The United States government offers numerous different types of visas for all foreign nationals planning to visit the US. However, to make things more simple, we can divide all of them into three groups.
The first group of US visas is the non-immigrant category that was designed for all travelers who need to visit this country for tourism, business, transit, or other purposes. The intended stay in the US is not supposed be too long and the foreigner should not seek permanent residency while on this visa type.
The second group is the immigrant visa category, which serves as the first step in obtaining a US green card. Children with specific immigrant visa types are granted processing of the citizenship certificate. However, all adults receive an evidence of permanent residency valid for one year, and later on, their application for the green card is considered.
Lastly, future visitors to the US have one more option to choose from, provided they are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program. This service is the most flexible and the easiest one of all of the available visas.
Read on to learn more about the regular US visa types and the electronic alternative ESTA that operates under the VW program.
|Visa Type||Visa Category||Online||USCIS||Embassy||SEVIS||DOL|
|Visitor Visa||B1, B2||Partially||No||Yes||No||No|
|Diplomat/FG* Official Visa||A||Partially||No||Varies||No||No|
|DIO*/NATO Employee Visa||G, NATO||Partially||No||Varies||No||No|
|Temporary Worker Visa||H, L, O, P, Q||Partially||No||Varies||Varies||Varies|
|NAFTA Professional Worker Visa (Canada, Mexico)||TN/TD||Partially||No||Yes||No||No|
|Religious Worker Visa||R||Partially||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Student Visa||F, M||Partially||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Treaty Trader/ Investor||E||Partially||No||Yes||No||No|
|Victim of Criminal Activity/Human Trafficking||U, T||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Spouse/Children of an LPR||V||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Visa Waiver Program||ESTA||Yes||No||No||No||No|
*USCIS: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency
*SEVIS: Student and Exchange Visitor Information System
*DOL: United States Department of Labor
*FG: Foreign Government
*DIO: Designated International Organization
Immigrant visas can be divided into four main categories and these are the following:
- Immediate Relative and Family Sponsored
- Employer Sponsored: Employment
- Diversity Immigrant
- Returning Resident
All immigrant US visa types must be applied for either at the USCIS or an Embassy. The only exception is the Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV), which you can apply for electronically.
Non-immigrant US visa category
There are dozens of non-immigrant US visas available for all foreign nationals that plan on traveling to the USA. Usually are handled at an Embassy/Consulate, USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) agency, or other institution.
The process always requires attending a visa interview during which the consular officer makes sure that your visit to the USA will be valid. You must prepare the necessary documents that justify your stay in the country and prove that you will leave the US once your stay is over, e.g., by providing the copy of the return ticket.
Immigrant US visa category
The immigrant visa serves for one year of residency in the US and must be followed by an application for the Green Card to become the Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States.
The LPRs can then apply for immigrant visas for their family members and become their sponsor/petitioner.
For most visa types that fall into this category, the applications must be made at the USCIS or at an Embassy. The applicants must go through a visa interview and justify their petition.
Visa Waiver Program: ESTA
Visa Waiver Program is dedicated to foreign nationals of all the eligible countries. These citizens can apply for an entry permit that is obtainable entirely online!
ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is an e-Visa that stays valid for whole 2 years and allows its holders numerous visits to the US.
If your country is listed above, you can make an online application for ESTA within minutes from home or any other place! The approved entry permit will arrive directly at your e-mail address in a PDF form within a maximum of 72 hours (3 business days).
No visits to the Embassy nor a Consulate, no stressful visa interviews! That is primarly the reason why so many foreigners choose this entry permit to enter the United States for tourism, business, and transit purposes.
ESTA characteristics and benefits
The ESTA application process takes just a few minutes to complete and can be done on any working device with an internet connection. The only requirement to apply for ESTA USA is to have a valid passport that will not expire for at least 6 months from the planned date of arrival.
See what other ESTA characteristics should you know about below:
- costs 49 Euro
- expires after 2 years from issuing
- serves as a multiple-entry permit
- allows each visit to the US to be as long as 90 days (three months) at a time
- average ESTA processing time is just 24 hours
- does not require visiting an Embassy, Consulate, nor attending a visa interview
If your country of citizenship is listed as eligible for ESTA, i.e., takes part in the US Visa Waiver Program and you plan to enter the United States only for tourism, business, or transit purposes for up to three months at a time, get your ESTA online.
ESTA saves travelers not only time, energy, hassle, and money, but also a lot of stress connected to visiting an Embassy or other institution and undergoing a visa interview.
If you plan on immigrating to the USA or do not fall under the VWP category, make sure to visit the US Embassy website to get more information regarding the specific visa type that you should use.