A visa refers to a passport endorsement that allows foreign nationals to enter the U.S. In California, relatives in the U.S. or U.S. based employers sponsor the majority of visa holders. There are about 185 distinct types of visas in the U.S. Visas fall under two main categories, which are immigrant visas and non-immigrant visas. Each type of visa has a specific processing time, application requirements, and expiry dates. If you are planning to apply for a non-immigrant visa, the California Immigration Attorney can guide you through the application process.

Non-Immigrant Visas in California

The process of applying for a non-immigrant visa is similar to that of seeking an immigrant visa. The only difference is that unlike an immigrant visa, a non-immigrant visa has an expiry date. The majority of non-immigrant visas fall under the following categories:

  • Employment-based
  • Family-based
  • School-based
  • Humanitarian-based

If you seek a temporary stay in the U.S, it is advisable to liaise with an experienced immigration attorney. Your attorney will advise you regarding the different non-immigrant visas classes and help you apply for the most appropriate. For you to apply for the most suitable immigrant visa, you need to understand the different categories of visas:

E-1 Trade Investment Visa

The primary purpose of the E-1 Visa is to enhance trade and investments between the U.S. and foreign nations with which the U.S. has treaties. This Visa category facilitates temporary work permits for non-citizens for the enterprise. With a Trade Investment Visa, managers, business owners, investors, and essential employees can work in the United States. The Trade Investment Visa yields economic benefits to both the U.S and the treaty signing nations. The visa opens a pathway for investors to establish businesses in the U.S., facilitating the constant exchange of goods and services between the United States and foreign countries.

Treaty foreign nationals qualify for E-1 or E-2 visas to work and live in the U.S. for a defined period.  What are the specific requirements for E-1 visa eligibility? You are eligible to apply and obtain an E-1 or an E-2 visa if:

  • You are a manager, specialist, or executive for an organization operating in the U.S.
  • You are the primary personnel overseeing a U.S. affiliate or branch
  • You are an employee sent by a treaty country to establish a U.S. organization
  • There is evidence of significant trade between a foreign country and a U.S. business

The requirements mentioned above help limit non-immigrant visas' access to people who work in an executive or supervisory capacity and whose position requires essential skills. With the availability of an E1 visa, there is hope for foreign nationals who seek to enter the U.S. for work or professional reasons.

To increase the likelihood of acceptance into the U.S., you should consult a competent immigration attorney to guide you through the application process. An immigration attorney will also advise you regarding the necessary documentation.

E-2 Investment Visa

The E-2 investment visa allows foreign nationals from treaty countries to operate, run, and manage their businesses and franchises in the U.S. For you to qualify as a treaty investor and to be eligible for the E-2 Visa, you have to meet specific requirements:

  • You should be a citizen of a country with which the United States has a treaty of navigation and commerce
  • You should have invested a significant amount of capital in a bona fide company in the U.S. You could still qualify if you are actively in the process of investing.
  • The sole purpose for entering the U.S. should be to direct and develop an investment enterprise. This means that you should have a minimum of 50% possession of the enterprise's operational control or ownership. This control may be through a managerial role or other corporate devices.

Spouse and Children

After qualifying for the E-2 investment visa, your spouse and your children below 21 years can accompany you to the U.S. Only the primary investor requires having the citizenship of an E-2 eligible nation. Your spouse is free to seek Employment Authorization and start working in the U.S. in a job of their choice. Your child or children will also be free to attend school.

An employee of a Treaty Investor

An employee of a treaty investor may also qualify for the E-2 visa. However, the employee will have to meet specific requirements:

  • Should be of the same nationality as the treaty employer
  • They should meet the legal definition of an employee according to the law
  • The employee should hold an executive or a supervisory position. If an employee has a role of a lower capacity, they must possess unique or special qualifications

Period of Stay

The E-2 Visas are valid for five years and are renewable with two-year extensions. However, a candidate must maintain the necessary qualifications to retain eligibility for the E-2 visas. There is no maximum limit for the E-2 visa. However, the non-immigrants must have the intent to depart the United States when their status expires.

O-1B Extraordinary Ability Visa

The O-1B visa is available to non-immigrants with extraordinary arts abilities, and who has made a remarkable achievement in the television or motion picture industry. This visa allows these persons to temporarily visit the U.S. and work in their extraordinary achievement or ability areas.

Extraordinary ability means a distinction, which refers to a remarkable or high-level achievement. A person with exceptional knowledge is prominent, leading, and renowned in the field of arts.

Recently, social media influencers also qualify for the O-1B visas. A social media influencer is a person who has significant credibility and popularity in one or several social media outlets. The typical social media outlets include TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. The O-1 visa allows social media influencers to enter the U.S. and help companies promote their products or brands.

 A social media influencer must portray extraordinary capabilities to qualify for the O-1 visa. Therefore, an applicant has to show a large following in their business line, including fashion, travel, gaming, and lifestyle. Social media influencers have an advantage over other persons who portray extraordinary performance in their specialization fields. For social media influencers, most of the metrics required by the Immigration Department in the U.S. are evident in their social media platforms.

Evidence Needed

For you to be eligible for the O-1 visa, specific evidentiary requirements apply. You should have received or been nominated for significant rewards, either national or international, in a particular category. The awards may include Emmy, Academy Award, Director's Guild Award, or Grammy Award. You could also be eligible if you have evidence of at least three of the following:

  • You performed or have an upcoming performance as a starring or lead participant in events or productions that are reputable. The reputation is based on critical reviews, publicity releases, advertisement, endorsements, and contracts
  • Achievement of national or international recognition for exemplary performance, as evidenced by published materials and critical reviews. Your achievements could also be evident in newspaper articles, publications, trade journals, and testimonials
  • You have a record of critically acclaimed or significant commercial successes, as evidenced by the title, rating in the field, box office receipts, television ratings, motion picture ratings, and occupational achievements published in journals.
  • Evidence of significant recognition for your achievements - the recognition could be from organizations, government agencies, critics, and other recognized experts in your field. Testimonials can indicate your authority, knowledge, and expertise.
  • Substantial remuneration or high salary for our services compared to other persons in your field

If the standards mentioned above do not apply to your art occupation, you may have a petitioner submit comparable evidence to establish your eligibility. An advisory opinion from a peer group would also come in handy to prove your expertise in your area.

Period of Stay

The O-1 non-immigrant will have an initial period of stay for three years. However, the USCIS will determine the time needed to accomplish the initial activity or event, with increments of up to one year. You may receive extensions or increments of three years. There is no maximum limit for the O-visa status.

Dependents and Family Members

The spouse and the children of an O-visa holder may qualify to get an O-3 visa.  The period of admission and limitations will be similar to those of the principal visa holder. O-3 visa holders have no freedom to work in the U.S. However, they can engage in part-time or full-time studies.

B-1 / B-2 Visa

If you plan to visit the U.S temporarily either for business or for pleasure, you are eligible for the B-Visa. The B-1 visa is for foreigners wishing to visit the United States temporarily for business. B-2 Visa for foreign nationals wishing to visit the United States temporarily for pleasures

Requirements for Obtaining a B- 1 Visa

You have to meet specific requirements to obtain a B-1 visa:

  • You should be planning to visit the U.S. temporarily to participate in a business activity or any other activity of professional or commercial nature
  • The business of entering the United States should be of a legitimate nature
  • You should plan to stay in the U.S. for limited periods
  • You should have enough funds to cater for your travel and your stay in the U.S.
  • You should have a residence outside the U.S., and it should be evident that you do not intend to abandon your residence. You should also have other bonding ties that indicate the need to return to your country after the end of your visit
  • You must be admissible into the United States.

Which activities qualify as business activities or activities of a professional or commercial nature? The activities include traveling for business, educational, professional, or scientific purposes. You could also be traveling to attend a conference or a convention in the U.S. You could also visit the U.S. to negotiate a contract or participate in training.

Requirements for B-2 Visitor Visa

You have to meet the below requirements to qualify for the B-2 visitor visa:

  • You should plan to visit the United States temporarily for pleasure
  • You should only plan to stay in the U.S. for a limited period
  • You must have adequate expenses to cover the trip and your stay in the U.S.

You should have a residence outside the U.S. that you do not plan to abandon. You should also have other ties that require you to return abroad after you visit the United States

  • You must be admissible into the United States

Period of Stay

B-Visa holders will have an initial stay of one to six months. You may get a one-time extension of up to six months. The maximum stay for a B-Visa holder is one year.

Your Spouse and Children

Your spouse and your children will not be eligible to get a dependent visa. If your spouse or child wishes to accompany you to the U.S, they have to apply for their B-2 visa and abide by the visa regulations.

Visa Waiver Program

The visa waiver program serves as an alternative to the B-Visas. It is available to nationals of approved countries who may seek admission into the United States without applying for a B-visa. The purpose of the visit should be to engage in tourist activities or for business. The visitors have to register with the United States Customs and Border Protection's Electronic System for Travel Authorization. The length of stay is 90 days, and it is not possible to extend the stay or change your status. 

F-1 Student Visa

The F-1 student visa is available to foreign nationals with no intention of abandoning their home countries who wish to study in the U.S. To qualify for this visa, you should be planning to study in an institution approved by the INS.  You should have a valid purpose for visiting the United States, and you should be able to support yourself while in the U.S. without working.

You should have adequate funds or outside financial support to ensure that you will not accept unauthorized employment or become a public charge.  The applicant must also be proficient in English. If not, they should receive ample training to make them proficient before their departure to the U.S. You must also have the necessary qualifications to attend a particular institution in the U.S.

You will have permission to stay in the U.S. for the period required to complete your educational program with an additional 60 days.  After completing your studies, you may request a period of work authorization. This will help you gain the necessary practical training in your field of study. If you are qualified, you may adjust your status from non-immigrant status to a non-immigrant work visa. You could also convert your non-immigrant status to a permanent residence visa. 

Obtaining an F-1 Visa

You may obtain an F-1 visa by applying directly to the Consulate or a consular officer at a U.S. embassy. If you are in the United States in lawful status, you may apply to the INS to convert your status to a student. You must first be accepted into a school approved by the INS. Institutions approved by the INS include recognized universities, colleges, seminaries, conservatories, academic high schools, and other academic institutions in the United States

You have to submit several documents to the consular office while applying for the F-1 visa:

  • A valid passport
  • Form OF-156, which is the application for a non-immigrant visa
  • Form I-20, which outlines your acceptance for a course of study in an institution recognized by the INS
  • Evidence that you have adequate financial support to enable you to meet your needs during your course of study
  • Evidence that you intend to return to your home country when you complete your course of study

Duration of Stay

The duration of stay for F-1 visa holders will be for the period or the duration needed to complete the study. Your Student Form I-20 should indicate the expected date of completion of your studies. If you do not complete your education within the outlined completion date, you may get an extension. However, the school has to certify that the delay in completing the program was due to academic or medical reasons. The reasons that might delay your studies include an illness or a change in your research topic or major.

H-1 B Specialty Occupation Visa

A prospective U.S. employer may petition to have a non-citizen temporarily come to the United States for work. The job offer must be in a specialty occupation and require at least a bachelor's degree or a foreign equivalent. For the alien to accept the job offer, they must qualify for the same.  On top of specialty occupation, other special rules may apply for foreign workers coming to the United States to work as researchers in the Department of Defense, or as fashion models, or development project workers.

Requirements for H-1B Visa

For a job to qualify as a specialty occupation, it must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Require a bachelor's or a higher degree or its equivalent as the minimum entry requirement for the position
  • The job should be complex in a manner that a person can only perform it with the specialty degree
  • Evidence that the employer normally requires degree holders or their equivalent for the position
  • The specific needs of the job should be specialized so that the knowledge needed to perform the job requires attaining a bachelor's or a higher degree.

While applying for the H-1B visa, you have to prove that:

  • Completion of a U.S. bachelor's degree or a higher degree needed by the specific occupation. The degree should be from an accredited university or college
  • You should have a foreign degree that is equivalent to a higher degree or a U.S. bachelor's degree in the said occupation
  • You should have a license, certification, or registration that allows you to practice in your specialty occupation
  • You must have the necessary training, education, or vast experience in the specialty occupation

Your employer must confirm that they will pay you a wage that is not less than that of similarly qualified workers. The employer may also pay you depending on the prevailing wage for your position in the geographic location where you will be working.  The employer must also provide you with working conditions that will not affect other similar workers

Period of Stay

The holders of H-1B visas can stay in the United States for up to three years.  Before the expiration of the initial three years, you may extend your visa for an additional three years. The maximum period of stay for an H-1B visa holder is six years.

Every year, the United States releases 65,000 visas. An additional 20,000 visas are available for foreign nationals who hold a U.S. master's degree or higher. If an H-1B  visa holder is employed or petitioned for an institution of higher education, or a non-profit agency, they are not subject to the numerical cap. 

Spouse and Children

The spouse and the children of the H-1B visa holders may qualify for H-4 status. The holders of H-4 visas have no permission to work in the U.S. and cannot join any form of employment in the United States. 

Other Non-Immigrant Visas

Other non-immigrant visas available for foreign nationals include:

  • H-2A Visas –These visas allow foreign nationals in certain countries, with some exceptions, to accept temporary agricultural employment in the United States.
  • H-2B Visas – These visas allow foreign nationals from certain named countries to seek non-agricultural employment in the United States
  • J-1 Academic Trainee Visa – This visa allows foreigners to visit the U.S. as exchange visitors to receive training or participate in an internship or another program.
  • H-3 Professional Trainee Visa
  • K-1 Fiancée Visa- This visa allows U.S. citizens to seek permission from a U.S. consulate to have their fiancée enter the United States with a Fiancé visa.
  • L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager
  • O-1A extraordinary ability Visa in Sciences, Education, Athletics, or Business

Find a California Immigration Attorney Near Me

Seeking a non-immigrant visa to the U.S. can be challenging, especially if you have limited experience with immigration issues. Seeking the assistance of an immigration attorney makes the process easier. California Immigration Attorney will help you apply for a visa and guide you on all the necessary paperwork and legal procedures. Contact us at 424-789-8809 and speak to one of our attorneys.