Temporary Visas

Nonimmigrant visas are for international travelers (citizens of foreign countries, also commonly referred to as “foreign nationals”), coming to the U.S. temporarily.  “Temporarily” does not always mean for a short period of time, but it does mean that the foreign national will go back to his or her home country or obtain Green Card, he/she wants stay permanently in the U.S.  Most common nonimmigrant visas include:

B-1/B-2 (Visitors) E-1 (Treaty Trader) E-2 (Treaty Investor) F-1 (Student) F-2 (Spouse or Child of a Student)
H-1B (Temporary Worker) H-1B1 (Temporary Worker from Chile or Singapore) E-3 (Temporary Worker from Australia) H-3 (Trainee) H-4 (Spouse or Child of H-1B Worker)
J-1 (Exchange Visitor) J-2 (Spouse or Child of J-1 Visitor) K-1 (Fiance(e) of a US Citizen) K-3 (Spouse of a US Citizen) L-1A (Intracompany Transferee – Manager/Executive)
L-1B (Intracompany Transferee – Specialist) O-1 (Extraordinary Ability) O-3 (Spouse of Child of O-1 Visa Holder) R-1 (Religious Worker) R-2 (Spouse of Child of Religious Worker)
TN-1 (NAFTA – Canadian Worker) TN-2 (NAFTA – Mexican Worker) Visa Waiver

The visa, placed in foreign national’s passport when issued.  It allows visa holder to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (typically, an airport) and request permission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer to enter the U.S. A visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S.

The validity of the visa does not affect how long a foreign national is allowed to stay in the U.S., once admitted into the country.  This is determined by the CPB officer at the time of entry.  For example, if a foreign national was issued a B-1/B-2 visa valid for ten (10) years, he or she may only be allowed to stay a few months (typically 1, 3 or 6 months) at a time.  Once the stay expires, the foreign national must leave the country or apply for extension or change of status, if applicable.  This same B-1/B-2 visa, if issued for multiple entries, may be used to enter the U.S. later during the ten (10) year validity period.

On the other hand, if the foreign national uses this same B-1/B-2 visa to enter the U.S. during the last few days of its validity, he or she may still be allowed to stay a few months upon entry into the U.S., without regard for the fact that the visa would have already been expired while the foreign national remains in the U.S. in legal nonimmigrant status.

The situation described above illustrates the difference between a U.S. visa and immigration status.  The visa is nothing more than a travel document.  It allows foreign national to present himself/herself to the CPB officer upon arrival to the U.S. and ask for permission to enter the US.  Immigration status (typically, it corresponds to the type of visa used to enter the country, i.e. B-1 visa – B-1 status) is what determines how long a foreign national is allowed to remain in the U.S.

Immigration status can obtained either by way of entering the U.S. with a visa, through change of status (from one category to another, for example, from B-1 to F-1) or through extension of status (for example if B-1 status given upon entry into the U.S. is about to expire, foreign national may apply for and obtain extension of status).