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Visa Categories

There are many categories of visas available for nonimmigrants and immigrants, including B-1, B-2, F-1, H-1B, J-1, 0-1, TN, E-3, Pending Immigrant, Immigrant or Permanent Resident Alien, and Conditional Permanent Resident.

Nonimmigrant Visa Categories

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business [visitor (B) visa purposes] for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. The program was established in 1986 with the objective of eliminating unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulating the tourism industry, and permitting the Department of State to focus consular resources in other areas. VWP eligible travelers may apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so. Not all countries participate in the VWP, and not all travelers from VWP countries are eligible to use the program. VWP travelers are screened prior to admission into the United States, and they are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT program.

For additional information and to see which countries participate in the visa waiver program, visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Visa B-1

  • Description: Temporary visitor for business — may come to the United States to participate in scientific or professional conventions or conferences, to consult with business associates, or to undertake independent research. Must prove intent to return abroad and possess foreign financial support. Serious consequences for misrepresentation.

  • Sponsorship: No employer petition is required, petition is made by alien at U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

  • Restrictions: May be reimbursed or reasonable expenses incident to their business purpose in the U.S. In addition, the ACWIA honorarium provision permits B-1 and B-2 immigrants to receive honorarium for a usual academic activity lasting no longer than 9 days at a single academic institution, if that alien has not accepted such payments from more than 5 institutions or organizations in the previous 6-month period.

Visa B-2

  • Description: Temporary visitor for pleasure — for recreation, tourism, or visits with friends/family. Must prove intent to return abroad, must be financially able to return (must already have return ticket), and have firm travel plans. Serious consequences for misrepresentation.

  • Sponsorship: Petition is made by alien at U.S. Embassy or Consulate. May be extended to one year under special circumstances.

  • Restrictions: May be reimbursed or reasonable expenses incident to their business purpose in the U.S. In addition, the ACWIA honorarium provision permits B-1 and B-2 immigrants to receive honorarium for a usual academic activity lasting no longer than 9 days at a single academic institution, if that alien has not accepted such payments from more than 5 institutions or organizations in the previous 6-month period.

Visa F-1 (CPT or OPT)

  • Description: Student in academic or language program — must maintain a full course load in good academic standing to remain in the United States. Students may work off-campus after first year with approval by school official for limit of one year, 20 hours per week (CPT), or for one year full-time after graduation (OPT).

  • Sponsorship/Length: Sponsor is university or college. One year for curricular practical training (CPT) during school or one year for optional practical training (OPT) after graduation. May be extended up to 17 months depending on the academic program.

  • Restrictions: Strict on time and hour limitations. Must be recently graduated or a full-time student.

Visa H-1B

  • Description: Specialty occupations — temporary professional worker. Must have minimum of bachelor's degree. Considered a dual intent Visa, can apply for permanent residency from H-1B. USCIS Anti-Fraud Fee imposed on all new H-1B petitions and H-1B portability (transfer) petitions.

  • Sponsorship/Length: Sponsored by employer. Three years; may be extended an additional three years.

  • Restrictions: Can work only for the company that files the petition.

  • Work site restrictions: LCA must be posted at work site.

Visa J-1

  • Description: Exchange visitor — professor or research scholar. Must be participating in bona fide educational or cultural exchange program. Created to improve and strengthen international relations. Program is based on reciprocity. Not for staff vacancies.

  • Sponsorship/Length: Sponsor issues Certificate of Eligibility (DS2019). Five years maximum, one-year intervals, managed by U.S. Department of State.

  • Restrictions: Two-year home-country physical presence requirement if alien receives funds from his/her home country or from the U.S. government.

Visa O-1

  • Description: Extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics; one who has risen to the top of his or her field.

  • Sponsorship/Length: Sponsored by employer, project-driven, no specific time limit.

  • Restrictions: Visa issued outside of United States.

Visa TN

  • Description: Professional under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), or citizens of Mexico and Canada only. Profession must be on NAFTA skills list. Requirements for Canadians and Mexicans are not the same.

  • Sponsorship/Length: Sponsored by employer, no maximum, one-year intervals.

  • Restrictions: Job must be temporary in nature.

Visa E-3

  • Description: Australian Nationals only. Specialty occupations, temporary professional worker. Must have a Bachelor's degree. 10,500 annual cap.

  • Sponsorship/Length: Sponsored by employer. 24-month validity period, renewable indefinitely as long as alien intends to depart the U.S. upon termination of status.

  • Restrictions: 10,500 annual cap. Can only work for the company that filed the petition.

Immigrant Visa Categories

Pending Immigrant

  • Description: Has filed for adjustment to immigrant status in the United States.

  • Limitations: May request Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS during brief waiting period (usually 8-9 months)

  • Documentation: Employment Authorization Document (EAD) form I-766 or I-688B.

Immigrant or Permanent Resident Alien

  • Description: Has been granted permanent residency in the United States, called an Immigrant Alien or Permanent Resident Alien.

  • Limitations: No limit on the employment they may legally hold. Protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • Documentation: Will be able to show Resident Alien Card (I-151 or I-551 stamp in passport), also referred to as a green card ("Greencards" can be other colors).

Conditional Permanent Resident

  • Description: Those who have applied for immigrant status through marriage to an American citizen or U.S. permanent resident.

  • Limitations: No limits on the employment they may legally hold. Protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • Documentation: Will be able to show work authorization from USCIS.