Requesting a visa can be a long and complicated process. The U.S. immigration system is notoriously hard to navigate. Many government websites are poorly organized. The rules and regulations are worded in the most confusing way possible. Overall, the system is not user-friendly, but it’s unavoidable if you need to live or work in the U.S. Here’s how to get a U.S. visa. 

Reasons for Getting a U.S. Visa

There are many reasons you might apply for a visa, but we are going to focus specifically on immigrant visa categories. These categories apply to you if you are married or engaged to a U.S. citizen, or attempting to join other family members in the U.S. You may have received a job offer that requires you to live in the U.S, which would also qualify you for an immigrant visa. 

Types of U.S. Visas

Immediate Relative and Family Preference Visas

There are visas available specifically for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. To be considered an immediate relative, you must be the spouse, parent or child of a U.S. citizen. If you are in a same-sex marriage with a U.S. citizen, you and your children are eligible for an immediate relative visa. Some common-law marriages are recognized as well, but others are not. There is no annual limit to the number of immediate relative visas that can be issued. 

There are also family preference visas for more distant relations, although the number issued each year is limited. There are four levels of preference:

  1. The unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens are ranked first, along with any children they might have.
  2. The spouses, underage children and unmarried adult children of lawful permanent residents are ranked second. A lawful permanent resident is someone that holds a green card. You will also see lawful permanent residents referred to as LPRs.
  3. Ranked third are the married children of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their children.
  4. Finally, the siblings of adult U.S. citizens are ranked fourth, along with the sibling’s spouse and children. 

A U.S. citizen that is an even more distant relative like a cousin, aunt, uncle or grandparent cannot sponsor someone for a family preference visa. 

Employment-based Visas

Another option is an employment-based visa. Employment-based visas do not require a relative who is already a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. As with family preference visas, there are different levels of employment-based visas. In order from highest to lowest preference, these levels are:

  1. Priority workers and people with extraordinary abilities, meaning they have received national or international acclaim in their field. 
  2. People with exceptional abilities or people with advanced degrees. Exceptional abilities mean having much more expertise than average.  An advanced degree is more than a bachelor’s degree or a bachelor’s degree plus five years of relevant experience.
  3. Skilled workers, professional workers whose jobs require a bachelor’s degree, and unskilled workers who do not do seasonal or temporary work. 
  4. A broad array of “special” groups like religious workers, Afghan or Iraqi interpreters, and Iraqi and Afghan citizens who worked for the U.S. government, among others.
  5. Finally, investors looking to immigrate are eligible for employment-based visas.

How to Request a U.S. Visa

There are 12 steps to getting a visa. You will need a valid U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident as a sponsor, enough money to pay the fees involved, an internet connection, and a computer or smartphone with scanning capabilities. You will also need patience because the visa process can take weeks, months or longer. Here are the steps you need to follow to request a visa. For more detailed information on each of them, look at the U.S. State Department’s page on the immigrant visa process. It is also available in Spanish.

  1. Sponsor submits a petition.
  2. Sponsor and applicant wait for the National Visa Center to process the petition.
  3. Sponsor and applicant pay the fees.
  4. Sponsor signs an affidavit of support.
  5. Sponsor submits evidence of their financial situation.
  6. Applicant fills out the online application. 
  7. Applicant collects the civil documents required for a visa.
  8. Sponsor and applicant scan the documents so they can be uploaded.
  9. Sponsor and applicant submit the documents. 
  10. Applicant prepares for the interview.
  11. Applicant is interviewed.
  12. After the interview, the applicant waits to hear whether their visa petition has been approved or denied. 

If your visa application is denied, you may be able to apply for a waiver of ineligibility that will allow you to receive a visa anyway. You might also have been denied because you are missing some of the necessary documentation. In that case, someone will tell you what you are missing and how to provide it.

If you need help obtaining a U.S. visa or want to learn more about the process, please contact the Law Offices of Grant Bettencourt today.