Guide to US Visas: Types & Requirements

Do you want to come to the USA? Are you in the USA and do you need to change your status? You will probably need a US visa. Read about the different types, find the best one for you, and learn how to apply.


specimen US visa

NOTICE: The increase of fees that was due to take place on October 2, 2020, has been stopped by a US court decision. But please check fees before sending in your application. Use the USCIS fee calculator to know the fee.

Visa processing has restarted

During the Trump administration, several proclamations were made that stopped people applying for certain types of visas to come to the USA. Many of those proclamations have been reversed by the Biden administration or have expired.

If you applied and were denied a visa due to a proclamation, you can submit a new application and pay a new visa fee.

Below you will find more information about U.S. visa updates.

Immigrant visas

The Department of State has begun to issue immigrant visas in the following order. 

  • Tier One: Adoption visas, age-out cases (cases where the applicant will soon no longer qualify due to their age), and certain Special Immigrant Visas (SQ and SI for Afghan and Iraqi nationals working with the U.S. government).
  • Tier Two:  Immediate relative visas; fiancé(e) visas; and returning resident visas.
  • Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain employees of the U.S. government abroad.
  • Tier Four: All other immigrant visas, including employment preference and diversity visas.

Nonimmigrant visas

U.S. Embassies and Consulates that process nonimmigrant visa applications are prioritizing travelers with urgent needs, foreign diplomats, mission-critical categories of travelers (such as those coming to assist with the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and workers who are essential to the American food supply). 

Nonimmigrant visas for students, exchange visitors, and some temporary employment visas follow after the priority travelers. You can check how long it will take to get a nonimmigrant visa on the visa wait time tool.

Keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the operations of embassies and consulates abroad.

What is a visa?

A visa is a stamp or document given by a country that says you are allowed to come to that country. It gives you permission to stay and says how long you may stay.

What kinds of visas are there?

There are many types of U.S. visas, but there are two main categories.

Immigrant

Immigrant visas are for people who want to come and live in the United States. You can find a list of immigrant visas on the Department of State website.

Non-immigrant

Non-immigrant visas are for people who want to visit. Visitors may be tourists or visiting family members. They may want to come and work or study for a while. You can find a list of non-immigrant visas on the Department of State website.

How do I know which US visa to apply for?

It can be confusing to know how to choose the right visa. The US State Department’s Visa Wizard will help. It asks some basic questions, such as where you are from and why you are coming to the USA. You do not have to enter personal details. Depending on your answers, it will show you what your choices are. The different types of visas have letters to identify them.

How to apply for a US visa

First, choose the visa you need from the State.gov list. Select the link next to the type of visa. The link will be a letter or letters and often a number, too – for example J or H1-B.The link will take you to a page details and instructions for that visa.

When you select the link to apply for an immigrant visa, you will leave the Department of State website and go to the website of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

State Sponsor of Terrorism countries

The USA has declared 4 countries to be state sponsors of terrorism. The USA says these 4 countries help terrorists. They are: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Iran, Sudan, and Syria. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, you will have to be interviewed

US visa waiver program

Some countries are part of the US Visa Waiver Program. Their citizens do not need a visa to come to the USA. Instead visitors must get approval through a program called Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). You can apply for ESTA if you are a citizen of one of the countries and if you are coming to the USA for 90 days or less for business or as a tourist.

Social media

Your visa application form will ask you to supply your social media information. You can learn more about why the US State Department wants to know about your social media and what it does with the information.

Important note: A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. It allows you to travel to the USA, but you may still be denied entry by a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigration. Read more about admission to the USA.

Other US visa status

There are some other categories that are neither immigrant nor non-immigrant, such as military personnel, or people getting medical treatment. You can read about other visa categories.

Permanent resident

If you have an immigrant visa, you can take the next step and apply to become a permanent resident. Becoming a permanent resident of the USA is a long process, but many visa holders are eligible. Learn more about becoming a permanent resident and getting your green card.

Humanitarian reasons

Some people come to the USA to seek protection. They may be allowed to enter or stay as:

  • an asylee
  • a TPS or DED holder
  • a refugee
  • a victim of crime

Learn more about humanitarian programs that allow people to live in the USA.

This information was prepared to help you understand about visas. It was based on information from the US State Department and US Citizenship and Immigration Services. It is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice. If you are looking for a free or low-cost lawyer or legal help, we can help you find free and low-cost legal services.