In order for a foreign national to enter the United States legally, they must possess a valid visa. Obtaining a visa is a complicated and confusing process, however, one that involves multiple steps and can take several months or longer to complete. Any misstep along the way can cause unnecessary delays, and it could even lead to a denial of your petition.
At the Cochran Law Firm, Birmingham, we have over four decades of experience helping foreign nationals obtain visas to enter the United States and assisting with all other types of immigration issues they may be dealing with. Our attorneys have extensive knowledge of this area of the law, and we work closely with our clients to successfully navigate the complexities of America’s immigration system.
The Different Types of Visas
There are numerous types of visas that are issued for a wide range of purposes. Each visa has its own set of requirements, and these requirements must be followed to the letter in order to bring your petition to a favorable conclusion.
Visas are grouped into two general categories; immigrant visas and non-immigrant visas. Immigrant visas, also known as permanent visas, are issued to those who plan to live and work in the United States. Nonimmigrant visas are temporary, and they are issued to individuals who enter the United States for a specific purpose, but plan to leave the country when that purpose is fulfilled.
Foreign nationals who are seeking to immigrate to the United States may apply in one of two ways, depending on where they are located at the time that they lodge the application. If they are living abroad, they can apply for a visa at a consular office of the U.S. Department of State.
If they are already in the United States, they can apply for an adjustment of status to change from a non-immigrant visa to an immigrant visa. Certain undocumented immigrants may also qualify for an adjustment of status.
Some types of immigrant visas are subject to a numerical cap, meaning that only a certain number of applicants in this particular category are admitted to the United States each year. The number that is admitted is determined by a complex formula that is based largely on the type of visa the applicant is applying for and the country they are coming from.
Visas with no numerical limitations include family-based visas for immediate relatives (spouses, children, and parents) of U.S. citizens, visas for resident aliens who are returning from temporary visits abroad, and visas for former U.S. citizens. To qualify as a “child” (for the purposes of obtaining an uncapped immigration visa), he/she must be a biological child, stepchild, or adopted child who is unmarried and under the age of 21.
All other family-based immigrant visas not mentioned above are subject to numerical limitations, which means there is a waiting list for entry into the country. The wait time could range from just a year or two up to a couple decades or more, depending on the category you are applying in and the country you are coming from.
Family-based immigrant visas with numerical caps are divided into four preference categories:
Preference Category One: Unmarried children of U.S. citizens who are 21 years of age or older.
Preference Category Two: Spouses and children (under the age of 21) of lawful permanent residents (LPRs), and unmarried children (ages 21 or over) of LPRs.
Preference Category Three: Married children of U.S. citizens and their unmarried children who are under the age of 21.
Preference Category Four: Siblings of U.S. Citizens if the citizen is 21 years of age or older and the unmarried children that are coming with are under age 21.
In addition to family-based immigrant visas, there are two additional categories that are widely used and also subject to numerical caps:
These are visas given to qualified workers who are sponsored by a U.S. employer. There are five preference categories for employment-based visas:
Preference Category One: Priority workers who have extraordinary abilities in the arts, science, education, business, or athletics.
Preference Category Two: Professionals who hold advanced degrees or exceptional abilities in the arts, science, or business.
Preference Category Three: Professionals with college degrees, skilled workers with at least two years of training, and certain unskilled workers that are not temporary or seasonal.
Preference Category Four: Certain immigrants that fall into “special” categories, such as religious workers, translators, and former employees of the U.S. government.
Preference Category Five: Individuals who are investing at least $500,000 in a job-creating enterprise that will employ at least 10 full-time U.S. workers.
Diversity Lottery Visas
The diversity immigration program is a more limited path to obtaining an immigrant visa to live in the United States. Through this program, more than 50,000 visas are granted annually to foreign nationals who are from countries that are determined to be proportionally underrepresented in the United States.
No family or work connections are needed to qualify for this program; individuals only need to possess a high school education or equivalent, or two years of work training or work experience within the previous five years. The downside of course is that more than 22 million foreign nationals apply for the diversity visa, and only about 55,000 visas are granted. Hence the term “visa lottery”.
When someone obtains an immigrant visa, they receive a “green card” which grants them lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in the United States. This gives them the right to work and do pretty much everything else a citizen can do.
There are a few things an LPR cannot do that a citizen can, however. Most notably, LPRs cannot vote, they cannot spend too much time outside the United States without their status being jeopardized, and they risk deportation for committing certain criminal offenses.
Foreign nationals who are not planning to immigrate to the United States and only want temporary entry into the country can apply for a non-immigrant visa. There is a very long list of visas that fall into the non-immigrant category, some of the most common include:
Visitor (B-1/B-2) Visas: These are given to foreign nationals who are entering the United States temporarily for business, pleasure, or medical treatment. This may include tourists or those looking to do business in the U.S. for a short period of time.
Student (F-1) Visas: Certain students can apply for a nonimmigrant visa if they are enrolled in a full-time course of study and can show that they can support themselves financially while they are studying in the United States. Spouses and underage children of the student may also apply for a visa to accompany them.
Working Professional (H1-B) Visas: In addition to employment-based immigrant visas, there is also a nonimmigrant visa category for certain working professionals who are in specialty occupations in which there is a great need for workers. H1–B visas are generally granted for up to six years, and they are subject to annual numerical limits.
Professional Athlete or Performer (P) Visas: Foreign nationals who are athletes, performing artists, and entertainers can enter the U. S. temporarily using a “P” category nonimmigrant visa.
Trader and Investor (E-1/E-2) Visas: Traders and investors who are natives of countries that maintain a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States can come into the country temporarily on an “E” category nonimmigrant visa. These visas are usually granted for up to two years initially, with two to five-year extensions available as long as visa holders continue to meet the requirements.
It is important to note that nonimmigrant visas are for temporary legal status in the United States, and these visas do not provide a direct path to permanent residency or citizenship. That said, there are many cases in which it may be possible for someone who is in the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa to apply for an adjustment of status to legal permanent residency. Speak with our firm to discuss your specific circumstances and the options that are available to you.
Contact a Knowledgeable and Compassionate Visa Assistance Attorney
There are a lot of steps that must be completed and hurdles that must be cleared to obtain a visa for legal status in the United States. And with the rules continually changing, you need legal guidance from someone who is up on all of the latest changes in the law, and who has the proven ability to bring your application to a successful conclusion.
At the Cochran Firm, Birmingham, we are ready to go to work for you! Call our office today at 205-994-8555 or message us online to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced immigration attorneys.