Nonimmigrant Visas / Temporary Visas

Non-immigrant and temporary visas permit their holders to study, visit, or conduct business in the United States. Such visas are designated by letters and prescribe a temporary period of stay for students, visitors, and workers. They are called non-immigrant or temporary visas because their purpose is to welcome visitors with no intention of emigrating or remaining in the United States. Non-immigrant visa holders may change their intent after being admitted to the United States, but must take some further action to either extend their stay or establish permanent residence. Once the period specified under the visa has expired, the visa holder falls “out of status,” requiring him or her to depart or risk accruing unlawful presence in the United States.

Student visas, such as the F, M, or J, allow students to enter the United States up to 30 days before the start of their academic program and remain until they complete their course of study. Student visas include those allowing professors, scholars, exchange students, and au pairs who teach or take courses at an institution accredited by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Student visa holders must prove they remain enrolled in a course of study and are not permitted to work in the United States. Depending on the visa, exchange students may also be required to return to their country of origin after the academic or exchange program expires. The visa can be extended to accommodate any course of study, so long as the holder is a student in an accredited program.

Visitor or B visas allow people to enter the United States for business (B-1) or pleasure (B-2). They are good for multiple entries for these purposes only. Visitor visas are usually printed as “B-1/B-2,” allowing both visitors for business or pleasure to temporarily remain in the United States. B-1 visas are intended to attract prospective business clients and partners to the United States. B-2s permit tourists to remain for a period of time not to exceed that stated on the visa. The thriving tourist industry does not preclude visitors from investing in U.S. businesses or later, applying for legal status, but requires some further action on the part of the holder to establish permanent residence. Barring some other form of relief, visitors are expected to depart the United States after their prescribed period of stay has expired.

Work visas, including the H and L visas, admit professional and temporary workers to receive training or employment in the United States. Like student and visitor visas, the H visas convey temporary status for a prescribed period, but allow the holder to work legally within a specified scope of employment. The H-2, for example, allows temporary agricultural workers to perform “services or labor of a temporary or seasonal nature.” H-1Bs encourage overseas physicians to train and practice in the United States; they also allow companies to sponsor employees in “specialty occupations in fields requiring highly specialized knowledge.” L visas, on the other hand, permit “intra-company transferees” to work in the U.S. branch of an international company with offices abroad. Employees admitted under work visas must submit a separate application to extend their stay or change employers in the United States.

For more information and advice on temporary visas such as student, work and tourist visas, refer to the comprehensive articles, answers to frequently asked questions, and informative videos in this section.