US Visa

Do you want to go to the USA without a Green Card to live and work in the USA? Then you need a valid US visa or ESTA! There are different requirements, conditions and deadlines that need to meet depending on the type of visa - there are more than 50 different visa categories! We have provided an overview of the most important nonimmigrant visas so that you know the dos and don’ts when applying for the US visa right for you.

Nonimmigrant visas

Whether in the USA for a longer stay as a tourist, business-traveler, an employee for a company located in the USA, Au Pair, student or intern – depending on the purpose and length of your stay, you must decide which US visa is right for you. More exactly stated, you need a nonimmigrant visa. A nonimmigrant visa is a US visa that allows you to stay in the USA for a defined amount of time. 

We strongly urge those who have already traveled to the USA with a valid ESTA or visa and returned with the desire to work and live in the USA to participate in the Green Card Lottery.

Important Requirements

Requirements may vary widely depending on the visa category. There are, however, a few conditions which are the same for all nonimmigrant visas:

  1. The purpose for traveling to the USA must be in accordance with the visa type that you are applying for: If you are applying for a tourist visa, for example, you must prove your intention to travel in the USA to the US authorities.
  2. You are allowed to stay in the USA for a specified amount of time and then you are required to leave the United States.
  3. You must show that you have the financial means to cover your costs while in the USA.

Of course, every applicant must meet all conditions specified by the visa they are applying for. It is important to inform yourself of all requirements depending on visa category.

Apply for a US Visa

If you want to apply for a US visa, you must complete the following application steps:

  1. You must submit the DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. This form must be filled out and submitted to the US authorities electronically.
  2. Pay the visa fees. Fees are related directly to the type of visa you are applying for. Since December 14, 2013, all nonimmigrant visa applicants are required to create an account with the visa information service CGI as well as complete the DS-160 Form. Customers use this account to pay fees and get appointments. 
  3. Schedule an appointment with an American consulate in your home country. You must bring all required documents and application paperwork with you to the visa appointment. Since 2001, all people between the ages of 14 and 79 are required without exception to appear at the visa appointment personally. No applications will be accepted per post (post applications accepted if under 14 or over 79). Exceptions can be made as defined by the Visa Reissuance Program initiated in 2011 in some U.S. consulates.
  4. Keep in mind that after a successful interview, the US consulate will keep your passport and send it back about 2 weeks later with a tracking number to a given address in your home country. It is not possible to pick up your visa or have your visa issued on the same day!

Make your best effort to give yourself enough time to apply for the visa. The consulate officers do not and will not take your individual travel plans into consideration.

US visa denied at consulate

There may be no specified reason for your visa being denied. If this is the case, then it might take months or years to apply for a new visa successfully.

Important: A visa does not guarantee your entry into the USA. A United States Customs and Border Protection officer has the final say on whether you can enter the USA or not.

Tourist visas and business visas (B-1 visa, B-2 visa)

The question most commonly heard at the USA border is if the purpose of your stay is business or travel. If the answer is business, the border officer might prick up their ears. You should not be worried though if your answer is business, especially if you are sure that you have brought all the right travel documents with you. With an ESTA, travelers for business or pleasure from certain countries can travel visa-free to the USA under the Visa Waiver Program. Based on your nationality and the length and purpose of your stay, some people cannot travel visa-free to the USA and must apply for a nonimmigrant visa.

The B visa allows people traveling for business (B-1 Business Visitor) or for pleasure (B-2 Tourist Visa) to stay in the USA for a maximum of 180 days either at once or on separate trips. Generally, these visas are issued for 10 years (depending on nationality), but can also be specified for a shorter time. This means that visa holders can, for example, travel for a maximum of 180 days per trip to the USA for the next ten years. Please keep in mind that frequent trips to the USA and long stays can lead to uncomfortable questioning or problems at the border. A visa is not the same as a Green Card and has more defined limitations and conditions! If you travel to the USA too often, the officer at the border may accuse you trying to emigrate to the USA or may think you are working illegally in America.

How do I apply for a B-1 / B-2 Visa?

Applications for B-1 or B-2 visas must be submitted to a US consulate in the country where you are living. For example, in Vienna if living in Austria; Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich if in Germany or Accra if in Ghana.

Important: During the peak tourist season (summer and winter months), waiting times may be as long as four weeks. Make sure to carefully prepare your visa application because all applications will be under strict review. Generally, applicants must bring their completed DS-160 and their appointment confirmation to the interview appointment. Moreover, they must prove their connections to their home country (not the USA), e.g. proof of employment and private relationships as well as proof of your intent to return home. Applicants should also bring documents supporting the purpose of their stay like a travel itinerary or a business convention invitation. 

If the consular officer believes that you intend to emigrate to the USA or (illegally) take up employment, then your application will surely be denied. Applicants already living in a foreign country or fairly young applicants will be under closer scrutiny in particular. In some cases, a consulate may issue you a combined B-1/B-2 visa.

Work visas

There are more visa options for applicants taking up employment in the United States of America. Those who have a wider selection must take care to choose the visa that fulfills the purpose of their stay in the USA.

Every category has its own individual requirements, conditions for applying, costs and processing times. That is why it is so important to be well-informed of all visa categories before deciding on which US visa is the right one for you. Above all, each case must be looked at individually to match an applicant’s situation to the visa which meets their needs. Decisive factors here include qualifications, nationality, the intended length of stay, company affiliation and/or company constellation.

Further visa options described below (nonimmigrant visas) allow you to take up employment in the USA, but only for a specified amount of time. If you want to live and work in the USA permanently and not temporarily, then you need to apply for an immigrant visa (Green Card). Please keep in mind that in most cases, applying for a work visa is a complicated and time-consuming process. Below, we want to introduce you to some of the most common work visas for the USA.

Visas for crew members (C-1/D visa)

The C-1/D visa is a visa for people who are not US citizens and employed by international airlines or (cruise) ships. This include crew members such as pilots, flight attendants, ship personal, etc. who frequently travel to the USA and/or through the USA in transit to other countries.

The C-1/D visa should not be confused with the B-1 / B-2 visa category, but they are often issued together. Strictly speaking, the C-1/D category is not a US work visa. This visa allows the holder to take up employment with a shipping line or an airline that is located outside of the United States and fulfills contracts operating in the USA. C-1/D visa holders are not allowed to work for an American employer. If you are planning to work for a U.S. employer, then you must apply for a work visa (H-, L- or E-visa) beforehand. 

Treaty Trader Visa (E-1 visa)

The E-1 Treaty Trader Visa category is based on the time when no international associations like the European Union or NAFTA existed and countries made bilateral agreements to make transnational trade possible. Of course, the requirements for the category have changed over the years.

The E-1 visa is available to employees from companies that conduct substantial trade with the USA. An individual entrepreneur is as qualified for this visa as a person employed by a multinational company. In comparison to the L-1 visa, the company must not have a location outside of the United States. A US company, though, must exist in the USA or be founded.

Take note: When searching for the appropriate visa, you should take into consideration that applying for an E-visa is less complicated than other work visas. In comparison to other visa processes, the E-visa can save a company with high visa requirements time and money.

Treaty Investor Visa (E-2 visa)

The E-2 visa, similar to the E-1 category, is based on bilateral agreements which promote investment projects in the USA. Presently, there are around 80 countries that maintain such a relationship with the USA.

The investor visa is available to any citizen of one of the contracting companies who has made investments in a US company in the United States or plans to do so. The citizen does not necessarily have to be a physical person, but can also be a company (legal entity).

An individual entrepreneur is as qualified for this visa as a person employed by a multinational company. In comparison to the L-1 visa, the company must not have a location outside of the United States. A US company, though, must exist in the USA or be founded.

Take note: When searching for the appropriate visa, you should take into consideration that applying for an E-visa is less complicated than other work visas. In comparison to other visa processes, the E-visa can save a company with high visa requirements time and money.

Visas for highly qualified employees (H-1B visa)

The most well-known temporary work visa is the H-1B visa which allows people in specialty occupations like engineers, scientists, computer specialists, etc. to work in the United States. Principally, this category is suitable for people with an academic degree or the corresponding equivalent. H-1B visa applications are, however, subject to strict regulations.

Every so often, the visa’s so-called “cap” is called into discussion. The “cap” is the total number of H-1B visas that can be issued. A great deal of US companies hire a large number of their foreign employees from this contingent. It is, therefore, no wonder that the demand for more H-1B visas is increasing. Large American companies like Microsoft and Google, for example, refer to the lack of qualified workers in the USA and the high number of qualified applications that cannot be considered because of the low visa quota. This is one of the reasons why increasing the H-1B visa contingent is often discussed, but has yet to be implemented. Similar to the Green Card Lottery, a drawing is held to decide which applicants can proceed with applying for an H-1B visa. The so-called H-1B Cap Lottery is also a drawing, but a drawing for people in specialty occupations to apply for a nonimmigrant visa and work temporarily in the USA.

Journalist Visa (I visa)

Over the years, media reports about difficulties or problems at the US border have increased. Journalists were often affected by this in the form of either intensive questioning, arrests or deportation.

One of the main reasons why: The lack of valid travel documents for spending time in the USA as a journalist – the I visa for foreign news media. 

Many citizens from Western European countries can travel visa-free to the United States for a maximum of 90 days – even for limited business reasons. Journalists, however, are required to have an additional I visa. Many media employees though, still travel to the USA with either an ESTA (Visa Waiver Program) or with a B-1 visa.

Inform yourself well before your trip if you need to apply for a visa for journalist purposes.

Visa for intercompany transfers (L-1 visa)

The L-1 visa is a temporary work and resident permit for the USA. This category allows companies to internally send employees from a foreign location to an affiliate company located in the USA. It is important to know that this visa is tied to the company and is only for entering the USA to carry out projects for this specific company.  

L-1 visas are normally issued for classic intercompany transfers, but can also be issued for longer projects, installations or maintenance work in a company or for a customer located in the USA.

The L-1 visa can be applied for just the same by large corporations, mid-sized companies, small companies or family-owned businesses. Even self-employed persons can theoretically let someone else take on their responsibilities in their home country and transfer themselves to the United States. In practice, smaller companies have a harder time applying and their applications are most often refused.

Take Note: Applying for an L-1 visa is a very time-consuming and expensive procedure. As a result, companies sending employees to the USA should consider the E-1 or E-2 visa category as an option.

Visas for people with exceptional skills (O-1 visa)

Got talent? The O-category makes it possible for foreign people with exceptional talents to take up employment with U.S. companies, U.S. organizations and U.S. agencies located in the USA. The O-1 visa is solely for people with specialized skills in a specific occupation. The applicant must be able to prove their talent.

US immigration law is designed to appeal to people who are top in their field of work and give them the chance to live and work in the USA and thereby be of value to the US economy and society.

Visa for athletes, artists and entertainers (P-visa)

For many athletes and artists, it is a still a dream to stand on a stage or play in a stadium in the land of unlimited opportunities. This is, however, not possible without meeting some requirements. The P category is suitable for athletes, artists or entertainers who want to travel and work in the USA either individually or in a group for a limited amount of time.    

It is important to note that all non-US citizens temporarily working in the USA are required to have a US work visa appropriate to their intended stay like, for example, a P-visa.

  • Athletes, artists or entertainers can apply for this visa if they intend to receive payment or prize money for the services they provide in the USA;
  • Or if the applicant is going to take part in a talent or realty show that will be broadcasted on television.
  • The P-visa is divided into distinct categories based on the field of work of the applicant.

Before applying for a US visa, it is important to make sure that your skills and intentions match the requirements of the US visa you want to apply for. If your skills fall into this visa category, then there is nothing standing in your way from storming Hollywood or American sports or even the concert halls of New York City. 

Student visas (F-1 visa, M-1 visa)

The USA is well-known for its colleges, universities and Ivy League schools and draws in people from around the world. Have you ever dreamed of studying at a renowned university in the USA? If you want more from your studies than just an exchange year in the USA, then it might interest you to know that Green Card holders can study in the USA and receive special benefits.    

Most educational programs offered by universities, colleges, language schools and elementary, intermediate and high schools require the participant to apply for a F-1 visa. 

Internships USA (J-1 visa)

The J-1 visa covers a broad spectrum of exchange programs which are administered by the U.S. Department of State. The J-1 visa allows students and young professionals to reside temporarily in the USA and complete an internship. Internships are not the equivalent to taking up employment and are seen rather as an exchange of culture and practices as well as a chance for the intern to get experience with different company processes. Interns/trainees are by no means allowed to take up work as a laborer or take on part-time or full-time employment as a U.S. worker. Even certain research projects are covered by the J-1 visa. Principally, a J-1 visa is issued for 12-18 months. Even exchange program participants are generally given an extra 30 days so that they can get acclimated to living in the United States.

How to check the status of your online application

It is possible to check the status of your US visa application online. If you want to know the status of your visa application made within the last 12 months, then you need to visit the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) online. You will need to enter the US embassy where your interview appointment will take place and your case number. If you do not have your case number, you can enter the CEAC barcode found on your visa application.

Once logged in, the status of your visa application will be displayed:

  • No status: Is displayed when you have not yet completed your visa interview.
  • Ready means that your case is still open and ready for further processing. This could mean your interview is scheduled, documents still need to be submitted or you need to complete your biometrics. This even applies in cases where no visa interview is required.
  • Issued: Your visa has been granted and you should expect to receive it in the mail within 10 working days.
  • Refused: Your visa application request was not granted.    

Contact

Our The American Dream – US Visa Service team supports private as well as company customers with visa application processes. The government-licensed consultants at US Visa Service are specialists in US visa requirements and are familiar with the most current US entry requirements. We ensure you will get the best support and upon request, we will handle the entire US visa application process for you. Are you interested in a consultation? Then do not hesitate to contact us

 

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