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Visa Categories for San Francisco

Are you dreaming of moving to San Francisco, the cultural hub of the Bay Area, and of waking up to the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge? There’s more to the City by the Bay than California’s liberal culture. With our guide on moving to San Francisco, you’ll learn about the climate, visas, and public transportation.
Once you have secured a visa, you can enjoy your life in the City by the Bay.

According to recent news reports, people from various countries, including those with a valid visa and residence permit, have encountered difficulties when entering the United States. Unfortunately, the full extent of those issues seems to be unclear. Before you decide to move or travel there, or leave the country temporarily if already living in the USA, please consult a US embassy and an immigration lawyer if you fear you might be affected.


US immigration authorities distinguish between immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas for expats moving to the United States. There are several visas in each category, the most typical of which will be explained below.

For a Temporary Relocation: Nonimmigrant Visas

Nonimmigrant visas are for expats thinking of moving to the US for only a limited period of time. The type of visa you need depends on the purpose of your stay.

Specialty Occupations (H-1B)

The H-1B visa is for expats working in a specialty occupation or doing research and development in cooperation with the Department of Defense. Additionally, fashion models of international renown also fall into this category.

To obtain an H-1B visa, your occupation must require a bachelor’s degree, an equivalent thereof, or even higher education. Initially, the maximum duration of your stay on this visa is three years, but it can potentially be extended up to six years.

Executives and Managers (L-1A)

If you are being sent to San Francisco by your current employer to assume an executive or managerial role, you may be able to obtain an L-1A visa. To qualify, you must have been with your company for at least one year before your transfer to the US.

The visa is valid for one year if you are sent to set up a new office in San Francisco. If, on the other hand, you are sent to work in an existing San Francisco-based branch of your company, the visa is valid for three years. It can, however, be extended up to seven years.

Expats with Extraordinary Abilities (O-1)

The O-1 visa is for expats who have reached national or international acclaim, recognition, or distinction in the field of science, education, business, sports, or arts. For example, extraordinarily successful athletes or TV producers can apply for this visa.

This visa will allow you to work in San Francisco for a period of three years, and can potentially be extended by another year.

Treaty Traders (E-1)

To enter the US on a treaty trader visa, you must originate from one of the countries that maintain a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States. In addition, you must engage in substantial trade with the US.

After the initial two years, there is no limit to the number of extensions that can be granted as long as you qualify. Dependents of E-1 visa holders can also apply for dependent visas to tag along to San Francisco.

Temporary Visitors (B-1 and VWP)

Expats who need to stay in the US no more than six months can apply for a B-1 visa. This visa gives you the freedom to conduct any activities of a commercial or professional nature. If your home country is part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), however, you are exempt from needing a visa at all as long as your stay will not exceed 90 days.

Please note, though, that even if you are free to travel to the US under the VWP, you need to register prior to your arrival in the US. This is done by applying for an ESTA via the Department of Homeland Security.

Here to Stay: Immigrant Visas

If you are planning to work in the US on a permanent basis, you will need an immigrant visa. There are five different preference categories for such employment-based immigration, namely EB-1 through EB-5.

In most cases, your prospective US employer has to prove to the Department of Labor that no equally qualified workers were available in the US to fill your future position. The company also has to show that hiring you will not compromise the wages or working conditions of US workers in similar positions. This only applies to some of the preference categories, however. Visit the USCIS for detailed information on permanent workers.

For more comprehensive information on applying for a US visa and the different visa categories, visit our Visa & Administration section in the USA Extended Guide.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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