What Is a Nonimmigrant Visa?

The type of visa is determined by the purpose of your travel to the United States. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection gives the following definition.

A nonimmigrant visa (NIV) is issued to a person with permanent residence outside the United States, but wishes to be in the U.S. on a temporary basis for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study, as examples.

Some Categories of Nonimmigrant Visas

There is a long list of temporary visas permitting entry into the United States for many different purposes and for periods of time ranging from a few days to several years. Some require advance approval of a petition by the USCIS before the American Consulate abroad will issue a visa while others can be issued by the Consulate without prior USCIS approval. Visas may be granted to the principal applicant and to his or her immediate family dependents (i.e., spouse and unmarried children under age 21).

  • E: Traders and Investors Visas
  • H-1B: Specialty Occupation Worker Visa
  • L-1: Introcompany Transferees Visa
  • O-1: Individuals Of Extraordinary Ability Or Achievement Visa
  • TN-1: Professionals Under NAFTA
Differences Between “Visa” and “Status”

It is important to keep in mind the differences between “visa” and “status”. A visa is a “ticket” permitting a person to board a carrier to the U.S. and/or to request admission at a land port of entry, and status is issued to a person by the USCIS Immigrant Inspector at the port of entry on a Form I-94. A visa does not guarantee entry nor does the Inspector necessarily grant status for the entire period of validity of the underlying visa stamp. For example, a ten year B-1/B-2 tourist visa does not mean the I-94 will be issued valid for ten years, nor does possession of such a visa grant a right to remain in the country for ten years.

In most cases, status can be extended or changed while in the U.S. whereas visas cannot. Even if the person is from a visa exempt country or pursuant to an international treaty, every foreign national entering the U.S. will be issued an I-94 showing status. The I-94 will indicate the appropriate nonimmigrant classification and will have either a definite expiration date or, in the case of a student or exchange scholar, a “duration of status” (D/S) designation.

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