America received a whopping 80 million international travellers in 2018, according to figures published by the US Travel Association.
Despite being the world’s third-largest economy (behind China and the European Union), the US is much more frequented by entrepreneurs, professionals and executives from across the globe. Its relative free market systems attract people who come here to explore opportunities. Similarly, its many historical and modern attractions entice tourists from around the world. Depending on the reason for travel, you’ll need to choose the appropriate US visa. So, here’s a complete guide to selecting the right visa.
Visit USA for Tourism or Business
You can visit the US temporarily for business activities like attending conferences and negotiating contracts. Else, you may wish to travel for sightseeing, visiting friends and relatives or for seeking medical treatment. The B-1 visa is applicable for business travel, whereas you will need a B-2 visa for visiting the US for leisure and medical purposes.
Usually, both these visas are combined and issued as the B-1/B-2 visa. Let’s look at the visa application process.
Don’t forget to get insurance.
It is recommended that you get travel insurance when traveling to USA, as medical expense (even for common flu) can run into hundreds of dollars! Here are some of the best insurance for US visitors.
How to Apply for B-1/B-2 Visa?
The application process for the business (B-1) and tourist (B2) visa is the same. Here’s what you need to do:
Fill the DS-160, which is the Non-Immigrant Visa Electronic Application Form. You can access it here. You will need to enter your personal details, passport information, educational background and employment specifics. If your trip is sponsored and is based on leisure or to get treatment, mention the details of your contact in the US who will bear all the costs.
Pay the visa application fee of $160 in your currency. This will generate a receipt number which you need to store safely.
Now you need to schedule two appointments – for fingerprinting at the Visa Application Centre (VAC) and the other for your visa interview at the US Consulate. After scheduling the visa interview online, take a printout of the appointment letter.
Visit the VAC on the day before your visa interview and get your photo and fingerprints taken.
Go to the US embassy on the day of your interview. Don’t forget to carry a 2×2” passport size photo (both digital and printed), all old and new passports, a copy of the interview appointment letter and proof of funds (like bank account, tax receipts and/or copy of passbook). You should carry proof of the purpose for your visit. For instance, if you’re travel for a family wedding, carry the invitation card. Similarly, if you’re going for medical treatment, carry copies of your reports.
Visit USA To Work – H1B Visa
The US allows individuals who have been hired by an American company to work for a prespecified duration. The visa will depend on the type of work you have been hired for.
Visit USA For a Specialty Occupation
To work in a role related to Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) field, you need to obtain an H1B visa. The eligibility criteria for this is to have a relevant bachelor’s degree and skills to provide the defined service. The USCIS and DHS decide on all matters related to immigration. If they find a valid need for your services in the US, the visa can be granted.
For this, your company needs to file an application with the US Department of Labor. This should provide details of the terms and conditions underlying your employment contract.
For individuals holding an H-1B visa, their spouse and unmarried children under 21 years, can apply for an H-4 visa. This will allow them to accompany the work visa holder to the US. However, H-4 visa holders are not permitted to search for work or engage in any kind of employment during their stay.
Visit USA For Seasonal Agricultural Work
The US allows employers to hire foreign nationals to work in agricultural roles on a temporary basis. The condition is that there should be a dearth of US nationals for that specific work. The visa you need in this case is the H-2A.
Visit USA As a Trainee
If you have been accepted in a training program in the US, you can visit the country after obtaining an H-3 visa. The maximum duration for this is two years.
Other Options to Visit USA – Work Visas
People with extraordinary ability in business, arts, science, athletics or education can apply for the O visa. It also includes those with achievements in the field of television and motion picture.
The Q visa is for individuals wishing to visit the US to participate in an international cultural exchange program to impart training or to share the history and traditions of their home country.
Entertainers, artists and support personnel who plan to perform and work in the US need to obtain the P visa.
Visit USA For Education
The US has several prestigious educational institutions that accept students from around the world. If you have been enrolled in a US-based school or college program, the institute will issue a Form I-20, which is a Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) Student Status. It is a document issued by SEVP certified universities, colleges and vocational schools.
Within 120 days of the start date mentioned in this document, you can apply for a student visa. And, within 30 days of this date, you can travel to the US after obtaining the visa. The main types of student visas available are M-1 and F-1.
This visa is for those wishing to receive vocational or non-academic training in the US. If you have this visa, you can get enrolled in an elementary or public secondary school.
Apply for this visa if you wish to engage in an academic program in a US-approved school or an approved English language program. It is mandatory for people opting for a program that has more than 18 hours per week of studies. This visa is only valid for 12 months.
Remember that if you leave the country for a break of more than 5 months, you will lose your student visa status. The only exception is when the overseas activity is connected to your course or program.
Visit USA To Participate in an Exchange Program
Research scholars, teachers, professional trainees, academic students, professors or people coming to the US for travel or consultation can take part in exchange programs. In case you have any such plans, apply for a J visa. This will help you attend such events and share and receive knowledge and skills with others.
Visit USA as a Journalist
If you’re employed in the media or journalism field in your home country, you can travel to the US for practising your profession for a specified period. The condition is that you must have an office in your home country. The I visa is offered for such non-immigrants.
But there are some exceptions in place as well. In case you’re visiting the US to attend a meeting, guest lecture, conference, to buy media equipment or to engage in academic activity, you will have to get a B-1/B-2 visa.
Also, if you are visiting to film a commercial or entertainment material, to stage events such as TV quiz shows or to create artistic media content, you become eligible for a temporary work visa. Spouses and children of such persons can accompany them through the B-2 visa.
Visit USA as Part of a Ship Crew
There are mainly two visas offered if you’re part of a ship or transit crew. In case you are visiting the US on your way to another country, you need the C visa. Additionally, if you want to visit your family or friends, you will have to get layover privileges and qualify for a B2 visa.
For people visiting the US as part of a crew on an aircraft or sea vessel, the Crew D visa is applicable. Usually, such individuals apply for a combination of both types of visas. Crew members who are serving onboard a vessel present within the Outer Continental Shelf are eligible under a modified B-1 visa instead of a regular crew visa. Also, members taking some time off between cruises or flights should apply for a B-1/B-2 visa.
Visit USA for Religious Ceremonies
Religious workers who have been authorized by a recognized entity can visit the United States to conduct religious activities. They need to apply for an R visa.
Visit USA as Domestic Help
Personal servants can also travel to the US with their employer and are eligible for the B-1 visa. Such domestic employees include butlers, gardeners, valets, footmen, housemaids, chauffeurs, cooks and nannies. Servants of foreign diplomats or government officials can apply for an A-3 or G-5 visa.
Whatever your purpose of visit to the US, bear in mind that you need a relevant visa. This is important before you make any bookings of flights, hotels or vehicle rentals.
To get more information on the procedure to apply for different types of US visas, visit the US Department of State’s official website. Make sure all the documents that you submit for application are accurate and do not constitute fraud. Any form of misrepresentation can lead to a ban on future visits to the United States.