What is a Visa?
A visa is issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Having a U.S. visa allows you to travel to a port of entry and request permission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector to enter the U.S. While having a visa does not guarantee entry to the U.S., it does indicate a consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad has determined you are eligible to seek entry for that specific purpose. However, DHS/CBP inspectors are responsible for admission of travelers to the U.S., for a specified status and period of time. DHS also has responsibility for immigration matters while you are present in the U.S.
Who Needs a Visa?
Most individuals travelling to the United States require a visa. However, some individuals may travel without a visa on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Additionally, based on a bilateral agreement, in certain circumstances, many Bahamians and citizens of the British Overseas Territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands (PDF 65.3KB) do not require a visa.
Please note: Travelers born in the United States and those who hold dual citizenship with the United States must enter and depart the United States on a U.S. passport.
What types of Visas are Available?
- Nonimmigrant: A Nonimmigrant visa is required by anyone seeking temporary admission into the United States who is not eligible to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program, or is not exempt from the visa requirement. Nonimmigrant visas cover visits for tourism, business, work or study.
- Immigrant: An immigrant visa is required by anyone seeking to take up indefinite or permanent residence in the United States. Upon entry into the United States, an immigrant visa holder is processed for a Permanent Resident Card (PRC) commonly known as a green card.
Illustration - Reading and Understanding a Visa (PDF 76.4KB)
For information on what the visa expiration date means and/or the length of time that you will be able to stay in the U.S., please visit the Department's website.
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