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Visas and Passports in the United States Of America

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2013

Many people in the world want to live in the USA. However, few prospective immigrants are allowed into the country legally, leading to high numbers of illegal immigrants in the country (estimated at 12 million.)  To keep further illegal immigrants out, US immigration procedures are strict.

To enter the United States from overseas you will need a valid passport, or an equivalent travel document if you are a stateless person or refugee.  Passports and other travel documents must be valid for the entire period of your stay. In the states of Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah, if you are suspected of being an illegal immigrant, you may be detained. In these states, it is probably best keep your passport with you at all times.

Visa Types

In addition to a valid passport, you need a valid visa to immigrate into the US. There are two broad divisions of US visa – immigrant and non-immigrant. Immigrant visas are for people wanting to take up indefinite residence in the USA; examples of the main types of these visas are given below.

Immediate Relative (IR) visas, for close family members of a US citizen:

  • IR-1:  for a US citizen’s spouse;
  • IR-2: for an unmarried under-21 child of a US citizen;
  • IR-5: for a parent of a US citizen who is 21 or older;
  • Family Preference (F) visas, for more distant family members;
  • F1: for unmarried children (aged 21 or over) of US citizens, and their underage children;
  • F2: for spouses, unmarried children (aged 21 or over) and underage children of US permanent residents.

More information on immigrant visa types can be found here: https://travel.state.gov/visa/immigrants/types/types_1326.html. Note also that we have an article on the new US Investor Visa.

Visa Application

The first stage of applying for an immigration visa involves finding a sponsor who is normally resident in the US. The sponsor can either be your prospective employer, or a close relative who is a US citizen or permanent resident. Note that, under US law, a same-sex spouse can be considered a close relative.Your sponsor then needs to file an immigrant visa petition at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). There are several types of petition, for example the ‘Petition for Alien Relative’ is I-130.

As an alternative, you can apply to enter the Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, which works in a similar way to the green card lottery, detailed in the Settlement, Residence and Citizenship section.

There are other visa application requirements. If your sponsor is if a close relative, they will also need to prove that they can support you. They will need to supply bank statements and proof of employment and income. In addition, you will need to undergo a full medical examination and digital fingerprinting, performed by an authorised doctor.

Once the petition has been approved, it will be passed on to the National Visa Center, who will send a letter to you giving the date for an interview. You must take your completed visa application form (available are in English only), and the following documents to the interview:

  • valid passport (with at least one blank page)
  • passport-sized photo
  • payment of visa fee
  • medical examination report

Once the form is filled in and all the documents are copied and signed in, the US embassy will process your application. There is no guarantee that you will be granted a visa, as the USA has some very strict rules about who is allowed one. For example, if you admit in the interview that you have ever having taken cannabis or any other illegal drug, you will not be allowed to set foot in the United States. 

Furthermore, a visa only proves that you are a suitable candidate for entry into the US. The immigration officer at the port of entry has the final say about whether you will actually be allowed to enter or not.

 

 

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