Visiting, Working or Immigrating to the United States

The US immigration system is a complex system of laws and regulations that govern foreigners entrance into the United States. Two primary agencies deal with those going to the United States. One is the Department of State that oversees US embassies and consulates in foreign countries. The other is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. There are two categories of visas to the US, non-immigrant and immigrant. Both have multiple sub-categories. This article will explain the different types of visas available in each category.

There are two categories of visas to the US, non-immigrant and immigrant

Non-immigrant visas

Tourist Visas – B

Non-immigrant visas are designated by capital letters that correspond to sections of the US code of law. The most popular and well known visa is the B visa, which covers short visits to the US. There are two types of B visas, B-2 and B-1.

B-2 visa

The B-2 visa is a tourist visa, and the one used to vacation, tour the US or visit friends and relatives. To obtain a B-2 visa from Israel, you must apply on-line and fill out a form. A personal interview will be required at the embassy. The most important issue in order to receive a B-2 visa is you must prove you will return after your short trip. While you may receive a multi-entry visa for many years, when you enter the US, you will go through passport control, and the USCIS officer will stamp in your passport how long you can stay in the US, usually up to 6 months. A B-2 visa is not a work visa, and the recipient is not allowed to work while in the US.

B-1 visa

The B-1 visa is a business visitor visa. It is used for short business trips for conferences, business meetings and the like. The advantage of a B-1 over a B-2 is that it’s more flexible, but you must prove there is a business reason for the visit and that afterwards you will return to Israel. Like the B-2 visa, the B-1 visa is not technically a work visa, but there are some limited situations where a recipient can work and receive compensation.

Investor Visas – E

The E-2 visa is a new category of visas available to Israelis who are either significant investors in a business located in the US and who need to be present in the US to oversee the business or supervisors/professionals who need to assist the business. Because this visa is based in part upon a treaty, the final details have not yet been worked out.

Student Visas – F

The F-1 visa is for a foreign student to a US school, college or university. Before becoming eligible for an F-1 visa, the prospective student must be accepted as a foreign student by a US educational institution. The student must also show that he or she has the ability to pay both for the schooling and for living expenses while present in the US. The F-1 visa is usually initiated by the educational institution. The recipient of the F-1 visa can work on a limited basis in the US, usually after completing one year of education in the US.

Temporary work visas

H-1B visa

This visa is one of the most popular and best known temporary work visas to the US. To be eligible one must have received the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree or higher from a recognized educational institution either in the US or in another country. A specific employer must initiate the visa on behalf of the foreign worker. Typically, computer programmers, engineers and scientists from foreign countries are recruited through this mechanism. Unfortunately, there is currently a statutory cap of 65,000 such visas available in any given year. Employers usually must begin the process of recruiting such workers almost one year prior to when the foreign worker can begin to work in the US.

J visa

This visa is usually part of an exchange program with another country. It can be used for cultural exchanges such as graduate degree students working in a specific field, teachers, scholars, physicians, nannies, etc. To be eligible for such a visa, one must have applied and be accepted through a recognized cultural exchange organization. Sometimes, there are restrictions on these visas requiring the recipient to return to his or her home country for two years following the exchange program before her or she can return to the United States.

L visa

This visa is for someone who works for a business that has an office in the United States. It’s considered an intra-company transfer. The individual must either work in a managerial or executive capacity or be one with specialized knowledge.

O-1 visa

This visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business or sports. To be eligible for such a visa, one must show continued national or international acclaim in his or her field. To receive such a visa, an accrediting organization in the United States in the person’s field of ability must pre-approve the individual’s national or international credentials.

P visas

These are visas for sports’ teams or entertainment groups. To be eligible for such visas, the group usually must show international acclaim. They also must provide invitations for various events to which they are playing. In addition, an accrediting organization in the United States in the group’s field of ability must pre-approve the group’s international credentials.

Q visa

This visa is similar to the J visa above except that the cultural exchange program is for practical training and employment while allowing the participants to enjoy their history, culture and traditions in the US. Like the J visa, one must apply directly to a cultural exchange program before becoming eligible for a visa.

R visa

The R visa is for religious workers, either members of the clergy or a worker involved in a religious vocation or occupation. The worker must belong to a religious denomination that has a religious non-profit organization in the US. The religious organization must initiate the petition. The most important test for eligibility is that the worker must have been a member of the denomination or volunteer of the religious organization for two years prior to filing the petition for employment. In addition, the worker must show that he or she will be working in a religious vocation for a religious organization.

Family Visas – K visas

K-1 visa

This visa is for a fiancé of an American citizen. Once the fiancé enters the US, he or she must marry the American citizen that filed the petition within 90 days. In addition, the couple must have met each other at least once during the two years prior to the petition. Once the couple is married, the American citizen can apply for permanent residency (green card) for the fiancé. The fiancé may apply for work authorization as soon as he or she enters the US. In reality, this visa is a hybrid between a non-immigrant and immigrant visa.

K-3/4 visas

This visa is similar to the K-1 visa above in that it is a hybrid between a non-immigrant and immigrant visa. These are temporary visas issued to spouses and children of American citizens who are awaiting an immigrant visa approval. These are designed to shorten the length of separation of families while awaiting formal immigration. However, the current wait times for these visas are often equal to those for the immigrant ones.

Immigrant Visas

Most immigrant visas are granted either for close family relationships or for employment. Each category has multiple sub-categories. Typically, immigrant visas take much longer to receive, and the requirements are much stricter than for non-immigrant visas.

Family Visas – Immediate Relatives

Immediate relatives are spouses, unmarried children under the age of 21 and/or parents of American citizens. Immediate relative means there is no wait time for a visa approval. However, the processing of such visas still can take up to one year before the relative can join the American citizen. The process involves the American citizen filing a petition on behalf of his or her family member. Once the USCIS approves the petition, it is transferred to another agency – the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will contact the relative and request they fill out additional paperwork and submit additional documentation. Once everything is received, the case will be transferred to the US consulate in your country. An interview will be scheduled. The relative must undergo a medical exam through an approved doctor, and then bring the exam and other documents to the interview. Following a successful interview, the relative should receive his or her immigrant visa in the following few days. The actual permanent residence card (green card) will be mailed to the relative in the United States.

Family Visas – Other Relatives

Other relatives are treated through preference categories and are subject to annual numeric limitations.

1 st Preference – unmarried, adult children of American citizens.

2 nd Preference (2A) – spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of American permanent residents (green card holders).

2 nd Preference (2B) – unmarried adult children of American permanent residents.

3 rd Preference – married children of American citizens.

4 th Preference – brothers and sisters of adult American citizens.

The procedures for such a visa are the same for immediate relatives above. However, the wait times can be quite long. For instance, if an American citizen filed for a 1 st Preference Israeli citizen child in March, 2013, the wait time before the case is even processed is currently 7 years.

Employment Visas

Similar to the family immigrant visas, there are various categories and preferences for certain types of workers. Currently, there are 140,000 employment visas available each year for foreign workers and their families. In most cases to receive an employment visa, one must have a job offer from a business located in the United States, and in most cases the employer files a petition for the worker. Once approved, like the family based visa above, the case is transferred to the National Visa Center and then ultimately to the Jerusalem Consulate. Most of the categories are limited to highly specialized individuals or circumstances. The one exception is the 3 rd Preference category described below. The wait time for this type of immigrant visa to even be processed is almost 6 years as of March, 2013.

1 st Preference – EB1 – This category covers individuals with extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics. To be considered such an individual, one must have received significant international prizes and acclaim. The category also covers outstanding professors or researchers and again be recognized as an international expert. Finally, the category covers multinational executives and managers who are transferring from the same company overseas to one in the United States.

2 nd Preference – EB2 – This category covers individuals with advanced educational degrees or individuals with exceptional ability. The individual must have a job offer, and the employer initiates the petition. Except where the individual can show that his or her immigration to the United States is in the national interest, the employer must also file a labor certification with the Department of Labor prior to filing the immigrant petition. For a labor certification to be approved, the employer must show that there are no American workers available and qualified for such a position. The labor certification process is lengthy and costly.

3 rd Preference – EB3 – This category covers individuals who are professionals, skilled workers or other workers. A labor certification (described above) must be filed by the employer.

4 th Preference – EB4 – This category covers a variety of special situations, including religious workers, physicians, broadcasters, widows and widowers of deceased American citizens and a few other situations. The petitioner does not file the same petition as the ones listed above. 

5 th Preference – EB5 – This category is for business investors who invest at least $1 million in a business located in the United States ($500,000 for a business located in high unemployment areas), and the business hires at least 10 full-time employees within two years. There are limited exceptions to these rules.

Diversity Visas (Visa Lottery)

The United States offers an annual lottery for approximately 50,000 immigrant visas. Normally, in the fall, a one-month period of time is available for individuals to participate in this program. There is no cost to participate. One submits his or her application on- line. If one’s application is picked, which is done through random selection, the individual has one year to complete all the required paperwork, meet the eligibility requirements for an immigrant visa and pay the immigrant visa fees.

Refugees and Asylees

A refugee or asylee is an individual who has been persecuted in his or her home country for political, religious, national origin, racial or membership in a particular social group reasons and whose life is endangered. Such individuals can be granted refugee or asylee status in the United States, which entitles them to permanent residence after being present in the US for one year. If the individual filing for such status is outside of the US, then he or she usually contacts the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This agency usually refers cases to volunteer agencies that handle the paperwork. The case is then submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a decision. If the individual is in the United States, he or she has one year to file an asylum application with the USCIS.

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