A “visa” is a permit to travel and request entry into the United States. There are many kinds of visas. Some are temporary and are appropriate for those visiting the U.S. Other people will request an immigration visa if they intend to live in the United States permanently. In order to apply for your visa, you need to identify which type of visa you want and begin gathering necessary information. You can apply in person at your consulate or embassy, or you can apply for your visa online.
Identify the type of nonimmigrant visa you need. You can generally get a nonimmigrant visa if you want to visit the United States for a short period of time. The most common nonimmigrant visas are the following:
Business visa. This is a short-term visa you can get in order to attend a conference, consult with business associates, negotiate a contract, or settle an estate. This visa is not appropriate for someone who wants to move to the U.S. to work for a U.S. employer.
1-Tourist visa. You can get a tourist visa if you want to travel to the U.S. on vacation to sightsee or visit friends and family. You can also get a tourist visa if you are traveling to receive medical treatment or to participate in amateur musical or sporting events.
2-Check if you can apply under the Visa Waiver program. Citizens of over 30 countries can participate in the Visa Waiver program. Under this program, they can apply for electronic authorization to travel and stay in the U.S. for up to 90 days.
A list of participating countries is available at the State Department website.
3-Understand immigrant visas. If you want to settle permanently in the United States, then you should understand the process. Generally, a family member or employer must sponsor you to live in the U.S. This family member or employer will start the immigration paperwork process by filing a petition.
The immigration visa is the last step in the immigration process. Once your family member or employer has their petition approved, you need to visit your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You will apply for the immigration visa in person. This article will not describe the application process for an immigration visa.
See Obtain Green Cards for Your Family for more information on the entire immigration process. Once you move to the United States, you will get a “green card,” which is proof of your status as a legal resident.
Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa
Have pictures taken. The U.S. State Department requires that you submit a photograph of yourself. You should have it taken using a visa photo service, since there are specific requirements:
It must be in color and two inches by two inches.
The picture must have been taken in the last six months and reflect your current appearance.
The head must be between 1 and 1 and 3/8 of an inches (22-35 mm) or between 50-69% of the picture’s total height
You must directly face the camera.
The picture must have a white or off-white background.
Have both eyes open and use a neutral facial expression
Wear clothes you normally wear every day. If you wear religious clothing daily, then wear it in your photograph. However, don’t wear work uniforms.
Avoid wearing a hat unless you have a religious purpose for doing so. Your face must be visible, even if you normally cover it for religious reasons.
Avoid glare on glasses. Also don’t wear glasses with tinted lenses.
2-Gather required documents. You will need certain information in order to apply for your visa. You should gather these documents ahead of time. For example, you will need:
travel itinerary (if you have made travel arrangements)
dates for your last five trips to the United States
resume or cv
3-Visit the website. You can apply online for a nonimmigrant visa by visiting the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website. At the website, click on “DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.”
4-Select your location. You need to tell the State Department what city you are applying from. Select your city from the dropdown box. Cities are listed alphabetically in a “Country, City” format: “Australia, Perth,” for example.
5-Enter the code. You also need to correctly enter the CAPTCHA code into the box. If you can’t read the code, then click the icon and hear the code. If you want a new code, click the button “Change the CAPTCHA code.”
After entering the code, click on “Start an Application.”
6-Write down your application ID. If you look in the top right-hand corner of the page, you will see your Application ID. Before beginning on your application, you should write this number down. If you accidentally close your browser, then you can enter this ID number and continue with your application.
The program will also close if you stop working on it for 20 minutes.
7-Provide requested information. Make sure that you follow the instructions on each page. Provide all information requested. Remember the following rules as you complete the application:
Answer in English. You must use only the English alphabet. For example, you must type “Sao Paulo” and not “São Paulo.”
Check your answers once you have completed everything.
8-Upload your picture. You will be prompted to upload your picture before submitting your application. You should upload the picture in digital form. The photo upload was successful if you see your picture on your confirmation page
You will know the picture has failed to upload when you see a blank box on your confirmation page. In this situation, you will need to send a copy of your confirmation page and a printed photograph to the embassy or consulate where you will be applying for your visa.
9-Submit your application. You can sign your application by clicking on the “Sign Application” button, which serves as an electronic signature. Then submit the application. If you do not want to submit your application the day you finish it, then download a copy to your desktop and submit it within 30 days.
Make sure to print off your confirmation page. You will need this page when you visit your consulate or embassy.
10-Pay your fee. You may have to pay your fee before you can submit your application. If so, you will be prompted to make payment. It costs $160 for a visa. You may also have to pay an issuance fee, depending on your country.
Print off and save the page showing receipt of your payment. You will need this page later.
11-Schedule an interview. You need to attend an interview with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You should review the website for the embassy or consulate in the city where you are applying from. They may have special instructions for scheduling interviews. Be sure to contact the office.
You can check the wait time for interviews by visiting the State Department website. Enter your city and then press “enter.”
12-Attend your interview. At the interview, an officer will determine if you are eligible for a visa. You will also have to take ink-free digital fingerprint scans either during the interview or afterwards, depending on the office you interview at. To prepare for the interview, take the following:
your confirmation page
one printed picture
fee payment receipt (if you have already paid before the interview)
information on your trip to the U.S.
proof that you can pay all of the costs of your trip (required by some consulates)
13-Check the status of your application. You can check the status by contacting the consulate or embassy where you filed your application. If you applied while in the U.S., then call the Office of Visa Services at 1-202-485-7600.
14-Apply in person instead. You can avoid the hassle of applying for a nonimmigrant visa online by stopping into a consulate or embassy and applying in person. Be sure to bring helpful documentation and an ability to pay.
You will also need to bring at least one acceptable photograph of yourself.
Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver
1-Visit the website. You can apply for permission to travel under the Visa Waiver program by visiting the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) website. Once at the website, click “New Application” to start your application.
2-Read the information. The screen will tell you the requirements for applying for electronic authorization. Make sure you meet all of the requirements. Then click on either “Individual Application” or “Group Application.”
Read several screens of disclaimer information and select “Yes” for each screen.
3-Enter the requested information. You must provide personal information as well as information about your stay in the United States. You should have your passport handy so that you can answer all of the questions.
At step five, you will have an opportunity to review all of your information. Review it carefully. If you need to edit something, click the “Edit” button on the section that contains the erroneous information.
4-Pay your fee. The final step is to pay your fee. You need to use a valid credit card in order to pay the $14 fee per application. You may also use PayPal, if you prefer.
5-Check your status. Usually, you will receive an immediate status update. However, sometimes it takes more time to review your application. In this situation, you may need to wait up to 72 hours before receiving a decision.
You might not be authorized to travel under the Visa Waiver program. If you are not approved, then you will need to apply for a nonimmigrant visa through the Department of State.
You can always check your status by returning to the website and clicking on “Check ESTA Status” and then on “Individual Application.” You should have your passport number, application number, and birth date handy so that you can retrieve the status of your application.