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Nonimmigrant US Visa

There are many different types of nonimmigrant US visa and every individual case can further differ. The following article therefore does not claim to be fully comprehensive. It does, however, give you a first overview as well as some pointers on where you can find more information and help.
The process of getting a US visa can be long and tedious; being properly informed is therefore key!

According to recent news reports, people from various countries, including those with a valid visa and residence permit, have encountered difficulties when entering the United States. Unfortunately, the full extent of those issues seems to be unclear. Before you decide to move or travel there, or leave the country temporarily if already living in the USA, please consult a US embassy and an immigration lawyer if you fear you might be affected.


B-1 Temporary Business Visitors

If you are planning to travel to the United States for temporary business you will need to apply for a B-1 visa. The B-1 US visa allows the holder to conduct temporary business in the United States, such as for example taking part in conferences, trade shows, expositions or other business events, contract negotiation, training or entering competitions as a professional athlete and so on. The initial period of stay is six months, with the possibility of extension to up to one year in total. Nationals from countries that are participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) do not need to apply for a visitor’s visa.

B-2 Tourism and Visit Visas

If you are planning to travel to the US only for pleasure and not business, e.g. to maybe get a feel for your potential future hometown, then the B-2 visa is the one for you. Under this US visa, you are not allowed to seek employment, study, work as a foreign journalist, or carry out any other form of paid work while in the States. You can, however, travel to the US for medical treatment with this US visa. Whatever the reason for your trip, you’ll need to apply if you are not eligible for the VWP. Check out this articles section on how to apply for more information.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Some countries fall under the so-called US Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Citizens and nationals from these need not apply for a US visa for their temporary or transitional visit to the States, as long as it is for less than 90 days. Instead, they can apply for the VWP. This is the case for both pleasure and business trips that would elsewise fall under the B-1 and B-2 categories.

Please note, however, that as a foreign journalist wanting to carry out work in the USA you are not eligible for the VWP. Instead, you will need a nonimmigrant media visa (I). Similarly, if you are not from a country participating in the VWP or are planning to stay longer than 90 days, you will need to apply for a B-1 or a B-2 visa, depending on the reason for your visit.

In order to be eligible for VWP, you will not only need to be a citizen or national from one of the participating countries – a list of which can be found on the aforementioned VWP-website of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. You also need to apply for entry authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before boarding your air or sea transportation. Furthermore, it is important that you travel with an approved sea or air carrier, have not been denied a US visa before and are in possession of a valid, machine-readable passport. Also make sure to check for any additional, country-specific requirements.

Temporary Worker Visa Categories

If, however, you are planning to go to the States for more than just a quick trip, you will need to get a temporary worker visa. While there are many different categories for such nonimmigrant worker visas, most have one thing in common: They are typically only taken into consideration if the foreign employee does neither take away the job opportunity of an available and qualified US citizen, nor affect the working conditions and wages of US workers negatively in any way. In the following, we have compiled an overview of the most relevant US visa categories for expats.

H-1B Specialty Occupation

This visa is for those who work in a specialty occupation. It requires a higher level of education; at least a Bachelor’s Degree or something equivalent. People eligible for this US visa include for example physicians or those working on international research and development projects (H-1B). Subcategories of the visa are available for those working on projects in co-operation with the Department of Defense (H-1B2), as well as highly acclaimed fashion models (H-1B3).

The number of H-1B visas made available is currently limited to 65,000 a year, with an additional number for workers from Chile and Singapore (subcategory H-1B1) and those falling under the advanced degree exemption. The visa grants a period of stay of up to three years, with the possibility of extending up to a total maximum of six years.

H-2 Temporary Agricultural and Non-Agricultural Worker

This is the visa for persons taking up temporary or seasonal work, either in the agricultural (H2-A) or non-agricultural (H2-B) sector. It is available only to nationals from a selection of countries. Workers under this classification can stay and work for a duration of up to a maximum of three years including any and all extensions.

L-1 Intracompany Transferee

With this US visa, employers can transfer executives and managers (L-1A) or employees with specialized knowledge (L-1B) to work at one of their offices in the States or in order to establish such an office. The initial period of stay of one or three years for establishing or working at an existing office respectively can be further extended to a total maximum of five (L1-B) or seven (L1-A) years.

O-1 Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

This visa is, as the name suggests, for persons who have an extraordinary ability and/or accomplished extraordinary achievements in the arts, the sciences, as athletes, or in the fields of business, education, and entertainment. Evidence for such “extraordinariness” is, for example, an internationally-recognized award (e.g. Nobel Prize) or a number of professional publications. The initial period of stay granted with this US visa is three years.

E-1/2 Treaty Trader/Investor Visas

Only citizens of participating countries with existing treaties of navigation and commerce with the US are eligible for this US visa category. The Treaty Trader Visa (E-1) is for traders or employees of alien trade companies engaged in substantial, international trade, 50% of which needs to be between the treaty country and the USA. Similarly, for the Treaty Investor Visa (E-2), investment in a US business must be substantial and used for an entrepreneurial or active commercial undertaking. While the initial period of stay is two years, the visa can be extended as long as all qualification criteria are met. E-visa holders who travel abroad will automatically be granted a two year period of re-admission on return to the US, which makes this US visa category very popular with employers.

For more in-depth information on the different types of temporary worker visa, please visit the websites of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services or of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. In the next section, you can learn more about the actual application process for nonimmigrant US visas.


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