Nonimmigrant visas are temporary visas. Generally, an individual coming to the United States who seeks a nonimmigrant visa must demonstrate "nonimmigrant intent" or the intent to depart from the United States upon the expiration of the nonimmigrant visa. (However, since the 1990 amendments to the Immigration and Naturalization Act, the USCIS, and more slowly the U.S. Department of State, have come to accept the concept of "dual intent," which recognizes that certain nonimmigrant visa holders may intend to seek immigrant status.) Some nonimmigrant visas are for work, some are for travel and some are for particular forms of study, among other things.
Generally, nonimmigrant visas are easier to obtain than immigrant visas and, with the exception of the 65,000 cap on H-1B nonimmigrant visas for each fiscal year since the implementation of the cap (as more fully discussed in other sections of this guide), there are few numerical limitations on the number of nonimmigrant visas.
Nonimmigrant visas are categorized according to the letters of the alphabet. To date, there are nonimmigrant visas assigned from the letters A through S.
Each nonimmigrant visa has an associated duration. Some nonimmigrant visas are valid for the duration that the foreign national remains in status or while he/she performs the associated service, or task, that coincides with the particular nonimmigrant visa obtained. For example, upon admission the United States, an F-1 nonimmigrant student visa is granted for "D/S" which is the designation that the foreign nationals stay in the U.S. is approved for the duration of the status or, in other words, for the time that the student continues to engage in his/her full-time course of study. Other nonimmigrant visas that are granted for D/S are the J, I and certain diplomatic and governmental visas, more fully discussed below.
As opposed to nonimmigrant visas, immigrant visas, or lawful permanent residence status, is what is commonly referred to as a "Green Card" (which is actually not green). Lawful permanent residence refers to the status accorded to an individual who has an intention to permanently live and reside in the United States.
There are generally two (2) ways to obtain lawful permanent residence in the United States. A foreign national may obtain lawful permanent residence through a position of employment (employment-based immigration), through his/her relationship to a family member who is either a lawful permanent resident or a U.S. citizen (family-based immigration). In addition to the foregoing, lawful permanent residence may be obtained in several other categories, including, but not limited to: (1) asylum; (2) the Diversity Lottery program; and (3) Cancellation of Removal.
An immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, granted by the U.S. Consular Official at a U.S. Consulate Office in a foreign country, is permission for the foreign national to enter the United States from abroad. Even though the visa may have been granted by a U.S. Consulate Official, the foreign national must still be inspected by a representative of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service ("USCIS") upon entry at one of the ports-of-entry in the United States.
A visa stamp in the passport of the foreign national made by a U.S. Consulate Official indicates that the CONOFF was satisfied, at the time of the issuance of the visa, that (i) the foreign national was coming to the United States for an intended purpose; and (ii) that the foreign national was not excludable from the United States under any of the specific grounds of exclusion under the Immigration and Nationality Act (which are set forth in Title 8 of the United States Code).