New York at a Glance
New York: Visa Categories and ApplicationFotolia
Ellis Island: the first thing many European immigrants saw of New York.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services distinguish between immigrant and non-immigrant visas. The former group includes five preference categories for employment-based immigration, EB 1-5, and the famous Green Card, officially called the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. More information on the Green Card Lottery can be found on the Travel.State.Gov website, a service provided by the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
The preference categories EB 2, 3 and 4 are for people with high qualifications and/or special skills required for a particular job in the US. The onus of proof, so to speak, lies with the prospective employer, who has to obtain an approved Labor Certification from the US Department of Labor.
This certification must show that firstly, no US citizen is currently available to fill the vacant position. Secondly, working conditions and wages of US citizens in similar jobs may not be adversely affected by hiring an overseas worker. This rule does not apply to academics, executives of multinational companies, outstanding artists, internationally renowned athletes and foreign investors (EB 1 and 5).
There are numerous categories of non-immigrant visas which are listed and explained in detail on the USCIS website. Most of them are initially limited to a period of three years and cater to people in Specialty Occupations (H 1B) or Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement (O 1).
The most popular category is E 1, a visa for Treaty Traders and their employees. It can be prolonged indefinitely and automatically grants accompanying family members the right to work. To qualify for this visa, applicants or their employer must be nationals of a Treaty country and carry out principal and substantial trade with the USA.
Temporary business visitors who qualify for entry into the US under the Visa Waiver Program do not need to apply for a visa, but have to register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to arrival. They need a valid, machine-readable passport, and their stay is limited to six months. Nationals of all other countries need a visa every time they enter the United States.
Applying for a Visa
While immigrant visas are processed at the National Visa Center, applications for non-immigrant visas are usually dealt with at a US Embassy or Consulate in the applicant´s home country. However, most categories require the applicant´s prospective or current employer to file a petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services first.
As mentioned above, an approved Labor Certification from the US Department of Labor might be required as well. As soon as the applicant receives his or her approved Form I-129 petition, a personal interview should be arranged at their nearest US Embassy or Consulate, using the receipt number printed on the petition.
Form DS-160 (Online Non-Immigrant Visa Application) must be completed before the interview and presented together with the applicant´s valid passport and one 2x2 photograph.