How to Become Legal: Visas

Persons interested in living permanently or temporarily in the United States must apply for a visa.  While those seeking permanent residency seek green card status, those who wish to remain in the U.S. temporarily must apply for a nonimmigrant visa.  Here is an overview of the visa application options, according to FindLaw:

Visa Waiver Program

Entering on a visa waiver is a simpler way to enter the USA if you are only planning on staying 90 days or less.  If you come by land from Canada or Mexico, you will also need to present proof of finances to fund your stay.  Although this is the simplest way to enter the USA, you give up a lot of your benefits and rights by participating in the program; it is often easier to deport those in the USA on a Visa Waiver Program.  As of August 2004, the members of the visa waiver program included:  Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Nonimmigrant Visas

Tourist and Business Visitor Nonimmigrant Visas:  The majority of nonimmigrant visas are issued to tourists (temporary visitors for pleasure) and business visitors (people engaging in commercial transactions in the U.S. but not employment). Often visitors are issued a multiple purpose business/tourist visas (B-1/B-2 category). Both B-1 and B-2 visa are valid for one year and are renewable in six-month increments.

Temporary Worker Nonimmigrant Visas: An area of nonimmigrant visas that has grown recently is the H-temporary workers category. These visas are issued to workers with “specialty occupations” (such as computer systems analysts and programmers) or to workers performing temporary services or labor when persons capable of performing this work are not available in the U.S (such as agricultural workers). The visas are designed to help employers meet an immediate and temporary need for labor.

Nonimmigrant Visas for Education: Many aliens also seek entry to the U.S. for educational purposes. The F-1 visa is for academic students entering the U.S. to pursue a full course of study at an established educational institution. Students who wish to attend vocational or nonacademic programs must enter on an M visa. The J visa covers exchange visitors such as students, teachers, and professors. With certain restrictions, F and J visa holders may work while in the U.S. The M visa holder’s ability to work, however, is more limited.

Immigrant Visas

Visas not subject to numerical limitations are granted to immediate relatives (children, parents and spouses) of U.S. citizens, resident aliens returning from temporary visits abroad, and former U.S. citizens. To qualify as a “child” of a U.S. citizen the person must be unmarried, under 21 years old, and either a legitimate child, stepchild, illegitimate child, adopted child, an orphan adopted abroad, or an orphan coming to the U.S. to be adopted. A parent with any of the relationships described under the definition of child qualifies as a “parent.” In order to receive a visa as the spouse of a U.S. citizen the alien must have a “valid and subsisting marriage” with that citizen.

Visas subject to numerical limitations are granted to persons qualifying for family sponsored, employment related, or diversity immigrant visas. There are four categories of family sponsored visa preferences: unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their children; spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of legal permanent residents; married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children; and brothers and sisters, including spouses and children, of U.S. citizens ages 21 and over. There are five categories of employment-sponsored preferences: priority workers; professionals with advanced degrees or aliens of exceptional ability; skilled workers, professionals (without advanced degrees), and needed unskilled workers; special immigrants (e.g. ministers, religious workers, and employees of the U.S. government abroad); and employment creation immigrants or “investors.”

Diversity Lottery

“The diversity immigration program” provides another, but more limited, method of gaining permanent residence. Under this program, approximately 55,000 immigrant visas are available annually to aliens who are natives of countries determined by the I.N.S. to be “low admission” countries, that is, countries that are proportionately under-represented in the U.S. immigrant population. To receive a diversity visa, an individual must have at least a high school education or its equivalent, or, within the preceding five years, two years of work experience in an occupation requiring at least two years training or experience.

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