Sometimes, foreign nationals come to the U.S., but do not wish to stay permanently. For instance, you may come to the U.S. to study, visit, or work. These fall under “nonimmigrant” category. In most of these cases, you need to obtain a nonimmigrant visa in order to enter the U.S. and stay lawfully in the U.S.  There are several different types of nonimmigrant visas. The most frequently used are:

  • B-1 and B-2: temporary business visitors and tourist visitors
  • F-1: academic students
  • H-1B: temporary workers in specialty occupations (may have a future intent to stay permanently in the U.S.)
  • E-1/E-2: traders/investors coming to the U.S. to start their own business
  • L-1: Intra-company transferees being assigned to work in the U.S. arm of an international organization (may have a future intent to stay permanently in the U.S.)

In general, you will need to apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. In order to get your visa, you will have to show that you have no immigrant intent to permanently live in the U.S., no criminal convictions, and that you will be able to support yourself financially in the U.S.  After you receive your visa, you will have to enter the U.S. within validity period of your visa. Your visa may be denied if it is determined that you were not truthful on your application, if  your true intent is to stay permanently in the U.S., or if your application raises concerns regarding politics, economics, national security, public health, or safety.

Also, your visa does not guarantee that you will be given entry into the U.S.  Upon your arrival, you may be questioned by a DHS immigration inspector, who can deny you admission to the U.S. if you cannot show that you do not intend to violate the terms of your visa. Your visa allows you to enter the U.S. and engage in activities which are authorized under the visa category in which you are admitted. For example, if you receive a student (F-1) visa, you can study in the U.S., but you cannot work off campus unless you get special permission (a “Work Permit”), and you cannot stay in the U.S. beyond your authorized stay.

Legal Editor: BoBi Ahn, June 2015 (updated June 2019)

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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