Immigrant Visas (Permanent Residens or “Green Card”)
Immigrant visas grant permanent resident status (or a “Green Card”), which allows foreign nationals to permanently reside and work in the United States, as well as to travel in and out of the U.S. Generally, when a foreign national obtains a green card, his or her accompanying spouse (wife or husband) and unmarried children under age 21 also obtain green cards. Depending on the way in which permanent residence was obtained, after three to five years, a person with permanent resident status may apply for citizenship.
Employment- Bassed Visas
“Extraordinary” or “Exceptional” Ability Foreign nationals of exceptional or extraordinary ability in their particular field of work, outstanding professors or researchers, and members of professions holding an advanced degree may be eligible for an expedited green card process. This allows scientists, artists, physicians, university professors, researchers, musicians, etc., to obtain a green card with or without a sponsor. (See also, “O” Visa)
Alien (Employment) Labor Certification Based on unavailability of U.S. workers in the workforce, a U.S.employer may enable an alien to obtain a green card through an offer of employment. Upon approval by the Department of Labor, an immigrant petition may be filed demonstrating that the sponsor/petitioner has the ability to pay a certain prevailing wage. Once these steps are completed, an applicant may proceed with the filing of a green card application as soon as his or her priority date becomes current.
Qualified investors and their families may be eligible to enter the United States on this type of visa if they invest $500,000 to $1,000,000 in an existing or new business in the United States. On the basis of the business, investors may at a later time proceed with an application for permanent residence. (See also, “E” Visas)
Religious ministers, priests and ordained religious persons may qualify for the green card through sponsorship by a congregation (e.g., Mosque, Church, Synagogue, etc.). (See also,“R” Visa)
United States citizens may sponsor spouses, parents, adult children and siblings (brothers or sisters) for permanent residence. Green Card holders can sponsor only spouses or unmarried children.
Diversity Visa Program
Through an annual “lottery” process, the United States randomly distributes 55,000 green cards to nationals of designated countries. Participants must have either 12 years (or more) of education or 2 years experience as a skilled worker. Winners’ spouses and children under 21 years of age also receive green cards.
Non-Immigrant (Temporary) Visas
Under current laws, this work visa is valid for a maximum of six years and is generally very flexible. It allows changes of employer as well as simultaneous work for two (or more) employers, provided that each employer petitions for a separate H-1B visa. To qualify for an H-1B visa, a foreign national must have a U.S. bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, or substantial professional work experience. This visa category also requires an employer sponsor. Processing time varies from region to region, but is usually relatively quick (approximately four to six weeks). Recognized occupational groups for this visa category might include, for example: computer industry; mathematics & physical science; architectural engineering & surveying; medicine & health; life science; law & jurisprudence; commercial arts; education, museum, library & archival sciences; entertainment & recreation; administrative specialization’s; managers & officials; fashion models; etc.
This visa is very similar to the H-1B visa and is available only to Canadian and Mexican nationals. It is valid for one year and renewable indefinitely.
L-1 – Intra-Company Transferee Visas
Managers, executives or individuals with “highly-specialized knowledge” who are working for a company abroad may be transferred to that company’s U.S. branch or affiliate for a period of up to seven years. Non-immigrant status can be converted to a green card.
E-1/E-2 – Treaty Trader/Treaty Investor Visas
Traders and investors, their families, and qualified employees may be eligible for entry under the E category. Requirements include: national of a country that has a particular commercial treaty with the United States; “substantial” investment in a company in the U.S., or regular trading with the U.S.; principal investor or “key employee” status in this company. Visas in this category can be extended indefinitely, as long as the trading or investment activity in the U.S. continues.
J-1 – Exchange Visitor Visa
In general, this category is open to foreign students, au pairs, scholars, doctors, medical students, business and industrial trainees and others participating in U.S. government-approved programs for gaining experience, studying or performing research. Changing status to other non-immigrant categories may be permissible, depending upon visa restrictions.
F-1 – Student Visa
Foreign nationals who have been accepted by U.S. colleges or universities and who satisfy certain other requirements may be eligible for this type of visa, which is valid for the duration of an applicant’s course of study.
O & P Visa
The O visa is for foreign nationals who can exhibit “extraordinary ability” in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics and those accompanying or assisting them. The P visa may be a viable alternative for entertainers and athletes who do not meet eligibility criteria of the O visa.
B-1 – Business Visitors
In general, this type of visa is for individuals who can demonstrate a business-related reason for visiting the United States. Length of stay is for up to 1 year.
B-2 – Tourist Visas
This visa enables foreign nationals to travel and vacation temporarily in the U.S. Such trips cannot involve employment, and the length of stay may be up to one year. Note that nationals of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Pilot Program may enter the U.S. without a visa and stay for a period of up to 90 days. However, if one enters under the Visa Waiver program, a change of status to other non-immigrant or immigrant categories is not permitted.
Other Non-Immigrant Visas
K-1 – Fiancee Visas
This visa is available to those planning to marry a U.S. citizen, but are currently outside of the United States. Persons granted the K-1 visa have 90 days from the date of entry to marry; no extensions are allowed. After the marriage, a K-1 visa holder must convert the K-1 to a Green Card.
H-2B Non-Agricultural Visas
Used for nonagricultural workers coming to the U.S. to perform employment of a temporary nature. To qualify for this visa, a foreign national must be sponsored by a U. S. employer and possess requisite skills or background for the position offered. Petitioners for the H-2B must show documentation that no qualified Americans are available to fill the position. This group includes skilled workers.
H-3 Training Visas
Available to foreign nationals (generally, those who do not hold a university degree) who wish to participate in a training program not available in their country of nationality. The overall length of stay is up to 2 years. Requires a U.S. sponsor.
I – Information Media Visas
This visa for representatives of information media is generally issued for one year and renewable indefinitely.
R – Religious Worker Visas
Professionals working in a religious capacity in a “bona fide” religious organization may qualify for this visa type. To qualify, one must demonstrate that s/he has worked in a religious capacity for at least for the two years immediately prior to application.