Learn about the most common types of visas for business, student or travel you may need when coming to or traveling through the United States, plus review what other documents you need to enter the U.S. Also, find information on how to apply for an immigrant visa.
The U.S. Department of State issues visas to foreign nationals traveling to the United States through its embassies or consulates. However, you do not need a visa for your business meeting or for vacation if you are a citizen of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program.
Your reason for travel will determine the type of visa you need to enter the U.S. Some of the most common requested visas are:
Transit visa for traveling through the U.S. on your way to visit another country
Fiancé(e) visa to marry your U.S. citizen fiancé(e), and live, in the U.S.
Procedures for Entering the United States
When you arrive in the United States, you must show valid travel documents as part of the entry process. The documents you need depend on the country you are arriving from and your citizenship or status.
Lawful permanent residents of the U.S. need to show a Permanent Resident Card (Green card). A passport is not required.
Citizens of Canada, Mexico and Bermuda can find the necessary travel documents from the Department of Homeland Security under “land and sea entry.”
Arrival from Other Countries
All travelers entering the United States from all other countries need a passport upon arrival (regardless of their country of citizenship).
Permanent residents and foreign nationals may also need a U.S. visa. You must apply for a visa before you start your trip.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers conduct arrival inspections using the same criteria for all foreign nationals visiting the U.S. They decide your admission to the United States, even if all your travel documents, including your visa, are in order.
Note: While there are no rules prohibiting pregnant visitors from entering the United States, doing so to give birth is prohibited. A CBP officer will consider your pregnancy when deciding on your admission.
Another popular way to seek an immigrant visa is through the Diversity Visa Lottery program. This program allows foreign citizens from countries with low immigration rates to the United States to participate in an annual, random drawing for an immigrant visa.
After You Get Your Immigrant Visa
Once you get your immigrant visa, you’ll have to pay a USCIS immigrant fee before you’ll receive your Green Card. The best time to pay the fee is after you pick up your immigrant visa from the Department of State embassy or consulate abroad and before you depart for the United States.
When you receive your immigrant visa, you’ll get a sealed immigrant visa packet of documents which you’ll give to officials at the U.S. port of entry. If you pass inspection, you’ll be admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident, and will receive your Green Card in the mail.
Refugees and Asylum
Refugees are people who fled their homes for a variety of reasons, including persecution (or the fear of persecution) and war, to find protection elsewhere.