What is a U.S. Visa?

A citizen of a foreign country who seeks to enter the United States generally must first obtain a U.S. visa, which is placed in the traveler’s passport, a travel document issued by the traveler’s country of citizenship. Certain international travelers may be eligible to travel to the United States without a visa if they meet the requirements for visa-free travel. The Visa section of this website is all about U.S. visas for foreign citizens to travel to the United States.

How Can I Use a Visa to Enter the United States?

Having a U.S. visa allows you to travel to a port of entry, airport, or land border crossing, and request permission from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector to enter the United States. While having a visa does not guarantee entry to the United States, it does indicate a consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad has determined you are eligible to seek entry for that specific purpose. DHS/CBP inspectors, guardians of the nation’s borders, are responsible for the admission of travelers to the United States, for a specified status and period of time. DHS also has responsibility for immigration matters while you are present in the United States.

How to Apply

There are several steps to apply for a visa. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary by U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Please consult the instructions on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website.

Complete the Online Visa Application

Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 – Learn more about completing the DS-160. You must:

1) complete the online visa application and

2) print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview.

Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. Your photo must be in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.

Gather Required Documentation

Gather and prepare the following required documents before your visa interview:

  • Passport valid for travel to the United States – Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). Each individual who needs a visa must submit a separate application, including any family members listed in your passport.
  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page.
  • Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview.
  • Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.
  • Additional Documentation May Be Required

Attend Your Visa Interview

A consular officer will interview you to determine whether you are qualified to receive a visitor visa. You must establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive a visa.

Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans are taken as part of the application process. They are usually taken during your interview, but this varies based on location.

After your visa interview, the consular officer may determine that your application requires further administrative processing.  The consular officer will inform you if this is required.

After the visa is approved, you may need to pay a visa issuance fee (if applicable to your nationality), and make arrangements for the return of the passport and visa to you.  Review the visa processing times to learn more.

Entering the United States

A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport) and request permission to enter the United States. A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port of entry have the authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. If you are allowed to enter the United States, the CBP official will provide an admission stamp or a paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record. Learn more about admissions and entry requirements, restrictions about bringing food, agricultural products, and other restricted/prohibited goods, and more by reviewing the CBP website.

Extending Your Stay

See Extend Your Stay on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website to learn about requesting to extend your stay beyond the date indicated on your admission stamp or paper Form I-94.

Failure to depart the United States on time will result in being out of status. Under U.S. law, visas of individuals who are out of status are automatically voided (Section 222(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act).  Any multiple-entry visa that was voided due to being out of status will not be valid for future entries into the United States.

Failure to depart the United States on time may also result in you being ineligible for visas in the future. Review Visa Denials and Ineligibilities and Waivers: Laws to learn more.

Additional Information

An individual on a visitor visa (B1/B2) is not permitted to accept employment or work in the United States. There is no guarantee you will be issued a visa. Do not make final travel plans or buy tickets until you have a visa.  A valid U.S. visa in an expired passport is still valid. Unless canceled or revoked, a visa is valid until its expiration date. If you have a valid visa in your expired passport, do not remove it from your expired passport. You may use your valid visa in your expired passport along with a new valid passport for travel and admission to the United States.

Each applicant, including children, must have their own Form DS-160 visa application. The Form DS-160 must be completed and submitted online prior to your interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The barcode number on the Form DS-160 confirmation page is required in order to book your interview. The Form DS-160 must be submitted online. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate will not accept handwritten or typed applications and you will not be permitted to attend your interview without a Form DS-160 confirmation page.

How to apply for a visa online for the USA?

Form DS-160 is submitted electronically to the Department of State website via the Internet. Consular Officers use the information entered on the DS-160 to process the visa application and, combined with a personal interview, determine an applicant’s eligibility for a nonimmigrant visa.

Visa policy of the United States

Visitors to the United States must obtain a visa from one of the U.S. diplomatic missions unless they come from one of the visa-exempt or Visa Waiver Program countries. The same rules apply for travel to all U.S. states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands with additional waivers, while similar but separate rules apply to American Samoa.

U.S  passport

Foreign passport; for entry, a U.S. visa is also required except for:

  • Citizens of the freely associated states (Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau)[2]
  • Nationals of certain neighboring jurisdictions (Canada and Bermuda generally; Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands under certain conditions; and Mexico under limited categories)
  • Nationals of countries in the Visa Waiver Program (or of certain additional countries only for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands)
  • S. permanent resident card (Form I-551) or temporary I-551 stamp
  • S. travel document serving as a re-entry permit (Form I-327) or refugee travel document (Form I-571)
  • S. advance parole authorization (Form I-512), or employment authorization document (Form I-766) annotated “valid for re-entry to the U.S.” or “serves as I-512 advance parole”
  • S. military or NATO identification with the official travel order
  • S. merchant mariner credential indicating U.S. citizenship
  • NEXUS card indicating U.S. or Canadian citizenship (only to or from Canadian airports)
  • S. government-issued transportation letter or boarding foil (for entry only)
  • Foreign emergency travel document or U.S. removal order (for departure only)


Immigrant visa: for permanent residence in the United States. At the port of entry, upon endorsement with an I-551 admission stamp, the visa serves as evidence of permanent residence for one year, and the visa holder is processed for a green card. A child with an IR-3 or IH-3 visa automatically becomes a U.S. citizen upon admission and is processed for a certificate of citizenship (N-560).

A U.S. visa does not authorize entry into the United States or a stay in a particular status but only serves as preliminary permission to travel to the United States and to seek admission at a port of entry. The final admission to the United States is made at the port of entry by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. For those entering in a nonimmigrant visa status, the admission details are recorded by the CBP officer on a Form I-94 (or Form I-94W for nationals of the Visa Waiver Program countries for short visits), which serves as the official document authorizing the stay in the United States in a particular status and for a particular period of time.


The United States has suspended the issuance of certain types of visas for certain people from certain countries as sanctions for their lack of cooperation in accepting the return of their nationals deported from the United States. As of 2023, these sanctions apply to nationals of Eritrea and to certain government officials and their family members in Cambodia, China (also under separate sanctions, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sierra Leone.

The United States has also suspended the issuance of visas in Cuba and Venezuela due to the ordered departure of U.S. government personnel, but nationals of these countries may still apply for visas at U.S. embassies or consulates in other countries.

Qualification process

The typical process for issuing a United States visa, possibly including a Visas Mantis check

Applicants for visitor visas must show that they qualify under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The presumption in the law is that every nonimmigrant visa applicant (except certain employment-related applicants, who are exempt) is an intending immigrant unless otherwise proven. Therefore, applicants for most nonimmigrant visas must overcome this presumption by demonstrating that:

  • The purpose of their trip is to enter the U.S. for a specific, intended purpose;
  • They plan to remain for a specific, limited period; and
  • They have a residence outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties which will ensure their return at the end of their stay.

Classes of visas

A visa

Visas are issued to representatives of a foreign government traveling to the United States to engage in official activities for that government. Visas are granted to foreign government ambassadors, ministers, diplomats, as well as other foreign government officials or employees traveling on official business (A-1 visa). Certain foreign officials require an A visa regardless of the purpose of their trip.

B visa

The most common non-immigrant visa is the multiple-purpose B-1/B-2 visa, also known as the “visa for temporary visitors for business or pleasure.” Visa applicants sometimes receive either a B-1 (temporary visitor for business) or a B-2 (temporary visitor for pleasure) visa, if their reason for travel is specific enough that the consular officer does not feel they qualify for combined B-1/B-2 status.

C visa

The C-1 visa is a transit visa issued to individuals who are traveling in “immediate and continuous transit through the United States en route to another country”. The only reason to enter the United States must be for transit purposes. A subtype C-2 visa is issued to diplomats transiting to and from the Headquarters of the United Nations and is limited to the vicinity of New York City. A subtype C-3 visa is issued to diplomats and their dependents transiting to and from their posted country.

D visa

D visa is issued to crew members of sea vessels and international airlines in the United States. This includes commercial airline pilots and flight attendants, captains, engineers, or deckhands of a sea vessel, service staff on a cruise ship, and trainees on board a training vessel. Usually, a combination of a C-1 visa and a D visa is required.

E visa

Treaty Trader (E-1 visa) and Treaty Investor (E-2 visa) visas are issued to citizens of countries that have signed treaties of commerce and navigation with the United States. They are issued to individuals working in businesses engaged in substantial international trade or to investors (and their employees) who have made a ‘substantial investment’ in a business in the United States.

F visa

These visas are issued for foreign students enrolled at accredited US institutions. F-1 visas are for full-time students, F2 visas are for spouses and children of F-1 visa holders and F-3 visas are for “border commuters” who reside in their country of origin while attending school in the United States. They are managed through SEVIS.

G visa

G visas are issued to diplomats, government officials, and employees who will work for international organizations in the United States. The international organization must be officially designated as such. The G-1 visa is issued to permanent mission members; the G-2 visa is issued to representatives of a recognized government traveling temporarily to attend meetings of a designated international organization; the G-3 visa is issued to persons who represent a non-recognized government; the G-4 visa is for those who are taking up an appointment.

NATO visa

Officials who work for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization require a NATO visa. The NATO-1 visa is issued to permanent representatives of NATO and their staff members, NATO-2 visa is issued to a representative of member state to NATO or its subsidiary bodies, advisor or technical expert of the NATO delegation visiting the United States, a member of the NATO military forces component or a staff member of the NATO representative, NATO-3 visa is issued to official clerical staff accompanying the representative of a NATO member state, NATO-4 visa is issued to foreign national recognized as a NATO official, NATO-5 visa is issued to a foreign national recognized as a NATO expert and NATO-6 visa is issued to a member of the civilian component of the NATO. All NATO visas are issued to immediate family members as well. NATO-7 visas are issued to personal employees or domestic workers of NATO-1 – NATO-6 visa holders.

H visa

H visas are issued to temporary workers in the United States. Specialty occupations, DOD Cooperative Research and Development Project Workers, and fashion models

The discontinued H-1A and H-1C visas existed during periods when the US experienced a shortage of nurses from 1989. The H-1A classification was created by the Nursing Relief Act of 1989 and ended in 1995. The H-1C visa was created by the Nursing Relief for Disadvantaged Area Act of 1999 and expired in 2005. Currently, nurses must apply for H-1B visas.

I visa

The I-1 visa is issued to representatives of the foreign media, including members of the press, radio, film, and print industries traveling to temporarily work in the United States in the profession.

J visa

The J-1 visa is issued to participants of work-study-based exchange visitor programs. The Exchange Visitor Program is carried out under the provisions of the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961, officially known as the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 (Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 87–256, 75 Stat. 527). The purpose of the act is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchanges.

K visa

A K-1 visa is a visa issued to the fiancé or fiancée of a United States citizen to enter the United States. A K-1 visa requires a foreigner to marry his or her U.S. citizen petitioner within 90 days of entry or departing the United States. Once the couple marries, the foreign citizen can adjust their status to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States (Green Card holder). A K-2 visa is issued to unmarried children under the age of 21. Foreign same-sex partners of United States citizens are currently recognized by

L visa

The L-1 classification is for international transferees who have worked for a related organization abroad for at least one continuous year in the past three years and who will be coming to the United States to work in an executive or managerial (L-1A) or specialized knowledge capacity (L-1B). The L-2 visa is issued to dependent spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age of qualified L-1 visa holders.

M visa

The M-1 visa is a type of student visa reserved for vocational and technical schools. Students in M-1 status may not work on or off campus while studying, and they may not change their status to F-1. The M-2 visa permits the spouse and minor children of an M-1 vocational student to accompany him or her to the United States.

O visa

The O visa is a classification of non-immigrant temporary worker visa granted to an alien “who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics (O-1A visa), or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements,” (O-1B visa) and to certain assistants (O-2 visa) and immediate family members of such aliens (O-3 visa).

P visa

P visas are issued to individuals or team athletes, or members of an entertainment group including persons providing essential support services (P-1 visa), artists or entertainers (individual or group) under a reciprocal exchange program (P-2 visa) and artists or entertainers (individual or group) visiting to perform, teach or coach under a program that is culturally unique (P-3 Visa). P-4 visas are issued to spouses, or children under the age of 21, of a P-1, P-2, or P-3 alien and who is accompanying, or following to join.

Q visa

The Q visa is issued to participants in an international cultural exchange program.

R visa

The R-1 visa is issued to temporary religious workers. They must have been a member of a religious denomination having a bona fide non-profit religious organization in the United States for at least 2 years. R-2 visa is issued to dependent family members.

S visa

S visas are nonimmigrant visas issued to individuals who have assisted law enforcement as a witness or informant. There is a limit of 200 S visas a year. A law enforcement agency can then submit an application for resident alien status, i.e. a green card on behalf of the witness or informant once the individual has completed the terms and conditions of his or her S visa.

T and U visas

The T-1 visa is issued to victims of severe forms of human trafficking. Holders may adjust their status to permanent resident status. Subtypes of this visa are T-2 (issued to spouses of T-1), T-3 (issued to children of T-1), T-4 (issued to parents of T-1 under the age of 21), and T-5 (issued to unmarried siblings under the age of 18 of T-1 who is under 21).

The U-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that is set aside for victims of crimes (and their immediate family members) who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. Subtypes of this visa are U-2 issued to spouses of U-1, U-3 issued to children of U-1, U-4 issued to parents of U-1 under the age of 21 and U-5 issued to unmarried siblings under the age of 18 of U-1 who is under 21.

V visa

The V visa is a temporary visa available to spouses and minor children (unmarried, under 21) of U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPR, also known as green card holders). It allows permanent residents to achieve family unity with their spouses and children while the immigration process takes its course. It was created by the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act of 2000. The Act is to relieve those who applied for immigrant visas on or before December 21, 2000. Practically, the V visa is currently not available to spouses and minor children of LPRs who have applied after December 21, 2000.

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