Friday, December 11, 2009

Immigration 101: Nonimmigrant Visas

Up until now, I have been discussing how people can come to the U.S. permanently. Now, I will discuss how people can visit the U.S. for various reasons, such as visiting for pleasure, to go to school, to work, or as an ambassador or foreign head of state, among many others. These visas generally require application to either USCIS or the U.S. Department of State, depending on the visa type. If approved, the immigrant must get the visa from DOS and then apply for admission at a port of entry, where a CBP officer makes the final determination. Most of these visas require the alien to prove they intend to actually leave the U.S. after their stated purpose for the visit is complete, usually by proof they are maintaining a foreign residence--though most illegal aliens are here because they overstayed their welcome on a nonimmigrant visa.

In the following sections, I will discuss some of the more important visas.

B Visas

B visas are available to visitors for pleasure or for business (but not for working). They can be obtained by application to DOS and are good for up to a year. Visitors from certain countries are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, which means they can just show up in the U.S. without applying beforehand. This program reduces the maximum authorized stay to only 90 days, and using it limits your right to fight deportation or to adjust your status.

Student Visas

Student visas (usually an F-1 or J-1 visa, but also sometimes an M-1) are issued to students who want to attend schools in the U.S. (The J visa can be for other purposes as well.) The F-1 is an exception to the general rules, because it is not issued after application to USCIS or DOS, but instead obtained by application to the school the alien wants to attend. In all cases, the alien must prove they have all the financial resources necessary to complete the schooling. The visa is good as long as the student is still attending school and isn't violating their status by doing such things as engaging in unauthorized employment.

With the J visa, the student's education is often paid for by a non-profit organization or the alien's home country, in which case the alien is required to go back to their home country for at least two years to use their education at home. There is a waiver available for this requirement commonly used by doctors, which requires them to practice medicine in an under-served location in the U.S. for a period of three years. This is why many smaller towns and rural areas will get foreign doctors who only stick around for three years.

The F visa has a relatively new and somewhat controversial addition called Optional Practical Training, which allows the alien to work in the United States for up to a year to develop their skills after finishing their education. Critics contend this is a back-door extension of an H-1B visa.

H-1B Visas

The highly-controversial H-1B visa is intended for employers to employ aliens in "specialty occupations" within the U.S. for a period up to three years, which can be extended for another three, although exceptions to the maximum may apply if the employer is in the process of trying to bring the alien in permanently. The Wikipedia article explains some aspects fairly well:
The regulations define a “specialty occupation” as requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field of human endeavor[1] including, but not limited to, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, biotechnology, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology, and the arts, and requiring the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent as a minimum[2] (with the exception of fashion models, who must be "of distinguished merit and ability".)[3] Likewise, the foreign worker must possess at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent and state licensure, if required to practice in that field.
One of the reasons the H-1B is controversial is that in most cases the employer doesn't have to prove they tried to hire someone in the U.S. before hiring the alien.


This should have given you an overview of three important ways aliens can visit the U.S. I haven't decided what specific issue to look at next, so you'll be surprised.

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