Entering the country is the first and arguably the most important step of immigrating to the United States. To receive permission to legally enter the U.S., you will most likely need to apply for a visa. Different types of visas may be granted, depending on your reason for entering the country, and each may have its own restrictions and expiration dates.
Contrary to popular belief, a visa on its own does not authorize you to enter and stay in the U.S. It merely gives you permission to travel to the United States. At the port of entry, a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer will give you permission to enter the country.
Temporary visas permit workers, visitors, and students to stay in the U.S. for a fixed amount of time. Temporary visas are considered non-immigrant visas because their purpose is to admit visitors who do not intend to immigrate into the country. If you enter the U.S. on a temporary visa and then decide to immigrate, you may apply to change the intent of your visa by filing the appropriate paperwork.
Work visas (H and L visas) allow the visa holder to enter the U.S. for a prescribed period of time to work or receive job-related training. Work visas are generally linked to a specific employer. In order to change jobs, an employee who is admitted under a work visa will have to submit a separate application.
There are two types of visitor visas (B visas). B-1 visas, or business visas, allow prospective business partners or clients to enter the U.S. to do business. B-2 visas, or tourist visas, allow tourists to enter the country for a defined time period. B visas do not allow the holder to seek employment in the United States.
Student visas (F, M, and J visas) allow students to enter the United States for the length of their course of study. They may be extended as long as the student is enrolled in an accredited program. Student visa holders are not allowed to work in the United States.
Visitors are expected to leave the U.S. on or before the expiration date indicated on their temporary visa. At this point, the visa holder is considered “out of status” and is in the country illegally. Overstaying your visa can have serious consequences ranging from removal to criminal action. If you overstay by more than 180 days, you will not be allowed back in the U.S. for three years. If you overstay by more than a year, you will be barred from re-entering the U.S. for ten years.
If your ultimate goal is to live in the United States permanently, eventually obtaining a green card or citizenship, you should enter the country using an immigrant visa. Like temporary visas, there are many types of immigrant visas that depend on your reasons for entering.
There are many ways for U.S. citizens and permanent residents to bring foreign family members into the country. United States citizens can file an immigrant visa petition for certain family members, including spouses, children, parents, and siblings. Green card holders may also petition to bring family members into the United States, but their options are more limited. They may only file an immigrant visa petition for spouses and unmarried children.
Fiancé visas allow a U.S. citizen to sponsor a prospective spouse for entry into the country. The couple must marry within 90 days, or the visa will expire and the foreign national must leave the country. They are not permitted to marry any citizen other than the one who sponsored them.
Intercountry adoption visas allow U.S. citizens to adopt a child from another country. Not all children who are adopted abroad are eligible to immigrate to the United States. Your adoption agency and a qualified immigration lawyer can help you navigate this process.
U.S. immigration law encourages skilled workers in specialized fields to immigrate to the U.S. to work. In most cases, the immigrant will need to be sponsored by their U.S. employer, who will file the petition for an employment visa. In some special cases, immigrants may be able to sponsor themselves. Spouses and unmarried minor children of employer-sponsored visa holders may also enter the U.S.
Investor visas are a type of employment visa. Immigrants who wish to enter the U.S. in order to invest in the United States economy may apply for an investor visa, also known as an immigrant entrepreneur visa. To qualify, the immigrant must invest (without borrowing) $1,000,000 in a qualifying business, or $500,000 in a rural or high-unemployment area. Within two years, the investment must generate full-time jobs for 10 or more people, not counting the investor and their family members.
Diversity visas, also known as the green card lottery, are designed to increase diversity in America’s immigrant population. Each year, the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery issues 50,000 visas to nationals of qualifying countries. To qualify, a country must not have had more than 50,000 people migrate to the U.S. within the last five years. Applicants must meet certain eligibility requirements, such as having a high school education or equivalent and two years of work experience.
The Visa Application Process
The steps in applying for a visa will vary widely, depending on the type of visa that you are applying for and the country you are coming from. In some cases, the visa application process is quick, straightforward, and painless. In more complex cases, applying for a visa may be a more difficult and drawn-out undertaking.
Navigating immigration law can sometimes feel like going through a maze, and missing a deadline, application requirement, or filing fee can have serious consequences. If your application is denied, you may be classified “out of status,” which puts future applications at risk of denial as well. For this reason, it’s smart to consult with a Peoria immigration lawyer before you file any immigration paperwork.
Begin the Next Chapter of Your Story
At Schierer & Ritchie, our attentive and experienced immigration lawyers will support you every step of the way in your immigration journey. We understand that the immigration process can be scary and stressful. That’s why we’re here—to help you overcome the challenges of the immigration process and fulfill your dreams of immigrating to the U.S. To discuss visas with an attorney at Schierer & Ritchie, contact us today. We offer free, confidential consultations.