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4 Key Concepts to Understand If You Are Visiting the United States for the First Time

Updated on February 10, 2018

This article describes key U.S. VISA concepts from an angle of non-immigrant U.S. VISA. These concepts are very important to understand and would save you any confusion if you are first tine traveler.

Basic category of VISAs to travel to U.S

First, you can travel to U.S. on either “non-immigrant VISA” or “immigrant VISA”. This VISA is available through the representatives of U.S. Government in your country often termed as “US Embassy” or “US Consulate”. You can find the list of your local U.S. consulate offices here

For non-immigrant visa often referred to as "Visitors VISA", it is important to understand the following four terms succinctly and clearly. Most first timers find this confusing if they have not read this article.

  1. traveling to u.s.
  2. entering u.s.
  3. visa duration
  4. stay duration

1. Traveling to U.S.

Note that “Travelling to U.S.” and “Entering U.S.” are two different important stages of your travel. Your local US consulates provide you with a VISA stamp that authorizes you to travel to U.S. from any international airport in your country. Please note that this VISA does not guarantee your entry in U.S.

2. VISA Duration:

When your passport is stamped with VISA, it has the number of years that this VISa is valid for. What it means is that for the dates indicated, you can travel to US from any international Airport. All Airport authorities enforce this rule and check your VISA and ensure that you are rightful to board the plane for the country you are traveling to.


3. Entering U.S.

On your arrival at any U.S. airport, you are interviewed by a UCSIS officer. The officer determines your eligibility and decides if you can enter the country. The international airport or seaport or road side office that you arrive at is called “port of entry”. If you cannot provide the legitimate purpose of travel to U.S., you may be deported back to your country on the next plane. So be clear about this step and be prepared to furnish details to support your purpose to enter the country.

4. Stay Duration

If you are allowed to enter U.S. after interview at port of entry, you are provided with a card type document (often called “I-94”, you fill this card while approaching U.S.) that indicates the dates for which you can stay in US. The stay duration is determined by the dates on this card and not on your VISA. For example, you may have VISA for 10 years, your stay duration may be 3 months from the date of entry.

Read on to understand the kinds of VISA available to visit US.

Types of Non-immigrant VISA

U.S. VISA policy provides a number of non-immigrant types of VISA. There are again three most common ones used

Business Visit, Tourist Visit, Family Visit: The class of VISA is numbered as B1/B2 and limits you stay in U.S. up to 6 months per calendar year.

Working, employment with U.S. firms: the class of VISA is numbered as L1/H1 and also limits your stay by certain number of years.

L1: 3 years limit (can be extended by 2 more years)

H1: 5 years (can be extended by 2 more years)

Please note in special conditions, the extension of these VISAS can be unlimited. This is another topic of discussion itself.

Formal Study/Education: The class of VISA is numbered as F1 and is limited by the numbers of years of study and up to 29 months for qualifying study programs.

Well this simplistic way I can describe some basics and non-immigrant VISA types. If you would like to know more about VISA rules, visit travel.state.gov, a U.S. government website that provides loads of information on this subject. I have had practical experiences in all VISA types I have listed above and so can help answering questions. Please post them below.

The author of this article has migrated to U.S. naturally. He was neither ever desperate nor he even dreamt of settling in U.S. However when he went through this process and came in contact with number of people desperate to go to the land of opportunities, he saw the need of treating this subject in simplest possible way. The author feels that his layman style treatment may help masses to have systematic understanding of the subject.

Good Luck

“Helping is power to oneself”


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