Non-Immigrant Visa Categories
Non-immigrant (temporary) visas are generally available to qualified individuals who wish to travel to and remain in the United States for a finite period of time for a specific purpose, such as to study, undertake employment, or for business visits.
Most applicants for temporary admission to the US, regardless of age, must have their own visa unless they qualify to enter the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program. Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may apply for a visa to accompany the principal visa holder; however, except as described below, employment authorization is not granted to dependent visa holders.
All applicants for non-immigrant visas, with the exception of certain H and L visas, must demonstrate that they only intend to remain in the U.S. for a temporary period and that they will at all times maintain a foreign residence outside of the U.S. which they do not intend to abandon.
The most common non-immigrant visas are organized by group below. Click on a link to read more.
Non-Immigrant Visa Categories
The most common non-immigrant visas are organized by group below. Click here to learn more about these U.S. non-immigrant visa categories, or click on a category heading below for more details.
- Visitor for Business (B-1)
- Professionals: (H-1B)
- Treaty Aliens in Specialty Occupations (E-3)
- Temporary Workers and Trainees (H Visas)
- Nurses in Shortage Areas (H-1C)
- Temporary Workers (H-2)
- Trainees (H-3)
- Intracompany Transferee (L)
- Treaty Traders/Treaty Investors (E-1/E-2)
- Information Media (I)
- Visitor for Pleasure (B-2)
- Spouses and Children (H-4)
- Fiancé/Fiancée (K-1); and certain spouses of U.S. citizens (K-3)
- Spouses and Minor Children of Lawful Permanent Residents Awaiting Immigrant Visas (V)
- Extraordinary Ability/Extraordinary Achievement (O)
- Athletes, Artists and Entertainers (P)
- Religious Workers (R)
- Exchange Visitor (J-1)
- Students (F-1/M-1)
- Visa Waiver Program (WB, WT)
- Transit without Visa/Crew members (C-1/D)
The list is not exhaustive, nor is it meant to include all activities permitted to a visa holder.
Visitor for Business (B-1)
Persons coming to the U.S. on business (such as to negotiate contracts, consult with business associates or attend conventions, conferences or seminars) may apply for a B-1 visitor for business visa. B-1 visa holders may not receive a salary or other remuneration from a U.S. source other than reimbursement of expenses incurred incidental to the visit. With few exceptions, a B-1 visa holder may not engage in productive or labor or employment while in the U.S.
This visa is available to an individual who is offered a temporary position in the U.S. in a “specialty occupation” (a position that requires a university degree as a normal entry-level requirement and the person must possess either the relevant degree or the vocational equivalent of the degree). Fashion models who can establish that they are of distinguished merit and ability, as well as qualified individuals who are coming to the U.S. to perform services of an exceptional nature relating to a cooperative research and development project for a government-sponsored project, may also qualify for this visa classification.
Currently, no more than 65,000 H-1B visas can be issued each fiscal year. 6,800 visas are reserved for applicants under the Singapore and Chilean Free Trade Agreements. The remaining 58,200 visas are available to applicants from the rest of the world.
Spouses and Children (H-4)
Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of H visa holders may apply to accompany the principal visa holder in H-4 status but are not authorized to accept employment.
Temporary Workers and Trainees (H Visas)
There are several H visa categories, all of which require sponsorship by a U.S. employer or agent.
Nurses in Shortage Areas (H-1C)
500 annual visas are authorized for nurses who will work in geographic areas designated as “Health Professional Shortage Areas” by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Temporary Workers (H-2)
An individual who is temporarily coming to the U.S. to perform temporary services may qualify for an H-2 visa, if the sponsoring employer can prove that there is a shortage of U.S. workers to fill the position and prove that the required services are temporary or seasonal in nature.
An individual who wishes to enter the U.S. at the invitation of an organization or individual, for the purpose of receiving training in any field, other than physicians in the medical field, may be eligible for an H-3 visa. The sponsoring employer must confirm the type of training to be given and that (i) the type of training offered is not available in the visa holder’s home country, (ii) the visa holder will not engage in productive employment unless such employment is incidental and necessary to the training, and (iii) the training will benefit the visa holder in pursuing a career outside the U.S.
Treaty Aliens in Specialty Occupations (E-3)
The E-3 visa category has been created for Australian nationals who will be entering the U.S. to perform services in a specialty occupation. Currently, up to 10,500 E-3 visas are issued each year. The definition of a specialty occupation applicable to H-1B visas also applies to the E-3 category (a position that requires a university degree as a normal entry-level requirement and the person must possess either the relevant degree or the vocational equivalent of the degree). The spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of E-3 visa holders are also admissible as E-3’s and do not need to be nationals of Australia. A spouse of an E-3 visa holder may request authorization to work after entry in E status. If a spouse requests employment authorization, the spouse may not commence work until employment authorization has been granted.
Intracompany Transferee (L)
Individuals who have been employed by a company, organization or firm as a manager, executive, or in a specialized knowledge capacity, may qualify for L-1 status if, during the 3 years preceding entry to the U.S., they have worked for the employer outside the U.S. for at least one continuous year and now wish to transfer to an executive, managerial or specialized knowledge position in the U.S. to work temporarily with a parent, subsidiary, branch or affiliate of their foreign employer. Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may apply to accompany the principal visa holder in L-2 status. The L-2 spouse of an L-1 visa holder may request authorization to work after entry in L-2 status. If a spouse requests employment authorization, the spouse may not commence work until employment authorization has been granted.
Treaty Traders/Treaty Investors (E-1/E-2)
Citizens of certain countries having an appropriate treaty of trade, commerce and navigation between the U.S. and the foreign country may apply for treaty visas. Treaty trader (E-1) visas are available to qualified persons solely to carry on a substantial trade in goods, services or technology principally between their home country and the U.S. Treaty investor (E-2) visas are available to qualified persons solely to develop and direct the operations of a business in which they have invested or are actively in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital.
Executives and high level managers/supervisors of a treaty trader or treaty investor as well as other employees with special qualifications essential to the efficient operation of the U.S. enterprise are also admissible under E-1 or E-2 visas, if they are the same nationality as the trader or investor. The spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of traders, investors and their treaty employees are also admissible as E-1’s and E-2’s and do not need to be nationals of the treaty country. A spouse of an E-1 or E-2 visa holder may request authorization to work after entry in E status. If a spouse requests employment authorization, the spouse may not commence work until employment authorization has been granted. For more information regarding E-2 non-immigrant visas, please see www.investorvisausa.com.
Information Media (I)
Representatives of foreign press, radio, film or other information media may apply for an “I” visa to enter the U.S. solely to engage in their profession on behalf of their foreign information media employer.
Visitor for Pleasure (B-2)
This visa is generally for persons coming to the U.S. for tourism, social visits to family and friends, or medical treatment. Usually a visitor for pleasure is admitted for up to six months and may never engage in productive labor or employment in the U.S.
Fiancé/Fiancée (K-1) and certain spouses of U.S. citizens (K-3)
A K-1 visa is available for a qualified fiancé(e) to enter the United States solely for the purpose of marrying a U.S. citizen within 90 days after entry. Unmarried children under the age of 21 may apply for a K-2 visa to accompany the K-1 visa holder. Persons who desire to enter the U.S. in order to marry a U.S. citizen and then return abroad may qualify for entry as a visitor for pleasure (B-2/WT).
Spouses of U.S. citizens who are already married and are waiting outside of the U.S. for the approval of their immigrant visa petitions previously filed in the U.S. may apply for a K-3 visa. If the marriage occurs outside the U.S. the K-3 visa must be issued by the U.S. consulate in the country where the marriage occurred. If the marriage occurred in the U.S., then the visa application must be filed in the country where the applicant resides. The K-3 visa will allow the spouse to enter the U.S. and await the approval of the immigrant petition. Unmarried children under the age of 21 may be issued K-4 visas to accompany or follow the K-3 parent.
Spouses and Minor Children of Lawful Permanent Residents Awaiting Immigrant Visas (V)
Visas are available for qualified spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of lawful permanent resident aliens who are the beneficiaries of immigrant visa petitions filed on or before December 21, 2000 and have been waiting three years or more from the date the USCIS received the immigrant visa petition. Visa holders may live and work in the U.S. while waiting to qualify for permanent residence.
Extraordinary Ability/Extraordinary Achievement (O)
O-1 visas are available to qualified persons who can demonstrate either extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, or a record of extraordinary achievement in motion picture and television productions. O-2 visas are available to qualified individuals in order to accompany and assist the O-1 visa holder. The O-2 visa applicant must demonstrate that he or she is an integral part of the performance and has critical skills and experience, not of a general nature, which cannot be performed by other individuals. The spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of both O-1 and O-2 visa holders may apply for O-3 visas to accompany the O-1 and O-2 visa holder but employment is not authorized.
Athletes, Artists and Entertainers (P)
Internationally recognized athletes, athletic teams, and entertainment groups may apply for P-1 visas. P-2 visas are reserved for artists or entertainers, both individuals and groups, who are involved in a reciprocal exchange program between the U.S. and one or more foreign countries. P-3 visas are available to qualified artists or entertainers, both individuals and groups, who seek to enter the U.S. to perform, teach or coach in programs that are culturally unique. P-4 visas are available for the spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of the holders of any of the P visas. Employment is not authorized for P-4 visa holders.
Religious Workers (R)
Qualified members of a religious denomination may apply for an R-1 visa to work in the U.S. with a non-profit religious organization as a minister of religion, religious professional, or other religious worker. Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may apply to accompany the principal R visa holder in R-2 status. Employment is not authorized for R-2 visa holders.
Exchange Visitor (J-1)
J-1 visas are available to persons who wish to undertake employment, training or research in the U.S. based on sponsorship by an educational or other non-profit institution. This category also includes persons wishing to work as au pairs in the U.S. based on sponsorship by approved au pair programs. Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may apply for a J-2 visa to accompany the J-1 visa holder. Generally, employment is not authorized unless prior permission is obtained from the USCIS.
In some cases a J-1/J-2 visa holder may be subject to a two year foreign residence requirement before they may apply for permanent resident status or certain other non-immigrant visas. Waivers of the two year foreign residence requirement are sometimes available under certain circumstances.
J-1 applicants must also pay to the DHS a fee (for most applicants $180) to defray the cost of enrollment in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Proof of payment must be brought to the applicant’s visa interview.
A person wishing to enter the U.S. temporarily to attend a full course of study at a college, university, or other academic institution approved by the USCIS requires a student (F-1) visa. F-1 visas are not available for attendance at public elementary schools and publicly-funded adult education programs. F-1 visas will only be issued for attending a public secondary school for up to twelve months provided the foreign student contracts to reimburse the school authority for the cost of the education.
Those wishing to attend a USCIS approved vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution (other than a language training program) may apply for a vocational student (M-1) visa. Before applying for either an F-1 or M-1 visa, a prospective student must obtain from the school a Form I-20A-B (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) Student Status or Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (M-1) Student Status, respectively). Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 may apply to accompany the student in F-2/M-2 status but may not accept employment. Holders of F-2/M-2 visas may, however, study at an academic institution.
All prospective students must also pay to the DHS a fee (for most applicants $200) to defray the cost of enrollment in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Proof of payment must be brought to the applicant’s visa interview.
Visa Waiver Program (WB, WT)
Nationals of the following 34 countries may apply to enter the United States without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Qualified citizens of these countries must travel on a participating carrier with an unexpired, individual, machine-readable, tamper-resistant passport and a return ticket.
New passports issued by Visa Waiver Program countries on or after October 26, 2005 must also include a digital photo; otherwise, the applicant will be required to obtain a visa for travel to the United States. The only passports issued on or after October 26, 2006 that will be valid for travel under the Visa Waiver Program are e-Passports, which include an integrated computer chip capable of storing biographic and biometric information and a digitized photograph.
All international travellers seeking to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program will be required to obtain travel authorization under ESTA before boarding an air or sea carrier. The application, which must be completed on-line, consists of basic biographical information and questions regarding eligibility. The application may be submitted any time prior to travel but DHS recommends that travellers complete the application at least 72 hours before departure. Travel authorization under ESTA will be valid for two years or until the individual’s passport expires, whichever date comes first. Links to additional information regarding ESTA and the ESTA application may be found on our Resource Links page.
Transit without Visa/Crew members (C-1/D)
The C visa is available to a person in immediate and continuous transit through the United States. Periods of admission are limited to a maximum of 29 days. D visa holders are primarily crew members, either on a vessel or aircraft. Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of C-1/D visa holders may travel as tourists.
U.S. immigration law prohibits the issuance of a visa and admission to the U.S. to any person who is ineligible for a visa and admission under U.S. law. Grounds of inadmissibility, listed in the Immigration and Nationality Act, include persons convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (with certain exceptions), controlled substance violators, and persons who by fraud or willful misrepresentation of a material fact, seek to procure (or have sought to procure or have procured) a visa, admission to the U.S., other documentation, or benefit provided under the Immigration Act. Most applicants for a non-immigrant visa who a U.S. consular officer finds ineligible may apply for a waiver of inadmissibility.