How do I get in?

The first step to living in the U.S. is, quite simply, getting to the U.S. There are many, many ways to do so legally using various immigrant or nonimmigrant visas. But, these visas tend to be narrowly tailored, making it hard for some folks to make a new life in American.

However, if you’re looking for a way to get in, here’s a list of the most common visa categories for your perusing pleasure. They’re separated into two main categories: nonimmigrant visas and immigrant visas. Key difference — nonimmigrant visas are temporary (and there are a ton of them, which is why I’ve only selected the most common).

Nonimmigrant Visas

B-1: Business Travelers.
B-2: Pleasure or Medical Treatment.

E-1: Treaty Trader, Spouses and Children under the age of twenty-one (21).
E-2: Treaty Investor, Spouses and Children under the age of twenty-one (21).

F-1: Academic Student.

H-1B: Professionals who come temporarily to the U.S. to perform a specialty occupation.

H-2A: Aliens who come to the U.S. to perform agricultural labor or services of temporary or seasonal nature.
H-2B: Aliens who come to the U.S. not to perform agricultural labor or services but to perform work in temporary nature.

J-1: Exchange Visitor.

K-1: Fiance(e) of United States Citizen.
K-3: Spouses of a U.S. Citizen.

L-1A: Intracompany Transferee (Executive, Managerial) Continuing Employment with International Firm or Corporation.
L-1B: Intracompany Transferee (Specialized Knowledge Personnel) Continuing Employment with International Firm or Corporation.

M-1: Vocational Student or Other Nonacademic Student.

O-1A: Aliens possessing extraordinary abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.
O-1B: Aliens of extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry.

P-1: Athletes, Entertainement Groups and Support Personnel.
P-2: Artistic Exchange (reciprocical exchange program).
P-3: Artistic Exchange (culturally unique program).

R-1: Aliens in a religious occupation.

T-1: Victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons.

TN: Professional Workers under NAFTA.

U-1: Victim of Certain Criminal Activity.

Immigrant Visas

There are several primary categories of immigrant visa: Family, Employment, and Diversity.

1.  Family

If you’re a close relative (e.g., brother/sister, parent, child, spouse) of a U.S. Citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident, you’ve got options. Depending on the strength the familiar relationship, the process can be relatively quick or excruciatingly slow.  Your country of origin may also play a role here in how long you have to wait.

2. Employment

Employers can sponsor certain qualified employees for green cards. It can be a complicated process in some cases, but it is definitely an option that should be discussed with your employer.

3. Diversity

This is literally a lottery. If your country is determined to be underrepresented, then you can enter a lottery for a visa and green card. It’s a sweet deal, but there are only 50,000 per year.


As I said, there are tons of ways to get into and stay in the U.S.  The above list is not exhaustive by any means.  And, there are other common methods that are not technically visas, such as asylum and temporary protected status (TPS).


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