When starting your immigration journey in the United States, it can be difficult to figure out where to begin. With the numerous types of visas available, it can be hard to decide which visa is the best for you and your situation and making the wrong choice can end up being a waste of time and money.

Your first decision comes down to the type of visa you want: an immigrant visa or nonimmigrant visas. This decision is based on what your plans for living in the United States are. If you’re planning on trying to move and set up permanent residence in the United States, you’ll need a visa out of the immigrant visa category. If you’re only planning on coming to the United States for a certain amount of time, for a job or an opportunity, or vacation, then you’ll want a nonimmigrant visa.

Non-Immigrant Visa

Nonimmigrant visa classifications are perfect for foreign nationals who are coming to the United States on a temporary basis, either as temporary visitors, or temporary workers. These visas are split into two main categories, B-1 and B-2, with a few other outliers. In general, B-1 visas cover persons coming to the United States for temporary work, to negotiate contracts and deals, a person who needs enough time in the United States to settle an estate of a deceased friend or family member or attend conferences or meetings that are business-related. B-2 visas, also called Tourist visas, are visas for persons vacationing in the United States for long periods of time or visiting friends and family in the United States for a long period of time. While these visas only allow a person to stay in the United States for a maximum of 6 months at a time, the visas are valid for 10 years and can be used repeatedly during those 10 years. B-2 visas are perfect for foreign nationals who wish to spend a part of each year in the United States but don’t wish to immigrate fully.

There a several more specialized nonimmigrant visas. The most common type of visa is in this category: H-1B visas. These visas are for persons who work in specialized trades that require higher education, such as engineering, or medicine, or scientific researchers. There are thousands of jobs that can qualify you for an H-1B visa, which lasts for 3 years and can be extended another 3 years for 6 years total. A vast majority of valid visas in the United States are H-1B visas.

Other notable non-immigrant visas include:

  • J-1 visa, for persons involved in exchange visitor programs, such as au pairs, scholars, professors, etc. J-1 visa holders are able to stay in the United States for a maximum of 18 months.
  • F or M student visa, for foreign students coming to the United States for education purposes. F-1 visas cover all types of traditional school, while M-1 visas are used for vocational education, such as apprenticeships. The allowed time period of stay in the United States can vary under F or M classifications, depending on how long your schooling is supposed to take, but these visas do expire 60 days after your expected graduation date.

From ship crew visas to domestic employee visas and student visas, A full list of all non-immigrant visas can be found on the US Department of State website. The non-immigrant visa category offers temporary entry into the United States, not permanent, making nonimmigrant status perfect for temporary workers, exchange visitors, and foreign students.

Immigrant Visas

If your goal is to fully immigrate to the United States, and become a permanent resident or to become a naturalized US citizen, the find thing you’ll need to get is an immigrant visa. Your personal circumstances will help you make the decision on what kind of visa you apply for. If you are a spouse of a US citizen, are engaged to marry a US citizen, are being adopted by a family of US citizens, or are related to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, such as those with valid green card status, an immigrant visa might be what you need. Family-based immigration and all manner of family-sponsored immigration categories make up the main portion of all immigrant visas. You can also receive an immigrant visa if you are sponsored by a job that wants you to move permanently to the United States rather than 6 months on, 6 months off.

Immigrant visas are also the first step to acquiring a green card, so if you plan is to immigrate permanently to the United States via a green card or naturalization, a permanent visa is where you should start.

Are There Other Visa Options?

While they aren’t the most popular options, temporary visas, or even citizenship or green cards, can be given to those seeking political asylum, or refugees from other countries. Christian refugees and Muslim refugees are the largest share of refugees in the United States, from various countries of origin. If you feel you are qualified for these specialized circumstances, do not enter the country illegally. Contact an immigration lawyer in NY to help you get the process started. The average processing time of these specialized visas is much shorter than a regular visa, but your eligibility depends on your country of origin, and the current refugee population in the United States.

For those already in the United States that have visas expiring, Temporary Protected Status is offered to foreign nationals, depending on their country of origin, who cannot safely return to their country of citizenship. People from countries that are currently in civil war or that have recently had a natural disaster can apply for TPS.

DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is another option. For those that were brought to the United States from a foreign country illegally as minor children, DACA is an option. While, at the time of writing, DACA is closed to new applicants, the application window could open at any time. Receiving Deferred Status could help you from being removed or deported from the United States until you are able to obtain a valid visa for permanent immigration like a green card, or you choose to naturalize and become a US citizen.

A Diversity visa might be the way to go. A diversity visa, DV, is a temporary visa for persons whose countries of nationality do not have many immigrants living in the United States and are meant to attract persons from these countries. A diversity immigrant is able to stay in the United States for up to 6 months with a valid visa.

Where do I Start the Visa Process?

Once you have an idea of what you want to do, contact a US immigration attorney immediately. Hiring an attorney saves you money and time, as they have experience in immigration courts and matters that a foreign national doesn’t, and they also have intimate knowledge of any immigration waivers you might qualify for. They will walk you step by step through the immigration process, help you build your immigrant visa packet, prepare you for your immigrant visa interview, make sure you’re applying for the right kind of visa, and begin your journey with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Once everything is ready to go, you will be able to enter the United States through a valid port of entry, where border patrol and members of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will check your paperwork before allowing you into the United States. There are various ports of entry, such as those located on the U.S.-Mexico border, and it is important that you wait until you have a valid visa before you attempt to enter the United States to live, as you can be deported back to your county of origin if you don’t, and this will cause issues with your immigration journey.

Start Your Visa Application Process Today

With rules like Country caps, the visa and green card wait times, and dozens of various visa types, Immigration law can be confusing and frustrating. That’s why hiring an experienced immigration attorney is a must. With an intimate knowledge of immigration law and processes, the Law Office of Jason. A Dennis is ready to help you. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services don’t have to be intimidating, our experienced law team can walk you through every step of the process, and help you create a plan for your future. Whether you need help picking a visa, getting your immigrant visa packet started, you want to get an adjustment of status started, or even if you just want to understand your options and the potential time period you might have to wait, we’re ready to answer all of your questions.

During your initial consultation, we’ll walk through your situation and come up with the best plan possible to get you to your goals. We know that behind every immigration case there’s a real person and a real story, and we’re ready to help you write the ending to yours.