Nonimmigrant Visas

American immigration law classifies visas issued to foreign nationals into two categories: nonimmigrant visas and immigrant visas. U.S. embassies and consulates (“diplomatic posts”) issue nonimmigrant visas to foreign nationals, who wish to visit the United States temporarily. The different nonimmigrant visas encompass multiple reasons why a foreign national may wish to enter the United States: tourism (B-2); visits with family (B-2); brief educational endeavors, longer educational purposes, and internships (F-1, M-1, J-1); legally-authorized employment (H-1B, L-1, O, R-1, TN), business investment purposes (E-1 & E-2), and additional reasons.   

E-1 VISA (Treaty Trader) and E-2 VISA (Treaty Investor)

Foreign nationals may wish to pursue business activity within America. The United States and multiple nations entered into treaties to facilitate trade and investment. A treaty must govern commerce and navigation between the United States and the foreign nation. An applicant for an E-1 visa or E-2 visa must satisfy multiple legal criteria before obtaining these visas. The E-1 and E-2 visas differ. The E-1 visa focuses upon substantial trade between the United States and the E-1 applicant’s nation; an applicant intending to conduct business only in the U.S. domestic market, with no direct trade occurring with the E-1 applicant’s nation, may not qualify for an E-1 visa. In contrast to the E-1 visa, obtaining an E-2 visa does not require that an applicant demonstrate that the E-2 business will conduct substantial trade between the United States and the foreign nation.     


The United States Government authorizes a few different H visas for foreign nationals to work in the United States. A few examples of the different types of H visas:

  • H-1B visas for foreign nationals who will work in a specialty occupation, a project with the U.S. Defense Department, or fashion model;
  • H-1C visas for registered nurses;
  • H-2A visas for foreign nationals who will provide agricultural labor;
  • H-2B visas available to foreign nationals who will perform other temporary services or labor; and
  • H-3 visas for a trainee (not graduate medical education) or a foreign national participating in a special education exchange visitor program.

Generally, the H visas require that the employer receive certification from the U.S. Labor Department and that USCIS approve a petition filed by the employer or academic institution. Employers filing petitions for H-1B beneficiaries must apply for H-1B registration during the open time period. Employers may only file petitions for H-2A and H-2B beneficiaries from certain nations.


A foreign national may obtain a K-1 visa when a United States citizen fiancé/fiancée wishes to marry a noncitizen fiancé/fiancée. A K-1 visa may benefit a couple when the couple intend to live in the United States, which naturally includes the noncitizen fiancé/fiancée moving to the United States. After the noncitizen fiancé/fiancée’s admission into America, the couple must marry within a particular timeframe. Once married, the K-1 fiancé/fiancée may then apply for lawful permanent residency (“adjustment of status”) on a conditional basis since the couple have not been married for more than 2 years. After Customs and Border Protection admits a K-1 beneficiary into the United States, she or he becomes eligible to request a work authorization document from USCIS.  


A K-3 visa differs from the K-1 visa. A foreign national fiancé/fiancée receives a K-1 visa. In contrast, U.S. diplomatic posts issue K-3 visas to an U.S. citizen’s foreign national spouse. A married couple may wish to consider the K-3 visa when the couple do not want to remain separated while petitioning for an immigrant visa. Stated differently, a married couple should consider the K-3 visa when the foreign national spouse wishes to reside in the United States while waiting for USCIS to approve a pending immigrant visa petition (I-130 Petition & I-130A Form). An American citizen spouse cannot file a K-3 petition for a foreign national spouse before filing an immigrant visa petition for that spouse.


After Customs and Border Protection admits a nonimmigrant visa beneficiary into America, life events and challenges may require that a foreign national remain in the United States beyond the last day of authorized stay located on the I-94 Form. When encountering these life events, a foreign national may request that USCIS extend her or his stay in the United States. Just as life events may require an extension of stay, life events may motivate a foreign national’s desire to remain in America beyond the typical authorized stay for a B-1 or B-2 beneficiary. Some nonimmigrant categories may change status to a different nonimmigrant category under certain circumstances.