For the non-immigrant visas, the main categories are given letter designations. They are: A, career diplomats; B, temporary visitors for business and pleasure; C, aliens in transit; D, crew members; E, treaty traders and investors; F, students; G, international organization representatives; H, temporary workers; I, foreign media representatives; M, students in non-academic institutions; N parents and children of special immigrants; O, aliens with extraordinary abilities; P, entertainers; Q, cultural exchange program participants; R, religious workers; and TN, for NAFTA professionals. The majority of non-immigrant 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. It is noteworthy that neither B-1 nor B-2 visa holders may accept employment in the U.S., although an alien on a B-1 may do work for a foreign company located in the U.S.
An area of non-immigrant 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. Numerical limitations exist for some non-immigrant work visas. For instance, the law limits temporary visas for professionals (H-1B category) and temporary agricultural workers (H-2A category).
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 academic high school, college, university, seminary, conservatory, or language school. Students who wish to attend vocational or nonacademic programs must enter on an M visa. The J visa covers exchange visitors such as students, scholars, trainees, teachers, professors, research assistants, and leaders in a specialized knowledge or skill. 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 and non-immigrant visas provide opportunities for foreign nationals to come to the U.S. for a wide range of purposes. Some of these visas, such as tourist visas, are relatively easy to secure and require only modest time and effort on the part of the applicant. Immigrant visas and some non-immigrant visas (particularly those authorizing employment, education, or training) are more complex and may involve extensive petitions, applications, and documentation to demonstrate the alien’s eligibility. The assistance of an experienced immigration attorney can help simplify the process for an individual or employer, and can enhance the chance that the visa application process will result in a favorable outcome.