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Types of Visas

Most visitors to the United States must obtain visas before they will be allowed to enter the country. The type of visa you need depends on the reason you are traveling to the U.S. and whether you are just visiting or planning to stay permanently.

Temporary Visas

The United States has more than 20 types of visas for temporary visitors. Each one authorizes you to engage in a particular type of activity. Here are some of the more common temporary visas:

  • The B-1 visa, or business visa, is issued to people conducting business in the country, such as attending a conference. It is also issued to professional athletes and domestic employees of foreign nationals.
  • A B-2 visa, or tourism visa, is used for vacationing or visiting family. It is also used for competing in amateur sporting events and for undergoing medical treatment.
  • The F-1 visa, or student visa, is used by students taking classes for credit at recognized academic institutions, such as universities and high schools.
  • The M-1 visa is also for students, but specifically for those attending nonacademic institutions or vocational training courses.
  • An F-2 visa is issued to spouses and children of visitors entering the U.S. on F-1 visas.
  • The H-1B visa is a work visa for specialty workers, usually employed in jobs that require at least a bachelor's degree.
  • The H-2B visa is also a work visa. It is for temporary workers in non-agricultural employment when there are not enough qualified U.S. workers.
  • The H-2A visa is for temporary agricultural workers.

Immigrant and Permanent Visas

The United States also has dozens of types of permanent visas. Most fall into one of four categories, and many are based on your relationship to your sponsor.

  • Immediate Family Immigrant visa: A U.S. citizen may sponsor a spouse, a fiance, or an unmarried child or children under age 21. Citizens over age 21 may sponsor a parent.
  • Family Preference Immigrant visa: Immediate family of a lawful permanent resident (LPR) and certain, more distant family members of U.S. citizens may apply for this visa.
  • Employer Sponsored visas: These visas are based on the type of employment and skills required.
  • Special Immigration visas: There are several categories of visas for Iraqi and Afghan citizens who worked for or on behalf of the American government, often as translators or interpreters.

Because there are so many visa types, you may qualify for more than one. A lawyer specializing in immigration law can help you figure out the best choice for you.