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United States of America (USA) - Visas

Travel to the United States is welcomed, but you must travel with a valid, machine-readable passport even if you were born in the US or hold dual citizenship with the US. You will need to obtain a Visa unless you have citizenship (and valid passports) of Canada or Bermuda, or if you have been accepted onto the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The VWP allows individuals from specified countries, who hold a passport issued to set standards, to apply to enter the program. Once cleared, for which 72 hours should be allowed, visitors can enter the US for business or tourism purposes for up to 90 days.

Everyone else must apply for a Visa issued by a US Embassy or Consulate, for which a non refundable fee will be due. If you are refused a Visa, you will be given a written reason. The Visa allows travel to the US but does not guarantee admission to the country, which is determined by the immigration official at the port of entry.

There are a range of different Visas available, essentially determined by the purpose of your intended travel. You must complete the applications thoroughly and accurately. It is best to apply for your Visa well in advance of travel, although anyone travelling for humanitarian, medical, study or business reasons will have their crucial deadlines considered.

Nonimmigrant Visas:
• Diplomats & Other Government Officials (A1 and A2)
• Business, including athletes (B-1)
• Tourism and Visitor (B-2)
• Treaty Trader or Treaty Investor (E-1 and E-2)
• Temporary Employment (H-1A, H-2A, H-2B, L-1A, L-1B)
• Study and Exchange, including Au Pair (F-1 and J-1)

Immigrant Visas:
• Family Immigration
• Fiancé(e) Visas (K-1)
• Employment (EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-5)
• Special Immigrants (EB-4)
• Returning Resident Visas (SB-1)
• Diversity Visa Lottery (known as the Greencard Lottery)

Permanent Employment-Based Immigration Visas (the Greencard)

Visas issued for permanent employment-based immigration will allow foreign nationals to work and live lawfully and permanently in the US. They may apply for all jobs except those legitimately restricted to US citizens, may remain in the US if they become unemployed, and may apply for US citizenship after five years of lawful permanent resident status.

There are five categories of permanent employment-based immigration Visas and you must choose which one is right for your circumstances.

EB-1 First Preference: Priority Workers: This Visa is offered for those who are professionals of extraordinary ability - with sustained national or international acclaim - in the sciences, education, arts, business or athletics, or are outstanding professors and researchers, or are executives and managers of US officially recognised multinational companies.

These individuals do not need to have obtained a work offer, but must provide convincing evidence with their Form I-140 that they are coming to the US to continue work in their area of expertise.

EB-2 Second Preference:Professionals with Advanced Degrees or Exceptional Ability. This Visa is for members of the professions holding advanced degrees, or persons of exceptional abilities in the arts, science, or business.

EB-3 Third Preference: Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers. This Visa is for skilled workers with at least two years of training or experience, professionals with college degrees, or “other” workers for unskilled labor that is not temporary or seasonal.

EB-4 Fourth Preference: Certain Special Immigrants. This Visa is for certain “special immigrants” including religious workers, employees of U.S. foreign service posts and translators. In 2016 significant changes are taking place in respect of religious workers applying under this category of Visa.

EB-5 Fifth Preference: Immigrant Investors. This Visa is for entrepreneurs who will invest $500,000 to $1 million in a job-creating enterprise that employs at least 10 full-time U.S. workers.

There is an annual cap on the number of these Visa issued, with each country limited to 7% of the worldwide level of US immigrant admissions. Applicants from India, China, Mexico and the Philippines may face a lengthy wait as the limit for employment based immigrant Visas from those countries is substantially exceeded by demand.

Employment based immigration Visas usually require you to have received a valid job offer from a US employer, who themselves must have obtained certification from the US Department of Labour that there are no US workers available, willing and qualified to be offered the employment at a wage that is equal to or greater than the prevailing wage paid generally for that occupation in the geographic area where that job is located.

The employer then files Petition Form 1-140 with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the prospective employee’s behalf. It will take several months for the Petition to be processed; if successful, the National Visa Center in New Hampshire will use the Petition approval to begin the Visa application. The employer pays the filing fee before processing begins.

If it is essential for the Petition to be processed quickly, the employer can complete Form I-907, which is the Request for Premium Processing Service form, and pay a fee of $1,225. This fee ensures the Petition is processed within fifteen days, but does not give any other advantage such as overcoming the strict rules on eligibility and annual numerical limits.

The applicant must attend a medical examination and an Embassy interview.

The majority of applications for permanent employment-based immigration Visas received are ‘adjustment of status’ requests on behalf of individuals already living and working in the US under temporary Visas, for whom an employer’s petition has been approved.

Temporary Employment-Based Immigration Visas

Temporary employment-based visa classifications allow US employers to hire and petition for foreign nationals for specific jobs for limited periods; processing a petition can take several months.

Most temporary workers must work for the employer that petitioned for them, they have limited ability to change jobs, and they will usually be required to leave the United States should their employment be terminated or their Visa expire.

There are a range of visa classifications covering temporary employment-based immigration, which vary in terms of their eligibility requirements, duration, whether they permit workers to bring dependents, and other factors.

H-1B Certain foreign professionals in “specialty occupations.”

• Annual limit on the number of these Visas issued
• Initially admitted for a period of up to three years; may be extended to a maximum of six years
• The employer must attest that employment of the H-1B worker will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. Employers must comply with wage requirements.
• Spouses and children under 21 may enter on an H-4 visa, and certain spouses are allowed to work.
• $325 filing fee, paid by the employer
• Employers may be required to pay an additional anti-fraud fee of $500.
• Employers with at least 50 employees, more than half of whom are in H-1B or L-1 status, may be required to pay an additional fee of $4,000.
• Certain employers must pay an additional fee of $750 or $1,500 to fund programs to address skill shortages in the U.S. workforce.

H-2A Temporary agricultural workers from certain designated countries.

• No numerical annual cap
• Initially admitted for period of approved employment
• May be renewed for qualifying employment in increments of one year each for a maximum stay of three years.
• The employer must attest that no qualified U.S. workers who can fill the position are available.
• Employers must comply with recruitment, wage, benefits, housing, transportation, and other requirements.
• Spouses and children under 21 may enter on an H-4 visa but may not work.
• $325 filing fee.

H-2B “Seasonal” non-agricultural temporary workers.

• Annual cap on number of visas offered
• Initially admitted for a period of up to one year
• May be renewed twice for a total of up to three years.
• The employer must attest that no qualified U.S. workers who can fill the position are available.
• Employers must comply with wage, housing, transportation, and other requirements.
• Spouses and children under 21 may enter on an H-4 visa but may not work.
• $325 filing fee
• $150 anti-fraud fee.

L-1A and L-1B

Certain foreign workers employed by certain entities abroad that are related to U.S. employers, whose services are being sought by their employers in the United States.

• No limit of the number of these Visas issued each year
• Initially admitted for a period of up to three years
• May be extended for up to five (L-1B) or seven (L-1A) years.
• No requirements regarding adverse effects, wages, housing, etc.
• Spouses and children under 21 may enter on an L-2 visa
• Spouses are allowed to work.
• $325 filing fee.
• Employers may be required to pay an additional anti-fraud fee of $500.
• Employers who have at least 50 employees, more than half of whom are in H-1B or L-1 status, may be required to pay an additional fee of $4,500.

Anyone making a Visa application under any of these categories must receive an approved petition from the prospective employer which is then processed by the National Visa Center, attend a medical examination and attend an Embassy interview. Failure to do so means a Visa cannot be processed.

Medical Examination

A medical examination, by a physician approved by the US Embassy, must be undertaken for all applicants who wish to live in the US, regardless of age or category of Visa. The applicant must schedule their medical examination with the physician prior to attending the Embassy interview; this is arranged by telephone during normal working hours, and the applicant must have their case reference number available when making the appointment. The costs of the medical examination can be confirmed during the call.

Following the medical examination, it takes 4 working days for the results to be couriered to the Embassy.

When attending the medical examination, the applicant must bring:

• photo identification, such as a driving license or passport
• 4 photographs meeting Department of State requirements
• A police certificate issued within the past 6 months (unless you are 15 or under)
• The completed medical questionnaire
• Vaccination records, provided by the applicant’s healthcare provider

The physician must verify that the applicant has met the vaccination requirement, or confirm that it is medically inappropriate for the applicant to receive them.

The medical examination fees must be paid at the time of the medical examination, payable in cash or by credit card, Visa and MasterCard only, or by debit card. If the applicant fails to keep the appointment or cancel/change it with less than three clear working days’ notice, a cancellation charge becomes due.

Each Embassy will provide details of medical examination costs. Additional fees may apply if further tests are required.

Embassy Interview

The Embassy interview will be scheduled by the National Visa Center.

The Affidavit of Support, Form I-864, must be submitted for immediate relative and family-based applicants and employment-based applicants when a relative is the petitioner or has ownership interest in the petitioner’s business. Evidence submitted with the I-864 must be less than 12 months old. It is required by the National Visa Centre and will be forwarded to the Immigrant Visa Unit at the Embassy and will be available for the consular officer on the day of the interview.

Immigrant Visa Applicants must pay the fee to the Embassy cashier on the day of the visa interview. Fees may be paid in cash, by International Money Order or Bankers Draft, Credit Card (Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, Discover or American Express), by or Debit Card with the Visa logo. The Embassy does not accept any other credit or debit cards, or personal cheques.

Whilst copies of the applicant’s official documents must be sent to the National Visa Centre, the original documents must be brought by the applicant to the Embassy interview. Failure to do so means the application may be denied.

Essential documents all applicants must bring to the Embassy interview:

• Passport: Must be valid for travel to the US and have at least eight months validity from the date on which the visa is issued. Children may be included on a parent’s passport, but if over the age of 16, their photographs must be printed in the passport;
• Birth Certificate: The original long (not short) birth certificate of the birth record of each family member (applicant, spouse, and all unmarried children under the age of 21, even if they are not immigrating with the applicant. The certificates must list both parents’ names.
• Photographs: Two color photographs which meet Department of State specifications; full-face and taken within the last six (6) months.
• Police Certificates: Required for all countries where the applicant has lived for more than 12 months since the age of 16 and any country where the applicant has been arrested, even if not resident there. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, will have Police Certificates valid for 12 months only.
• Fingerprints are required for certain countries.

Essential documents for applicants to bring dependent on their circumstances:

• If a birth certificate is unavailable a certified statement from the appropriate government authority stating the reason why the record is not available must be provided. With the certified statement secondary evidence must be submitted. For example:
- An affidavit from a close relative, preferably the applicant’s mother, stating the date and place of birth, both parent’s names, and the mother’s maiden name.
- An adoption decree for an adopted child; or
- A baptismal certificate that contains the date and place of birth and both parent’s names providing the baptism took place shortly after birth.
• Documentary evidence if a different name is used from the one shown on the birth certificate. Evidence includes, but is not limited to baptismal certificate/record, a deed poll and/or school records showing early use of name;
• Adoption Certificate: This certificate must be issued by a public authority and show that a public record exists of the adoption; must include date and place of adoption, and names of the adoptive parents.
• Name Change Deed Poll: Deed poll or other legal evidence showing your change of name (except by marriage);
• Marriage Certificates: Required even if the marriage was terminated. An original marriage certificate; or a certified copy bearing the appropriate seal or stamp of the issuing authority.
• Divorce Decree or Death Certificate: Evidence of the termination of the marriage
• Court and Prison Records: A certified copy of each court record and any prison record, even if the applicant may have subsequently benefited from an amnesty, pardon or other act of clemency or the United Kingdom Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. Court records should include: Complete information regarding the circumstance surrounding the crime of which the applicant was convicted and the disposition of the case, including sentence or other penalty or fine imposed;
• Military Records: If the applicant served in the military forces of any country the military record must be provided, supplemented by discharge papers or evidence of terminal leave from the forces. Military records from certain countries are unavailable, in which case contact the Immigrant Visa Unit;
• Translations: All documents not in English must be accompanied by certified English translations. The translation must include a statement signed by the translator that states that the translation is accurate. Only one copy is needed. Note: Applicants are also required to submit the original document, in the original language;

The Embassy staff will be strict about what items can be brought on site when attending an interview. A mobile phone, e-reader, iPad or other tablet computer may be used. Prohibited items include iPad keyboards, other tablet keyboards, laptop computers, suitcases, other large bags, weapons and other dangerous items. There are no storage facilities for prohibited items inadvertently brought to the interview, and visitors who are found with these items will experience considerable delays at the security check point, which could result in the appointment being cancelled.

Only those with an appointment will be admitted. Exceptions are young children accompanying the applicant, the parents or guardian of a minor who has an appointment, or the caregiver for a disabled person; it is advisable to notify Embassy staff of these arrangements to avoid delay in admission.

Embassy buildings frequently lack amenities for wheelchair users.

Working In The USA Illegally

Everyone working in the US must have a Social Security number, used to make payments into the Social Security Fund. Anyone who works in the US illegally will not have the ability to pay taxes and is therefore liable to prosecution by the IRS as well as fined for unpaid taxes.

Illegal immigrants are usually deported - frequently termed ‘removal’ - following approval by a judge. Having a home, business or job is unlikely to sway a judge’s decision. Fines may also be imposed but the ultimate aim is removal. In the eight years between 2008 and 2015, almost three million people were removed from US borders.

Even someone who has received a Visa allowing permanent residence in the US can be deported if they are found to have taken actions prohibited by the immigration law’s list of grounds of deportation. These include domestic violence, drug violations, or failing to advise UCSIS of a change of address within 10 days of the move.

Family Visas

There are many different types of family Visa available, which will depend on the status of the person the family wishes to join, their relationship to each other, and whether the immigrant wishes to work.

• an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen
• a family member of a U.S. citizen fitting into a preference category
• a family member of a green card holder
• a member of a special category

The rules and routes to application are complicated. The best source of information can be found on the website for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCSIS), where the principles, exceptions and alternative Visas are laid out in a user friendly format.

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