bring a Sibling to Live in the United States ?
INA Sections 202, 203(a)(4), and 204; 8 CFR 204, 205

Employment-Based Immigration

•     Immigration Through Employment
•     How Do I Apply for Immigrant Status Based on Employment
Information on Visas for Employers
•     Dept. of State: Tips for U.S. Visas: Employment-Based Visas

back to top

EB-1 First Preference: Priority Workers

•     EB-1 Eligibility and Filing
INA Section 203(b)(1)(A); 8 CFR 204.5

EB-2 Second Preference: Professionals with advanced degrees, and persons with exceptional ability

•     EB-2 Eligibility and Filing
INA Section 203(b)(1)(B); 8 CFR 204.5

EB-3 Third Preference: Skilled workers, professional and other workers

•     EB-3 Eligibility and Filing
INA Section 203(b)(1)(C); 8 CFR 204.5

EB-4 Fourth Preference: Certain special immigrants

•     EB-4 Eligibility and Filing
INA Section 203(b)(1)(D); 8 CFR 204.5

SK-1     Certain Retired International Organization Employees

INA Section 101(a)(27)(I)(iii)

SK-2     Spouse of SK-1

INA Section 101(a)(27)(I)(iv)

SK-3     Certain Unmarried Sons or Daughters of an International Organization Employee

INA Section 101(a)(27)(I)(i)

SK-4     Certain Spouses of a deceased International Organization Employee

INA Section 101(a)(27)(I)(ii)

INV EB-5 Fifth Preference : Employment creation (investors)

•     Immigration Through Investment
INA Section 203(b)(1)(E); 8 CFR 204.5

back to top

Categories of Non-Immigrant Visas

There are more than twenty-five general categories of non-immigrant visas. Most are targeted at a person's particular purpose in visiting the U.S. and the terms of those visas will vary according to the category.  This is a list of some of the more common visas with which this office works.  In an effort to place the non-immigrant visa categories into an easily understood conceptual framework, they have been organized below into six separate categories: (1) tourism; (2) educational; (3) family-related; (4) work or business; (5) governmental or quasi-governmental; and (6) miscellaneous.

Tourism

B-1. While this visa is for visitors, it is also for those with a business purpose and is described below under the work and business category.

 B-2. The largest of the nonimmigrant visa categories is this one, which is designed for the admission of tourists.

Educational

F-1. This is the most common of the educational study visas and is designed for persons coming to engage in academic study in a full-time program at an approved institution. An individual issued an F-1 Visa is prohibited from studying at a public elementary, secondary, or adult education institution unless he or she will attend the school for less than 12 months and shows that he or she has paid the school district the full "unsubsidized per capita cost of the educational program A person who wishes to study in the United States must be accepted by an approved institution that issues the prospective student a certificate document (SEVIS Form I-20. The acronym "SEVIS" stands for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, which is an online system designed to keep track of foreign students in the United States. Each accredited educational institution that receives a foreign student is required to enter data relating to foreign students. Included in this reporting requirement is information relating to the students maintenance of status and changes of address.  The I-20 is then presented to the consular officer along with supporting information to establish that the person meets the F-1 requirements. The student is admitted for the duration of status according to the course of study indicated on the SEVIS I-20. After he or she has been admitted, the student is monitored by a "designated school official" (DSO) at the institution. The DSO is responsible for matters such as dealing with transfers between institutions, reduction of educational course load, and on-campus or off-campus employment. At the completion of the program, many students may be able to remain in the United States in order to obtain what is called "practical training" or postgraduate work related to their study.

J-1.  This is a broad visa category and it is for a person coming to the United States as a student, researcher, professor, non-academic specialist, physician, international visitor, camp counselor, au pair, or summer student in a travel/work program. These programs are specifically approved by DOS under statutory authority granted to the agency in 1961

M-1. The —1 visa is for vocational students--those who are coming to engage in a full-time program at a recognized non-academic institution. These students are not precluded from attending public institutions, and may attend a high school, community or junior college, or other post-secondary vocational or non-academic program. Individuals who enter under this visa may not engage in any work until they have completed their studies. A full-time course load is considered to be 12 semester or quarter hours. The procedure for application, admission, and monitoring of the vocational student is similar to that of the F-1 student

back to top

Family-Related Visas

The special and family-related visas are very different because they contemplate that the person will eventually become a legal permanent resident of the United States and are based on a person’s relationship with a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident (LPR)

K Visas. The K-1 visas are for fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens who are entering for the sole purpose of getting married within 90 days of their admission. Minor children of the K-1 visa-holder are eligible as derivatives for admission under the K-2 visa Individuals must establish that they have the legal capacity to marry, that they met the U.S. citizen within two years of filing the petition, and that they are otherwise admissible or eligible for a waiver.  The K-3 visa is a relatively new visa created to get around the procedural difficulties of the immigrant visa process. It is designed for people already married to U.S. citizens, where the U.S. citizen spouse has filed an immediate relative immigrant petition, and the beneficiary seeks admission while awaiting its approval. The children of a K-3 are issued K-4 visas K-3 and K-4 visa-holders are admitted for two years. A person who enters under a K visa is not eligible to change to another non-immigrant status.

V Visas. The V visa is similar to the K-3 visa except that it is for someone who is married to an LPR, or who is the child of an LPR who filed a family petition on his or her behalf before December 21, 2000 , and the petition has been pending for three or more years for any reason. It also is for a person who has been waiting for three or more years for approval of a family-based immigrant petition due to the lack of availability of an immigrant visa because of quota restrictions. The V visa applicant is not subject to the inadmissibility grounds due to unlawful presence or illegal admission to the United States, but must seek a waiver when he or she applies for adjustment of status. The V-2 visa is for the child of the V-1 visa-holder

back to top

Business/Work

These visas are characterized by the fact that they directly involve work or are of a "business" nature. But not all are considered to be work visas within the meaning of the INA.

B-1 Visa. A person on a B-1 visa is coming to engage in business other than "work." The individual must have a foreign residency overseas that the person has no intention of abandoning. While a visit for pleasure is relatively easy to define,

E Visas. These visas are for treaty traders (E-1) or treaty investors (E-2) and are in a special category to which some of the traditional non-immigrant visa rules are inapplicable. There is an E-3 visa category that is similar to the H-1B but solely for Australians and was created in May 2005. E visas allow the person to remain for an indefinite period of time under a reciprocal treaty of commerce and navigation between the United States and the country of nationality. The trader must be engaged in "substantial trade" between the United States and his or her home country. The treaty investor (E-2) must be developing or directing an enterprise in which he or she has invested a substantial amount of capital.Treaty traders and investors are admitted for an initial period of two years and may receive extensions in two-year increments indefinitely as long as the business is maintained.

H Visas. H-1 and H-2 visas are for temporary workers, and the H-3 is for trainees. The H-1 visas are categorized below:

H-1B. This classification allows persons who will engage in "specialty occupations," or are fashion models of distinguished merit and ability, or persons providing service related to the Department of Defense, to come to the United States to engage in work.The definition of a "specialty occupation" is very expansive and is defined as a position that requires "the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s or higher degree (or its equivalent) for entry into the field. In addition to the substantive criteria, the H-1B visa carries an annual quota of 65,000.The statute places a quota of 65,000 per year, but the free trade visas for Chile and Singapore reduce the available visas by approximately 6,800 visas. However, unused Chile/Singapore free trade visas are added back into the quota at the beginning of the next fiscal year. Not subject to the quota are those who currently have H-1B status or have previously held the status and meet certain other criteria, employees of institutions of higher education or certain nonprofit organizations, and certain physicians.However, H-1Bs who are sponsored by educational institutions are neither subject to the numerical cap, nor are required to pay the normal processing fee. In order to qualify for the H-1B, the U.S. employer must obtain a certification of a labor condition application (LCA) from the Department of Labor (DOL). The H-1B non-immigrant may be admitted for a period of up to three years and extensions generally cannot go beyond a total of six years except under certain circumstances. The H-1B employer must pay the reasonable cost of the employee’s transportation abroad if the person is dismissed before the end of the period of admission.

H-2A and H-2B. Under the H-2A and H-2B programs, the person must be coming to the United States to perform service or labor of a temporary nature, and the employer must demonstrate that no U.S. workers capable of performing the work are available. Persons coming to perform agricultural labor or services must work in a job that is of a temporary or seasonal nature and are admitted as H-2A visa-holders; non-agricultural workers are admitted as H-2B visa-holders. H-2B visas are for persons coming to perform non-agricultural work of a temporary or seasonal nature (such as a unique construction job;and summer camp or resort employees such as seasonal cooks/chefs) if U.S. workers cannot be found to take the position. Regulations describe the positions as either satisfying a seasonal need, peak load, or are for a one-time occurrence or an intermittent need. A position is considered temporary based on the nature of the employer’s need, not based on the nature of the duties. The "temporary" certification, which is obtained from DOL, confirms that there are no U.S. workers available for the position, that the hiring of the foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers, and that there is no labor dispute in progress. The application requires notice of the position for 60 to 120 days in the form of advertising, consultation with labor unions where applicable, and documentation to show that there has been an attempt to recruit U.S. workers. The employer is required to pay the foreign worker for the cost of his or her transportation home if the person is dismissed before the end of the period for which the person was sought. 

H-3. The H-3 classification is for individuals who are receiving instruction or training in any field of endeavor, such as agriculture, commerce, communications, finance, government, transportation, or the professions, as well as training in a purely industrial establishment, with the exception of graduate medical training or education that falls within the J visa (described above).

Often H-3 visa-holders are management trainees from a large multinational company, medical externs, and nurses who need a brief period of training that is unavailable in the native country. The H-3 visa is only available where the equivalent training is not available in the home country, the foreign national will not be placed in a position where U.S. workers are regularly employed, and the training will help the foreign national pursue a career outside of the United States. Programs that are impermissible are those designed to recruit and train foreign nationals for staffing a U.S. operation, or programs in which the sponsor does not have the capacity or plan to provide the training. There is the potential overlap among H-3, B-1, and J-1 visas, and sometimes the person may more easily qualify for these other classifications (for example, in cases where he or she receives a salary from abroad and is receiving training). Persons admitted under this status may not remain for more than two years, and may not change or extend their stay, or be readmitted under an H or L visa until they have been outside of the United States for at least six months.

I Visas. The I visa category is available to individuals who are representatives of foreign media.  The basis for this visa is a reciprocal arrangement between the United States and the applicant’s home country allowing U.S. journalists to be admitted under similar conditions. Individuals who are working for foreign press, radio, film, or other information media can enter under this category as long as they are employed with foreign media. In addition, those working in the information, documentary, or educational programming fields are eligible to enter under this visa category.

L Visas. The L-1 visa for "intra-company transferees" has a long history under the INA. Like the H-1B, it is designed to facilitate the admission of professionals into the United States. The visa specifically facilitates the admission of multinational corporate executives and managers, or persons with specialized knowledge. The statute defines managers as persons who manage a function or oversee a component of a company; establishes the goals and policies of an organization or a major part or function of an organization; exercises wide latitude of discretionary decision making; and receives only general supervision or direction from higher level executives.  An employee with specialized knowledge is defined in the statute as a person with "knowledge of the company product and its application in international markets or [with] . . . an advanced level of knowledge of processes and procedures of the company." The L-1 visa has no annual quota, and the visa-holder may remain in the United States for a period of five to seven years. The spouse and children of the L-1 visa-holder are admitted as L-2s, and they are permitted to work.

O Visas. The O-1 visa applies to two categories of persons. The O-1A visa is for people who, through sustained national or international acclaim, have demonstrated extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. The O-1B is for people in the motion picture or TV production business who have a record of extraordinary achievement. The O-1 visa category has been interpreted to include a very broad range of fields. While there is no foreign residence requirement, the person must have an intent to remain temporarily. Extraordinary ability may be established either by a major international award or by at least three of the following criteria: (1) a national or international award; (2) membership in an organization in the field for which classification is sought requiring outstanding achievement; (3) published material about the person’s work in professional or major trade publications; (4) having been called on to judge the work of others in the particular field; (5) original work of major significance in the field; (6) authorship and publication of scholarly work in the field; (7) evidence that the person has been in a critical or essential employment capacity with an organization of distinguished reputation; or (8) evidence that the person has or will command a high salary in the field. The O-2 is for persons who are accompanying and assisting the O-1 artist or athlete in the furtherance of his or her performance (the skills that are to be utilized in assisting must not be of a general nature). The O-3 visa is for the spouse and children of the O-1/O-2 visa-holder.

P Visas. This visa is for athletes and entertainers. The P-1A is for athletes who are themselves internationally recognized, or are part of a group that has achieved this recognition. The P-1B is for a person who performs with, or is an integral part of, an entertainment group that has been internationally recognized for a sustained period as being outstanding entertainers. The performer seeking admission in the category must have had a substantial relation with the group for at least one year. A group of performers nationally recognized "for a sustained and substantial period" may obtain a waiver of the international recognition and one-year requirements under certain circumstances. The waiver may be obtained for a quarter of the performers or entertainers in the group if they are replacing essential members of the group due to illness or other special circumstances.

The P-2 visa is for a person performing as part of a group, or individually, or as an integral part of the performance, and is entering temporarily and solely to perform under a reciprocal exchange program.

The P-3 visa holder is entering as part of a "culturally unique program" (including coaching); the program may be commercial or noncommercial and need not be sponsored by an educational, cultural, or government agency.

The P-4 visa is for the spouse and children of other P non-immigrants; they may not work. 

Q Visas. The Q visa is for persons participating in an international cultural exchange program approved for the purpose of providing employment, practical training, and the sharing of history, culture, and traditions of the entrant’s country of nationality. The program must take place in a school, museum, business, or other similar establishment.

The cultural component must be designed to exhibit or explain the attitude, customs, history, heritage, philosophy, or traditions of the person’s country, and the program must be the vehicle to achieve the cultural objective. Q visas are limited to 15 months; the person must have a foreign residence and be employed under the same wages and conditions as U.S. workers. Someone who already has been here for 15 months will not be readmitted until he or she has been physically outside the United States for at least one year. There is a special Q-2 program limited to 4,000 visas per year for persons 35 or younger from Northern Ireland and certain counties of Ireland. The program is for culture and training, and provides practical training, employment, and experience, and conflict resolution; participants in the program may not stay in the United States for more than three years. 

R Visas. Ministers, persons working in a professional capacity for a religious organization, or others working for such an organization may enter as R-1 religious workers.

Religious occupations include activities that relate to religious functions. Examples of such occupations include liturgical workers, cantors, and religious broadcasters. Whether a position is religious relates to the religious function, e.g., nun or monk. The spouse and children are allowed to enter under the R-2 visa. In order to qualify, the person must be a member of a religious denomination (for a minimum of two years before the application filing) that has a bona fide nonprofit religious status in the United States.In determining whether the organization qualifies as "religious," the consular officer will look to see whether there exists some type of ecclesiastical government, a creed and form of worship, a formal code of doctrine and principles, or religious services.The initial period of admission is usually three years, and can be extended for an additional two years.

TN Visas. The TN visa is for nationals of Canada or Mexico admitted under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) There is a list of professions for which persons may be admitted to the United States under this visa. If the applicant is a professional, the visa is similar to the H-1B, but without a defined limit on the length of time that the person may remain in the United States. At the same time, the TN recipient will have to show that he or she will remain for a "temporary period," which is defined as a period with a "reasonable, finite end that does not equate to permanent residence.  "TN applicants must satisfy the inspecting immigration officer that the proposed stay is temporary. To establish the temporary nature of the employment, the TN applicant must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the inspecting immigration officer that the work or assignment in the United States will end at a specific time after which he or she will leave the United States." A self-employed person may not be admitted as a TN.

back to top

Law Enforcement-Related Visas

In recent years, several new non-immigrant visa categories were established to assist U.S. law enforcement. These visas provide temporary non-immigrant status for the beneficiary and require the cooperation of law enforcement officials.

S Visas. The visa codes for this category are S-5 and S-6. They are for individuals who have important and reliable information concerning a criminal organization or enterprise. They must be willing to supply (or have supplied) information to state or federal law enforcement agents and their presence must be determined to be essential. (These are commonly referred to as "snitch" visas.) The S-5 visa is for people determined to be essential by the Attorney General and to have reliable and critical information about a criminal enterprise or organization. The S-6 visa is for individuals determined jointly by the Secretary of State and Attorney General as having critical and reliable information concerning a terrorist organization where the person seeking the visa is, or will be, in danger if the visa is not granted.Two hundred visas are allocated to the S-5 category and 50 for the S-6 category. These visas are limited to three years and may not be extended; however, the beneficiary may be granted permanent residency later as long as the information provided substantially contributes to the investigation’s success. These visas also are available to family members who are admitted as S-7s.

T Visas. The T visa is for victims who agree to assist in prosecutions or are under the age of 18 and would suffer "extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm upon removal." T visas are for persons who have been the subjects of severe trafficking, which is defined as "sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age" or "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery." The T visa is for three years, and the individual may seek adjustment of status to that of an LPR if he or she has maintained status, been of good moral character, and complied with reasonable requests for assistance in prosecuting trafficking.  There are 5,000 visas per year allotted as T visas.

U Visas. The U visa is for an individual who has been a victim of serious violent crimes (including domestic violence) as listed in the statute, and has suffered "substantial physical or mental abuse as a result." The visa also is available to the victim’s minor unmarried children or, in the case of a minor, to his or her immediate family members. In order to qualify for this visa, the victim must have been helpful, is being helpful, or likely will be helpful to a federal, state, or local law enforcement official. The visa is limited to 10,000 issued per year, and there are provisions allowing the victim to adjust status to permanent residency after three years.

back to top

Governmental or Quasi-Governmental

Just as U.S. government employees are able to travel overseas in their official capacity, so are foreign government officials and employees of international organizations. The United States is host to a number of international organizations, and thousands of their employees live in this country.

A Visas. The A visa-holders enjoy diplomatic immunity and, under the Vienna Convention or a separate consular treaty with their country, they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. The A-1 visa is for heads of state, high military officials, certain officers assigned to diplomatic missions, and their immediate family. The A-2 visa is for other accredited officials of the foreign government and their immediate family. The A-3 visa is for attendants, servants, personal employees, and members of their immediate family.

G Visas. These visas are for officials, employees, and dependents of international organizations that are quasi-governmental. Examples of such organizations are the United Nations (UN), the Organization of American States (OAS), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The G-1 visa is for the principal representative, family, and staff as long as they are assigned on a "resident basis.". Resident basis means that they are assigned to the organization’s mission in the United States on a permanent basis. The G-2 visa is for other (non-principal) representatives of a recognized government who are assigned to an international organization, and to members of their immediate family. The G-3 visa is for officials of governments without de jure recognition by the United States, who are assigned to the international organization and members of their immediate family. Persons included in this final category are nationals of non-recognized countries or nationals of countries that are not members of the international organization.

back to top

Miscellaneous

C Visas. The C visa is for persons traveling "in immediate and continuous transit" through the United States. In order to be admitted, the person must have sufficient funds and permission to enter a third country.

D Visas. The D visa is for persons working as crew members on airlines and shipping vessels.  Normally crew members are not allowed to remain for more than 29 days and may not be granted extensions or change of status.

NATO visasNATO visas are for representatives of nations belonging to NATO, their staff, and immediate family.

back to top