Visas Overview -P1

Foreign individuals (sometimes called "nationals") often require visas to move between countries or to engage in certain activities abroad.  Visas are official government endorsements, usually stamped in the recipient's passport, permitting a foreign national to proceed with his or her plans in the non-native country.  In the United States, foreign nationals may receive either an immigrant or a nonimmigrant visa for entry.  The specific visa desired depends on the individual's needs and goals, as well as his or her status with regard to immigration rules. 

Immigrant Visas

The Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues immigrant visas to qualified applicants who wish to enter the U.S. to stay permanently.  The specific type of immigrant visa granted varies based on the individual's status -- such as a family member of a citizen or permanent resident, potential employee of a U.S. company, or foreign national with business or investment interests in the U.S. 

Numerical Limitations on Immigrant Visas

Some immigrant visas are subject to annual numerical limitations. The USCIS divides family-sponsored and employment-related visas into limited categories, and grants visas based on a pre-determined allocation among those classifications.

Example: For family-based immigration, spouses and children of lawful permanent residents receive a larger percentage of the visas available for family-sponsored immigration than married children of U.S. citizens.  In employment, priority workers including outstanding professors and persons of extraordinary ability in various fields receive a larger proportion of the available employment visas than religious workers.

The Diversity Visa Lottery

In addition to family-based and employment-related visas, the INS grants diversity visas to immigrants from countries that historically send few immigrants to the United States.  The system involves a visa lottery, and is therefore a very uncertain method of securing legal entrance to the U.S.