You can apply for a visitor visa to the American Embassy or Consulate in the country where you reside. Most commonly a visitor visa will be granted for business and pleasure in one (known as a B1/B2 visa).
If you are coming to the United States for business, the scope of your activities is limited. Examples of “business” purposes include, consultation with a business, travel for a scientific, educational, professional or business convention or conference on specific dates, to settle an estate, or negotiate a contract. You may not take up employment with an American employer, nor may you enroll in a course of study.
When you arrive in the US, the immigration official will usually stamp 6 months in the white card they hand you at the airport. Once you have been here for about three months, you can apply to have your visitor visa extended – it will usually be extended for another 6 months (the maximum visitor stay in total is a year).
Non-immigrant work visas include, but are not limited to, visas for registered nurses, temporary agricultural workers or those performing other services or labor, intra-company transferees; and foreign nationals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics and internationally recognized athletes or members of an entertainment group.
There is also a visa available for foreign nationals in specialty occupations. This visa is a very common category, and therefore I have chosen this one to elaborate upon. You must be offered employment in a field requiring highly specialized knowledge, which in turn would require a Bachelor’s or higher degree or its equivalent. As an H-1B nonimmigrant, you may be admitted for a period of up to three years. Your stay may be extended, but generally it cannot go beyond a total of six years, though some exceptions apply. There are a limited number of visas in this category that are made available in a fiscal year, however there are certain sub-categories of professionals who are not subject to the cap at all.
Your spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age can also also seek admission as non-immigrants. However, these family members may not engage in employment in the United States.
If you wish to pursue full-time academic or vocational studies in the United States, you may be eligible for one of two non-immigrant student categories. Alternatively, there is also a separate visa available for exchange programs.
I will focus on the academic student visa, which is the one mostly used. You must be enrolled as a full-time student in an “academic” educational program at a school approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. The term “school” can include a college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program.
The two most important requirements are that you must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study, and you must maintain a residence abroad, which you have no intention of giving up.
You may only work on-campus during the first academic year, subject to certain conditions and restrictions. There are various programs open to you, should you wish to seek off-campus employment for practical training purposes. The practical training must be related to your area of study.
With all non-immigrant categories, you have to show that you do not have the intent to immigrate, and that you have “ties” to your country of origin. Examples include proof of ownership of property or a letter of employment.
If you were in the United States as a visitor and wish to work or study then you would have to change your non-immigrant status to that of worker or student respectively. This involves an entirely separate visa application for the particular category of visa sought. Please note that if you do so and your authorized stay as visitor expires while your application for a student or work visa is pending, you will start accruing days of unlawful presence. If the work or student visa is ultimately denied then you will be considered out of status – unlawfully present – and you would have to depart immediately.
In the final part of this series I will cover the options available to those of you who wish to come to the United States to live and work on a permanent basis.
Lara Allem-Romanello is a United States and a South African attorney. She currently practices in the United States. She focuses exclusively on immigration law, providing professional services to individuals and corporations, on a global platform. You may contact Ms. Allem-Romanello at 561.386.2006 or [email protected] You may also visit her website at www.lar-law.com and blog at www.larlawblog.com . She is also a member of LinkedIn, and you can follow her on Twitter @LAllemR .