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US Visa

US visa is official permission that allows a non-American citizen to travel to the United States of America. It is a permit that grants its holder access to enter, travel and stay within the US for a short or indefinite period of time or shift permanently. A foreign national is granted with the US visa in accordance with the US immigration laws. The visa is granted by the Consular Department of the US Embassy & Consulates. Once the US visa has been granted, it is placed on the passport of the traveler.

US visa is required only by the citizens of the country who are not a part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) of the United States. As India does not qualify for the VWP program of the US, all Indian nationals require a valid American visa in order to travel to the United States of America.

Possessing a valid US visa does not guarantee entry into the United States of America. The visa is just a document from the US Consular Officer that establishes that the visa holder is eligible to enter the US for a specific purpose. The actual permission to enter the United States of America and the duration of the stay is decided by the immigration officer at the entry point of the airport.

Features of US Visa

  • Available for both immigrants and nonimmigrants
  • More than 20 types of nonimmigrant visas
  • US Tourist visa is usually issued for a period of 6 months
  • Offers group US visa appointment option to people traveling in groups of 10 or more
  • Option to get an expedited US visa appointment in case of urgent travel to the US

US Visa Types

The main purpose of traveling to the United States plays a major role in determining the type of visa required by an applicant. According to the immigration laws of the United States of America, there are two kinds of US visas types:

Immigrant Visa 

It is a type of US visa which is required by people traveling to the United States for obtaining permanent residency. It includes people shifting due to work relocation, living with a spouse or an immediate family member, etc. All petitions for immigrant visas are approved by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS.

Nonimmigrant Visa

 It is the second type of US visa that is required by people traveling to the United States of America for a short period of time. It is granted to people who are traveling for the purpose of tourism, education, business, medical treatment, participation in an exchange program or for some personal work. There are more than 15 nonimmigrant US visa types including US tourist visa, business visa, work visa, student visa, exchange visitor visa, transit or ship crew visa, religious worker visa, domestic employee visa and journalist & media visa.

Business Visa

A Business visa is meant for people traveling to the US for business-related purposes. People who are traveling to the US to meet business associates, attend educational, scientific, professional or business conferences, settle an estate or negotiate contracts can apply for a Business visa USA. Business visa seekers should apply for the B1 visa USA offers at the time of applying for an American visa.

US Tourist Visa

The US Touristvisa is a type of US visa for people traveling to the United States for the purpose of tourism or vacation. It includes people who are traveling to the US to meet their friends and families or for some recreational purposes. Applicants of tourist visa for USA from India should apply for B2 category visa.

US Student Visa

The US student visa is the visa type meant for people traveling to obtain education in the United States. There are two kinds of visa categories under student visa USA. Students seeking academic education should apply for F1 visa USA offers and students of vocational studies should apply for the M1 visa category. Student visa applicants should apply for a visa after getting accepted by their School in the US which will provide them with I-20 form. Applicants of student visa should apply within 120 days of the I-20 start date and should travel within 30 days of the I-20 commencement date.

US Work Visa

This type of US visa is meant for people who wish to temporarily work in the US as a non-immigrant. According to their nature of job and specialization, applicants can choose the appropriate category under work visa USA. While a person working in a specialized job that requires highly specialized knowledge should apply for US H1B visa, the intracompany transferee can apply for L1 visa USA. Other US work visa categories include H1B1, H2A, H2B, H3, H4, L2, O, P and Q.

US Exchange Visitor Visa

The US Exchange Visitor visa is available for people who are traveling to the US to participate in an exchange program. People seeking this visa should have been accepted by an authorized sponsor in the US. The sponsor will provide the participant with the DS-2019 form. All applicants of US visitor visa should select ‘J’ visa category.

US Journalist and Media Visa

This type of US visa can be applied by Indian journalists or representatives of the Indian media who are traveling to the US to cover a story, incident or event. This type of visa is only granted to people from the Indian media whose home office remains in India. The purpose of applicants of this visa is to gather news. Applicants of this visa should apply for the ‘I’ visa category.

Other popular non-immigrant US visa types are transit visa, ship crew visa, religious worker visa, domestic employee visa and investor visa USA.

Nonimmigrant US Visa Types

Purpose of Travel to the US

A

Foreign government officers and diplomats

A1-2, G1-4, NATO1-6

Renewal of visa in the US  for A, G and NATO categories

A-2, NATO1-6

Foreign military personnel posted in the US

B-1

  • Athletes, professionals & amateurs (competing for prize money)
  • Business visitors
  • Domestic employees including nannies

B-2

  • Tourism, vacations or pleasure visitors
  • People traveling for medical treatment

BCC

Border Crossing Card - Mexico

C

Transiting through the US

D

Serving airline or sea vessel crew members in the US

E-1

Treaty traders

E-2

Treaty investors

E-3

Australian worker - professional specialty

F-1

Students - academic and language

F-2

Students who are dependents of an F-1 visa holder

G-1-G-5, NATO

Employees of specific international organizations and NATO

H-1B

People working in specialty occupations which requires highly specialized knowledge

H-1B, J1

Physicians

H-1B1

Free Trade Agreement (FTA) professionals - Chile, Singapore

H-1C

Nurses traveling to areas with scarcity of medical professionals

H-2A

Temporary workers - seasonal agricultural

H-2B

Temporary workers - non-agricultural

H-3

Non-employment training in a program

H-4

Dependents of H visa holders

I

Media, Journalists or representatives of information media

J

Exchange visitors

J, Q

Exchange visitors - international cultural

J-1

  • Exchange visitors - au pairs,
  • Exchange visitors - professors, teachers, scholars

J-2

Exchange visitors - Spouse of J-1 visa holder or children below 21 years of age

K-1

Fiance(e)

L

Intracompany transferees

M-1

Students - vocational

M-2

Students who are dependents of an M-1 visa holder

O-1

Foreign citizens with exceptional  abilities in science, arts, athletics, education or business

P

Athletes, entertainers and artists

R

Religious workers

T-1

Human trafficking victims

TN/TD

NAFTA professionals workers: Canada, Mexico

U-1

Criminal activity victims

Who Should Apply for US Visa

All citizens of India need to apply for a US visa in order to travel to the United States. Whether you apply for an immigrant visa, a tourist visa for USA from India or for a US H1B visa, Indian nationals will be granted with visas only after they submit all the relevant documents and appear for a visa interview at the US Embassy or Consulate.

However, not all countries across the globe require a US visa in order to travel to the United States. Countries who are a member of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) of the United States do not need to apply for a US visa in order to travel to the US. There are about 38 VWP participating countries including Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom among others. Residents of these countries, however, need to have a valid authorization via the ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization before entering the United States.

How to Apply for US Visa?

The procedure to apply for a US visa is different for immigrant and nonimmigrant visa seekers. People who want to apply for a non-immigrant US visa online can follow the steps given below:

  • Determine the type of US visa that you need to apply according to the purpose of your travel
  • Fill up the DS-160 form or the nonimmigrant visa electronic application form at the official website of the US Consular Electronic Application Center and submit it
  • Pay the application fee for US visa online through NEFT
  • Print the confirmation page of DS-160 form
  • Log in to your profile and book an appointment for Visa Application Centre (VAC) and at the US Embassy or Consulate. Enter your passport number, 10-digit barcode number mentioned on your DS-160 confirmation page and the visa application fee receipt number
  • Complete your profile and choose a pickup location to receive your passport
  • Visit the Visa Application Centre to let the officials take your photograph and fingerprints
  • Visit the US Embassy or Consulate on time for your interview along with all the required documents and appear for the interview
  • The US visa will be granted if you successfully clear the interview
  • Collect your passport from the pickup location

People who want to apply for nonimmigrant visa of the category ‘K’ or immigrant US visa online should follow the following steps:

  • File a petition with the USCIS or the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The petition can be self-filed or by any relative or your potential employer at the USCIS office in America
  • Self-petitioners can fill up the I-360 form and send it to the USCIS lockbox at Chicago since USCIS does not have a public counter presence in India
  • The USCIS will approve the petition and give you a priority date
  • Apply for an immigrant visa or nonimmigrant visa of the category ‘K’
  • Obtain a Police Clearance Certificate or PCC from the Regional Passport Office of your city. If you have lived in a country other than India for more than a year after turning 16 years, you would need to submit a PCC from the passport office of that country as well
  • Undergo a medical examination by an Embassy/ Consulate approved physician
  • Fill up the immigrant visa electronic application form or DS-260 form online at the official website of the US Consular Electronic Application Center and submit it. If you are applying for the ‘K” class visa, you need to fill up the DS-160 form in place of the DS-260 form
  • Print the confirmation page of the DS-260 form. Applicants of the ‘K” class visa should print the confirmation page of the DS-160 form
  • Log in to your profile and make an appointment at a Visa Application Centre and a visa interview appointment at the US Embassy or Consulate
  • Complete your profile and choose a pickup location to receive your passport
  • Visit the Visa Application Centre to let the officials take your photograph and fingerprints
  • Visit the US Embassy or Consulate on time for your interview along with all the required documents and appear for the interview
  • The US visa will be granted if you successfully clear the interview
  • Collect your passport from the pickup location

Documents Required to Apply for US Visa

US Visa Types

Documents Required

For Visa Application Centre Appointment

For Embassy/ Consulate Appointment

Immigrant visa

  • Valid passport
  • Printout of the DS-260 confirmation page
  • Printout of the appointment confirmation page
  • One photograph (for children under 14 years of age)
  • Printout of the DS-260 confirmation page stamped at the Visa Application Centre
  • Current and old passports
  • PCC Certificate from Regional Passport Office
  • Medical examination report
  • Other documents supporting visa type

People applying for ‘K’ class category

  • Valid passport
  • Printout of the DS-160 confirmation page
  • Printout of the appointment confirmation page
  • Printout of the DS-160 confirmation page stamped at the Visa Application Centre
  • Current and old passports
  • PCC Certificate from Regional Passport Office
  • Medical examination report
  • Other documents supporting visa type

Nonimmigrant visa

  • Valid passport
  • Printout of DS-160 form confirmation page
  • Printout of the appointment confirmation page
  • One photograph (for children under 14 years of age)
  • Printout of the appointment confirmation letter
  • Printout of the DS-160 confirmation page stamped at the Visa Application Centre
  • Current and old passports
  • Other documents supporting visa type

 

Supporting Documents:

  • Flight tickets and travel itinerary
  • Letter of Employment (in case working for an organization)
  • Financial Statements
  • ITR payments
  • Any support affidavit required by the Embassy/ Consulate
  • I-20 form (for student visa USA applicants)
  • Other supporting documents according to the US visa type

DS-160 Form/ DS-260 Form:

Each applicant of a nonimmigrant US visa needs to submit a duly completed DS-160 form online before booking a visa appointment at the Visa Application Centre or US Embassy or Consulate. All applicants of US travel visa for immigrants need to submit DS-260 form in order to make a VAC or Embassy/ Consulate appointment. The DS-160/ DS-260 form is a certification from the applicant’s side which confirms that all information mentioned in the form stands true. Furnishing any incorrect information in the form will eliminate your chances to enter the United States of America.

All DS-160/ DS-260 forms need to be signed electronically and a printed copy of the confirmation page should be brought along to the interview. It is important for every American visa applicant to have submitted this form as the barcode on the DS-160/ DS-260 confirmation page is needed at the time of booking a US visa appointment.

I-20 Form:

Every person applying for a US student visa needs to possess an I-20 form. The form clearly states that the applicant has been accepted to a school in the US and thus needs requires a student visa. USA does not guarantee a visa to each applicant with an I-20 form. Only when the applicant student has submitted all the required documents and has cleared the visa interview, he/ she is granted a student visa.

Do’s to Ensure Smooth Processing of US Visa Application

  • The applicant’s passport should be valid for at least six months after his scheduled date of departure from the United States after completing the stay
  • Photographs of children under 14 years should be according to the guidelines issued by the US Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs
  • The appointment at the Visa Application Centre should be at least a day before the appointment at the Embassy or Consulate
  • People with no PCC certificate and medical examination report will not be allowed to enter the US Embassy or Consulate
  • People who have been denied a US visa earlier should apply for a fresh DS-160 form.
  • People traveling to the United States in groups of 10 or more people can apply for a group visa appointment. This may include people traveling on professional/ industrial training, study tours, school trips, performing artists, etc.

US Visa Fees

A lot of people wonder how much does a US visa cost. AS per the US immigration laws, all applicants of US visas, including children, need to pay a visa application fee in order to obtain the visa for the US. The fee has to be paid by all applicants irrespective of whether they get a US visa or not. The application fee is non-refundable and cannot be transferred to another person.

The US visa fee amount is determined on the basis of the visa categories and has to be paid in the local currency. The US visa fee application can be paid online via cash, demand draft or via credit card. You can also pay the application fee for US visa online through NEFT. However, payment through debit cards and cheques are not accepted.

Once the US visa fee has been paid, a payment receipt will be generated. The payment receipt has validity for one year and allows the applicant to schedule an interview at the US Consulate. If you do not schedule an interview at the Consulate within one- year validity of the receipt, you will have to pay the US visa fees again.

The fee structure for immigrant and non-immigrant US visa applications are quite different from each other. The various kinds of fees related to obtaining either type of US visa are provided below:

Non-Immigrant US Visa Fees:

Nonimmigrant US Visa Types

Purpose of Travel

US Visa Cost/ Fee
(in USD)

B

Business, Tourism or Medical Treatment

160

C-1

Transiting to the US

160

D

Ship/ Airline Crewmembers

160

E

Australian Professional Speciality, Treaty Investor/ Trader

205

F

Students (academic)

160

H

Temporary Employment/ Workers or Trainees

190

I

Journalists  and Media

160

J

Exchange Visitors

160

K

Spouse or Fiance(e) of a US Citizen

265

L

Intracompany Transferees

190

M

Students (vocational)

160

O

Persons with Extraordinary Ability

190

P

Artists, Athletes or Entertainers

190

Q

International Cultural Exchange

190

R

Religious Worker

190

T

Human Trafficking Victims

160

TN/ TD

NAFTA* Professionals

160

U

Victims of Criminal Activities

160

 

*NAFTA stands for North American Free Trade Agreement

Additional fees that certain travelers may have to pay for obtaining a nonimmigrant US visa are:

  • Nonimmigrant Visa Issuance Fee
  • SEVIS or Student & Exchange Visitor Information System Fee (ranging between $220 to $350)
  • Blanket L Fee which consists of -
    • Fraud Prevention and Detection Fee of $500 and
    • Biometric Entry-Exit Fee of $4500
  • Border Crossing Card Fee of $160

Immigrant US Visa Fees:

Types of Petitions/ Applications

Application Description

US Visa Cost/ Fee
(in USD)

I-130 petition

Immigrant petition for relative

535

I-600, I-800

Orphan petition by an immediate relative

775

I-130, I-600, I-800

Immediate relative & family

325

I-140, I-526

Employment

345

I-360 and other immigrant applications

Self-petitioners, applicants of special immigrant visas and other applications except for DV program applications

205

SB-1

Returning residents

205

 

Other fees that an immigrant US visa applicant may have to pay includes:

  • Diversity visa lottery fee of $330
  • Support review affidavit fee of $120 (for domestic review)
  • Fee for determining Returning Residents Status (DS-117 form) of $180
  • Transportation letter fee of $575 for legal permanent residents of the US
  • Application fee of $120 for waiver of the two-year residency under J category (DS-3035 form)
  • Application fee of $930 for waiver of visa ineligibility (I-601 form)

Exceptions on Visa Fee Payment

Travelers falling or fulfilling the following conditions do not have to pay any fee towards their US visa application.

  • People applying for A, C-2, C-3, G categories of visas or NATO or diplomatic visas
  • J visa category applicants who are traveling to take part in specific official US government-sponsored cultural or educational exchanges
  • In case the machine-readable American visa needs to be replaced or the visa needs to be reissued within one year of its issuance due to not improper fixing with no fault of the applicant
  • Members or staffs of an observer mission to the UN headquarters that has been recognized by the UN General Assembly, including his immediate family members, are exempted under the international agreements
  • People traveling for specific charitable services
  • Employees of the US government traveling on official duty
  • Family members of a US government employee, who died or got critically injured while on duty, traveling to visit or attend the funeral of the deceased. Family members include a spouse, parents, children or siblings, etc.

Who Can Apply for Expedited US Visa Appointment?

Under some cases, applicants are provided with expedited appointments for their US visa interview. Documents supporting the urgency needs to be submitted at the time of the interview. You can apply for an expedited US visa appointment under the following circumstances:

  • Need for urgent medical treatment in the US
  • Death or funeral of an immediate family member in the US
  • Urgent travel to the US for business purposes
  • Students or exchange visitors whose program is going to start within 60 days

How to Check US Visa Status?

Once you have submitted your US travel visa application and have attended your visa interview, the Consular Department of the US Embassy & Consulates might take a few days to process it. During this period, you can check the application status of your US visa online by visiting the official website of the US Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). Take the following steps to view your US visa application status:

  • Visit the official website of US CEAC
  • Select on ‘Check my visa application status’
  • Select your US visa application type
  • Enter your interview location
  • Enter your Application Id or the case number
  • Click on submit
  • You can find out if your US visa application has been accepted, refused or has pending administrative processing

Administrative Processing

Some US visa applications get delayed because they require further administrative processing under Section 221(g) of the US Immigration & Nationality Act. Such applications take a minimum of 180 days to get processed, starting from the date of the interview or submission of additional documents. In cases of emergencies including critical injury, illness or death of an immediate family member, applications with administrative processing can get processed faster. If a US travel visa application requires administrative processing, the Consular Officer will inform about the same to the applicant at the end of his US visa interview.

Travel Insurance for US Visa

Obtaining a US travel visa is not a cakewalk. A lot of efforts, document submission and attending a visa interview finally gets you a US visa. What if an unforeseen incident like a flight delay, loss of check-in baggage or road accident occurs in the middle of your trip to the USA? Not only do such unpredictable emergencies spoil your travel plans but also put a big financial burden on your shoulders. By buying a travel insurance policy, you can stay prepared for such adversities and can have an enjoyable time on your trip to the US.

A travel insurance policy offers varied coverage including medical expenses, loss of passport, delay or loss-in check-in baggage, personal accident, flight delay, missed connecting flight, personal liability, emergency cash advance and many more. Right from student travel insurance to family travel insurance, different types of travel insurance plans can cater to the needs of different kinds of travelers.

Having a valid travel insurance policy is not mandatory as per the laws of the United States. However, the US is famous for expensive medical care and thus, even a small visit to a health care provider during your travel will end up burning a big hole in your pockets. Besides medical travel insurance, an international travel insurance policy keeps you prepared for emergencies that are non-medical and provides you with financial aid at the hour of need.

Written By: PolicyBazaar - Updated: 24 October 2019
Q:

How early should I apply for a US visa?

Ans:

The general rule of thumb is to apply for a US visa as early as possible in order to obtain your visa before your scheduled date of departure. Nonimmigrant visa applicants should make sure to apply for a US visa at least three months before their scheduled departure from India. Student visa seekers should apply within 120 days of the I-20 start date.

Q:

Is it mandatory for all US visa applicants need to be present for their visa interview?

Ans:

No. Children below the age of 14 years do not have to be physically present at the Visa Application Centre or Embassy or Consulate for their visa interviews.

Q:

How many days does it take for a US visa application to get processed?

Ans:

In most cases, US travel visas are processed within seven to ten working days from the interview. In some rare cases, the US visa application can take more time to get processed due to individual circumstances and requirements.

Q:

Why was my nonimmigrant US visa application rejected?

Ans:

The exact reason for the refusal of a nonimmigrant American visa can differ from one applicant to another. However, the most common reason for rejection of a nonimmigrant US visa is due to Section 214(b) of the US Immigration & Nationality Act. Under this section, your Consular Officer believes that you don’t have a strong reason to return back to India and are going to immigrate to the USA. In avoid rejection on such grounds, you should convince the Consular Officer conducting your US visa interview of the following:

1. You intend to return back to your home, which isn’t in the USA

2. You are traveling for a short period of time due to a specific purpose and will return back to India once your purpose is fulfilled

3. You can afford your trip to the USA

4. You meet all the requirements of the visa category you are applying for and the category allows you to undertake your planned activity

Q:

Can I reapply for a nonimmigrant US visa after it was rejected once?

Ans:

Yes. In case you were denied a nonimmigrant US visa under Section 214(b) of the US Immigration & Nationality Act, you can reapply if your circumstances have changed and you have new information.

Q:

Do I need to fill up the I-94 form to enter the US?

Ans:

No. Foreigners who are visiting the US via air or sea for a short period of time no longer need to submit an I-94 form or the Customs & Border Protection (CBP) form. The CBP now gathers all the information about a traveler’s arrival and departure directly from their e-travel records. However, foreign nationals arriving in the US via land need to fill up an offline I-94 form provided by the CBP. The I-94 form should be submitted to the immigration officer at the time of exiting the US.

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