Before a foreign visitor can enter the U.S.A. in a nonimmigrant status, he or she must obtain a visa from a U.S. consulate located outside the United States. This rule applies to all foreign nationals except Canadians and a few others groups. This exemption covers Canadian citizens only (an identical exemption covering Canadian landed immigrants was recently revoked as discussed below). A Canadian citizen does not obtain a visa, but rather presents himself or herself to the immigration officer at the border (either a land crossing point or an international airport). At the border, the Canadian nonimmigrant documents that he or she is eligible for admission to the U.S. as a nonimmigrant by presenting to the immigration officer the same type of documentation as other nationals do to U.S. consulates. The one exception to this procedure relates to Canadian nationals seeking E status under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) who must apply for an E visa at the U.S. consulate in Canada.
Another class of nonimmigrant exempted from the visa requirement includes nationals of selected countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). This special program permits the arrival of aliens without a visa of they are citizens of certain designated countries visiting the United States in the B category (for tourists and short-term business visitors). The program was established for nationals of countries with good “track records” of tourists and business persons who abide by the terms of their admission to the United States and do not work or overstay their visits. Citizens of 27 countries have been included in the program –Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Periods of stay are limited to 90 days, and other limitations apply as well; if the foreign national ‘s plans can be fitted within 90-day limit and other restrictions, however, the convenience and time-savings of avoiding obtaining a B visa at the U.S. consulate can be a significant advantage.In January 2003, the Immigration Service and State Department issued rules that require landed immigrants of Canada from the British Commonwealth countries to obtain nonimmigrant visas in order to enter the United States. The new regulations took effect on March 17, 2003. The rules provide that permanent residents of Canada (commonly referred to as landed immigrants) having a common nationality with Canadian nationals or residents of Bermuda who share a common nationality with British subjects in Bermuda mist present a valid passport and visa when applying for admission to the United States. Nationals of Ireland and British Commonwealth countries, who reside in Canada, will be affected by this change. Permanent residents of Canada or Bermuda who are nationals of a designated visa waiver program (VWP) country who present a valid passport may still be admitted under the VWP. The rule will not alter existing waivers of passport or visa requirements for Canadian citizens of for citizens of Bermuda, now referred to as “Citizens of the Overseas Territory of Bermuda.” Nationals of 54 countries who reside in Canada or Bermuda have benefited from the waiver and these individuals will now need to obtain nonimmigrant visas to enter the United States, unless they are entering for less than 90 days as short-term visitors for business or pleasure and are eligible to enter under the Visa Waiver Program. In light of the new policy, the U.S. Embassy in Canada has outlined visa procedures for Canadian landed immigrants who are affected by the new policy.
Foreign nationals seeking nonimmigrant visas must file an application at a U.S. consular post abroad. The application package consists of Form DS- 156, or DS-160 (Electronic filing) Special Supplements (field in particular cases), the applicant’s passport and photograph, application fees (based on reciprocity), fee for issuance of machine readable visa, evidence of approval of petition or certification from sponsoring institution (when required) , and supporting documentation establishing eligibility for type of visa sought.
State Department rules provide that a nonimmigrant visa application can be made at any visa-issuing U.S. consulate, not just a consulate in the alien’s home country. In practice, however, aliens who are nationals of countries with a high rate of visa refusals and overstays may find it difficult to have a visa issued at consulates in third countries. In addition, certain nonimmigrant visa applicants are required by law to submit their applications at a consulate located in the country of the alien’s nationality. The requirements is applicable to an applicant who was issued a nonimmigrant visa in the past, was admitted on the basis of that nonimmigrant visa, and remained in the United States beyond the period of stay authorized by the USCIS. Absent extraordinary circumstances the applicant is not eligible for further nonimmigrant visa issuance except in the country of the alien’s nationality. Applications for E visas field by third country of the also unlikely to be adjudicated. The reasons for this is that E visa applications present complex issues that often are best examined by the consulate located in the alien’s home country.The individual visa application must be submitted according to the post’s established procedures, e.g., via mail, in person, via courier, etc. Once a visa application has been field, the consular officer will review the application and the supporting documentation to determine the alien’s eligibility for the nonimmigrant visa sought. The next step is the visa interview with the visa applicant (unless the requirement is waived). The consular official will also run security checks on the applicant through government database. It should be noted that a number of new State Department Security procedures have been established in recent years. Foreign nationals may find themselves subject to additional security clearances, lengthier and more frequent personal interviews at consulates or embassies, biometrics collection, and additional documentary requirements. Since staffing has not increased, the wait to get a visa issued has grown as a result of these new procedures. If the officer can make a determination on the visa application based on the papers submitted and the interview, it is possible that the visa can be issued the same day as the interview (provided all security clearances have been completed by the date of the interview). If more information is requested by the officer or the security clearances have not been completed, the applicant will have to return, either for another interview or to have the visa issued. While the nonimmigrant visa has traditionally taken the form of a visa stamp placed in the alien’s passport all consulates now issue machine-readable visas. The number of entries and the period of validity of the visa depend on the visa category and the visa applicant’s nationality, as the maximum period of validity and numbers of entries are set on the basis of reciprocity between the U.S. and the foreign state.