US visa types and visa 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.

October 2, 2020 update – an order banning new visas for workers has been stopped.

In October 2020, a judge stopped a government order that was made in June. The order had banned most visas for people coming to work in the USA, including most health workers and people coming to work in restaurants and hotels for the tourist season. (It does not apply to farm workers or to people who already have visas.) The October ruling means that that many foreign workers and their US employers can again apply for H-1B, J, and L visas. The situation may change again. We will update this page when there is more information.

April 22, 2020 update

The US administration has issued an executive order to stop new immigration visas from April 23, 2020. Spouses and children under age 21 of US citizens will still be allowed to get visas. People who already have immigrant visas or valid travel documents can still come. SIVs and members of the US Armed Forces can still come.

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?

The USA has many types of visas, but there are two main categories.


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

Important note: On October 4, 2019, the US president made a proclamation about immigrant visas. The proclamation says that after November 2,  2019, the USA will not give immigrant visas to people who cannot pay for their own healthcare. Immigrants will have to show they have health insurance or another approved healthcare plan. You can learn more about health insurance in the United States.

The new rule does not apply to refugees, asylum seekers, students, or people with enough money to pay all their medical bills. You can read the proclamation for more details about the new rule.

On November 3, 2019, a US judge stopped this rule. He said it was unfair because you cannot get health coverage until you are in the USA. The judge said the rule would harm family reunification. We will update this page if there is more news.


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 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.