A citizen of a foreign country who seeks to enter the United States (U.S.) generally must first obtain a U.S. visa, which is placed in the traveler’s passport, a travel document issued by the traveler’s country of citizenship. Certain international travelers may be eligible to travel to the U.S. without a visa if they meet the requirements for visa-free travel. The Visa section of this website is all about U.S. visas for foreign citizens to travel to the U.S.
The type of visa required depends on the reason for your visit.
Nonimmigrant visas: What is a nonimmigrant visa?
A nonimmigrant visa is permission to apply to enter the United States. A visa is issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and entitles the holder to travel to the United States and apply for admission. A Consular Officer decides whether an applicant is qualified for a visa. The visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to a port-of-entry in the United States, such as an international airport, seaport or land border crossing. At the port-of-entry, an officer of the Department of Homeland Security decides whether to allow the applicant to enter and how long he/she may stay. For more information on visas please visit the Consular Affairs website.
Citizens of certain countries may be able to travel without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) if they meet certain conditions. All VWP travelers should be aware that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced implementation of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which began to accept voluntary ESTA applications starting on August 1, 2008. ESTA is a fully automated, electronic system for screening passengers before they begin travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel to the United States, and VWP travelers are encouraged to apply for authorization as soon as they begin to plan a trip to the United States. ESTA will become mandatory for VWP travelers from newly admitted VWP countries on November 17, 2008, and for VWP travelers from all VWP member countries on January 12, 2009. Learn more about ESTA, including how to apply for authorization, on the DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website. Review the Interim Final Rule on the DHS main website.
Immigrant visas: What is an immigrant visa?
An immigrant visa is required by anyone seeking to permanently reside in the United States. In general, a close family member or an employer must file a petition in the United States with the Department of Homeland Security to establish an applicant’s eligibility for an immigrant visa. Recipients of immigrant visas are entitled to apply for “green cards” upon arrival in the United States and may work there. Those seeking to become naturalized U.S. citizens may file an application after five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen).
Diversity visas: Every year, the Department of State awards 50,000 immigrant visas to participants in the Diversity Visa Lottery. Citizens of Macedonia and habitual residents of Kosovo are eligible to apply, but must meet certain education and work experience requirements in order to qualify.
Ask the Consul [pdf 68.1kb]: The United States remains a popular destination for business, tourism, study, and temporary work. Unfortunately, many misconceptions and myths exist about U.S. visa policy. That's why we want to speak directly to you about the policies and procedures for U.S. visitor visas. In our “Ask the Consul” column, our goal is to answer your questions about traveling to the United States, be it as a tourist, businessperson, student, or legal permanent resident.
Lost and Stolen Passports, Visas, and Arrival-Departure Records (Form I-94)
Passports, Visas, and Arrival-Departure Records (Form I-94) are official travel documents that foreign citizens coming to the United States must have in their possession to show their country of citizenship and legal status in the U.S. We encourage travelers to make a copy of their passport biographic page, their U.S. visa and their Form I-94 as soon as possible after their arrival in the U.S.
If you are a foreign citizen temporarily in the United States, and you lose your U.S. visa, you can remain for the duration of your authorized stay, as shown on your Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94). You will need a valid passport to depart the United States and to enter another country. Your I-94 is needed as you depart the U.S., to document that you are departing by the required date. If your passport with your I-94 are lost or stolen, you must get them replaced immediately. Click here to read about the steps needed to be taken.