Generally, a foreigner who wants to come to the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The visitor visa is a nonimmigrant visa for persons desiring to enter the United States temporarily for business (B-1) or for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2).  Travelers from certain eligible countries may also be able to visit the U.S. without a visa, through the Visa Waiver Program. Read more about how to participate in the Visa Waiver Program

Applicants for visitor visas must show that they qualify under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The presumption in the law is that every visitor visa applicant is an "intending immigrant." Therefore, applicants for visitor visas must overcome this presumption by proving their true intent is merely TO VISIT and come home again.  They do this by demonstrating that:

  • The purpose of their trip is to enter the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment;
  • They plan to remain for a specific, limited period; and
  • They have a residence outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit [This is a touch element since many "visitors" overstay their visas and do not return home, so there is a great prejudice against issuing such a visa. You must show strong equitable reasons why you will return home at the end of your visit].

Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States . Immigration authorities have the authority to deny admission, and determine the period for which the bearer of a visitor visa is authorized to remain in the United States .

At the port of entry, an Immigration official must authorize the traveler's admission to the U.S. At that time the Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted, is stamped.
Back to Top


F-Academic Students and M-Vocational Students Requirements

The Immigration and Nationality Act provides two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the United States. The "F" visa is reserved for nonimmigrants wishing to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs, and the "M" visa is reserved for nonimmigrants wishing to pursue nonacademic or vocational studies.  The J visa is also used like a student visa because it allows a person to come in as a visiting professor, researcher, or foreign medical graduate who will perform his residency in the U.S.

Foreign students seeking to study in the U.S.may enter in the F-1 or M-1 category provided they meet the following criteria:

  • The student must be enrolled in an "academic" educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program;
  • The school must be approved by CIS;
  • The student must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution;
  • The student must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency;
  • The student must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study; and
  • The student must maintain a residence abroad which he/she has no intention of giving up.  
  • The student must pay a SEVIS fee  now of $30.00.

The Student Exchange and Visitors Program [SEVP] will facilitate and automate several processes affecting foreign students, such as Visa issuance ; admissions to the U.S.; benefit requests; and information reporting.

As of November 30, 1996, aliens are prohibited from receiving an F-1 student visa if the alien was coming to attend a public elementary school, grades Kindergarten through 8, or a publicly-funded adult education program. Students in grades 9 through 12 must pay the unsubsidized, per capita cost of education in advance to be eligible for an F-1 student visa and are limited to a period not to exceed one year.

The Immigration and Nationality Act defines the F-1 non-immigrant alien as one who has not abandoned their residence in a foreign country and who is a bona fide student coming temporarily and solely to the United States to pursue a course of study at a recognized institution of education approved by the Attorney General to accept foreign students. Back to Top

J Visitors

The Exchange Visitor Program is to enhance understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through educational and cultural exchanges. The "J" exchange visitor program is designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences. Participants include students at all academic levels; trainees obtaining on-the-job training with firms, institutions, and agencies; teachers of primary, secondary, and specialized schools; professors coming to teach or do research at institutions of higher learning; research scholars; professional trainees in the medical and allied fields; and international visitors coming for the purpose of traveling, observing, consulting, conducting research, training, sharing, or demonstrating specialized knowledge or skills, or participating in organized people-to-people programs.

The eligible participant shall not be a candidate for a tenure track position. Also, professor and research scholar participants may not be in the United States in J-visa status for any part of the 12-month period preceding the start date of their programs, indicated on their Form DS-2019. The 12-month bar is waived if the participant is 1) present in the United States no more than six months; or 2) participating in the Short-Term Scholar category.

At the discretion of the responsible officer, professors may freely engage in research and research scholars may freely engage in teaching and lecturing; this will not be considered a change of category. Incidental lectures or short-term consultations are permitted with the approval of the responsible officer so long as they are directly related to the objectives of the participant's program, and do not delay its completion date. Please consult the regulations for details.

The maximum duration for both categories is three years. The responsible officer may extend a participant's program for up to six months to allow the research scholar or professor to complete a specific project or research activity. Extensions for a period longer than six months must be approved in writing by the Department of State. The responsible officer should submit a written request to the Department on behalf of the participant, no less than 60 days prior to the expiration of the participant's permitted three-year period. 

Through this category, foreign medical graduates may pursue graduate medical education or training at accredited schools of medicine or scientific institutions. Program participants in this category are sponsored solely by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).

To be eligible, foreign medical graduates must meet several criteria including, but not limited to, the following. They must have adequate prior education and training, and pass any of several qualifying exams, identified in the regulations. Competency in oral and written English is required. Program participants must provide a statement of need from the government of the country of their nationality or last legal permanent residence, and an agreement or contract from a U.S. accredited medical school, an affiliated hospital, or a scientific institution to provide the accredited medical education.

Many J visas are subject to a two-year foreign residency requirement. In that instance, the alien may not change his status to another category nor adjust to permanent residence without first obtaining a waiver of the 2-year foreign residency requirement.  Back to Top

AU PAIR                    

Through the Au Pair program foreign nationals between 18 and 26 years of age participate directly in the home life of a host family by providing limited childcare services for up to 12 months. Childcare is limited to no more than 10 hours per day, and to a maximum of 45 hours per week.

Au pairs are compensated for their work according to the Fair Labor Standards Act as interpreted and implemented by the US Department of Labor. Participants in the Au Pair program must be proficient in spoken English, and are required to complete at least six hours of academic credit or its equivalent at an accredited US post-secondary educational institution. Host families are required to pay up to $500 toward the cost of the au pair's required academic course work.

Au pair participants may not be placed with a family having an infant aged less than three months unless a parent or other responsible adult is at home. Neither may au pairs be placed in homes with children under two years of age unless the au pair has at least 200 hours of documented infant childcare experience. Au pairs are not to be placed in families with a special needs child, so identified by the family, unless the au pair has specifically identified prior experience, skill, or training in caring for special needs children and the host family has reviewed and acknowledged the stated prior experience, skills, or training in writing. Please refer to the regulations for details.

Sponsors are required to screen and select both host families and au pairs as program participants according to selection criteria stated in the regulations. Interested parties should contact the sponsoring organizations directly to obtain additional information regarding their program. All au pairs are to receive specific orientation and program information from the sponsor prior to departure from their home countries for the United States. Please refer to the regulations for details.

The sponsor is to provide au pairs with training in child development and child safety prior to their placement with a host family. A minimum of eight hours of child safety instruction, of which at least four relate to infants, and a minimum of 24 hours of child development instruction, of which at least four relate to children under two years of age, are required.

Host families and au pairs must sign a Host Family-Au Pair Agreements prior to the au pair's placement in the host family's home. In the event of questions regarding refunds or other adjustments host families and au pairs should refer to their agreements. The Department of State does not have jurisdiction over contractual obligations.

The Au Pair program includes the EduCare component. The EduCare component is only for families who have school-aged children and require childcare before and after school hours. Accordingly, au pairs participating in the EduCare component may not be placed with families having preschool children, unless alternative, full-time arrangements are in place for their supervision. The EduCare au pair may work no more than 10 hours per day, and a maximum of 30 hours per week. Au pairs participating in the EduCare component receive 75 percent of the weekly rate paid to au pairs. EduCare au pairs must complete a minimum of 12 hours of academic credit or its equivalent during the program year. The host family is required to provide (up to) the first $1,000 toward the cost of the au pair's required academic course work. Back to Top

RELIGIOUS VISAS                         

The R-1 classification applies to a religious worker. This is an alien coming to the U.S. temporarily to work:

      As a minister of religion,

      As a professional in a religious vocation or occupation, or

      For a bona fide nonprofit religious organization at the request of the organization, in a religious occupation which relates to a traditional religious function.

The applicant (religious worker) must have been a member of a religious denomination having a nonprofit religious organization in the United States for at least the two years immediately prior to the application date. To be eligible, the U.S. petitioning organization must be a nonprofit religious organization granted (or eligible for) tax exempt status, and must demonstrate that it can and will provide for all of the R-1 beneficiaryís financial and physical needs.

If the alien is outside the U.S., he or she may apply directly to a consulate for an R visa. If visa exempt, the alien may apply at a port of entry.

If the alien is inside the U.S., the religious organization may change the alienís status or extend it.

Dependents (spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age) of R-1 workers are entitled to R-2 status with the same restrictions as the principal. Dependents may be students in the U.S., but may not be employed under the R-2 classification. Note: Dependents should file for a change of status or extension of stay on Form I-539 (Application to Extend/change Nonimmigrant Status).

The I-129 petition may be filed by an authorized official of the U.S. organization and must be filed with:

    • A written statement from an authorized official of the religious organization that will be employing the alien establishing
      • that the alien has been a member of the denomination for the required two years,
      • a description of the proposed position, and that the alien is qualified for the position,
      • the arrangements, if any, for salary, benefits, and other compensation
      • the name and location of the place the alien will provide the services
      • the organizationís affiliation with the denomination
      • (note: if the alien is to be employed, the CIS requires that this letter be from the organizational unit responsible for maintaining I-9ís);
    • Evidence showing that the religious organization or any affiliate which will engage the alienís services is a bona fide nonprofit, religious organization in the U.S. and is exempt from taxation in accordance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

Back to Top