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Immigrant and non-immigrant visas are both granted by the United States to qualified foreign-born individuals who want to come to the country for an extended period of time. As an applicant, you will need to establish that you meet all requirements to receive the category of visa for which you are applying. With much importance being placed on selecting the right form based on the type of visa, one can easily get overwhelmed with the various categories, forms and procedures involved.

The key difference between an immigrant visa and a non-immigrant visa is simple: Immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals who intend to live permanently in the United States while Non-immigrant visas are for individuals wishing to enter the United States on a temporary basis, it can either be for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, study, or other similar reasons. Issuance of a visa does not guarantee entry to the United States. A visa simply indicates that a U.S. consular officer at an American embassy or consulate has reviewed the application and that officer has determined that the individual is eligible to enter the country for a specific purpose. The CBP Officer at the port-of-entry will conduct an inspection to determine if the individual is eligible for admission under U.S. immigration law.

Immigrant Visa

An Immigrant visa is for individuals who want to permanently resettle in the United States. It allows the visa-holder (or green card holder) to leave and re-enter U.S at will, without any other documentation or visa, just like a citizen would. However, this type of Visa does not have certain rights such as the right to vote unless they apply for and are granted citizenship.

A person who successfully files for Immigrant visa meets the essential criteria to live and work in the U.S, this happens either through a family relationship to a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident, such as being a spouse or child. On the other hand, it can also happen through employment sponsorship which normally requires a permanent job offer for a particular position. Some employment-based immigrant visas such as workers with extraordinary ability, investors, and certain special immigrants can petition on their own behalf. The application is later forwarded to the appropriate U.S. Embassy overseas for continued processing, an intending Immigrant will then become a lawful permanent resident once the immigrant visa and accompanying paperwork is reviewed and endorsed by a CBP Officer. Other people may become permanent residents through refugee, asylum status or other humanitarian programs.

Non-Immigrant Visa

On the other hand, Non-immigrant visas are meant to only grant the applicant a limited amount of time to live and work in the U.S. To this end, applicants must prove that they have no intention of being in the United States indefinitely and do intend on returning to their home country or last country of residence. The law is written to place the burden of proof on the applicant: Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act states that “Each visa applicant is presumed to be an immigrant unless he or she proves otherwise”. Consular officers may deny your non-immigrant visa when they determine that you do intend to immigrate to the U.S. permanently. The only exception to this rule is for visas that are classified as “dual intent visas” such as H-1B and L-1 visas. In these cases, the officer may not deny your case based on intent alone.

Once a person has entered the U.S. in non-immigrant status, they are restricted to the activity or reason for which they were allowed entry. For example, someone with a student visa must continue to be enrolled in school to keep within the terms of the visa.

The United States of America offers the following non-immigrant visas;

Business/Tourist Visa: This visa is intended for temporary business visits and visits for medical treatment or for recreation/pleasure.

Work Visa: This is a visa that allows an applicant to work temporarily in the US as a non-immigrant and falls under the purview of the US immigration laws.

Student Visas: These visas are provided when an applicant wishes to study in the US, both academically or vocationally. Exchange visitor visa wherein a visa is provided for applicants from an authorized exchange program in the field of education, science or the arts.

Transit visa: It is provided to those applicants whose continuous and immediate travel need them to stop over in the US en route to a foreign destination.

Religious worker visa: These visas are provided to those who wish to enter the US to carry out religious work on a temporary basis.

Domestic employee visa: It is provided to personal or domestic servants following an employer to the United States. Whereas, journalists and representatives of foreign media can avail a non-immigrant media visa.

Dual Intent Visas

People applying for a nonimmigrant visa may be denied if they appear to have the true intention of visiting the U.S. for the purposes of obtaining immigrant status. Likewise, you may be violating the terms of your non-immigrant visa if you come to the United States for the purposes of adjusting status to permanent resident status. There is a class of visas that allow this “dual intent,” coming to the United States in a nonimmigrant status with the eventual intention or possibility of becoming a permanent immigrant. Presently, only E, H-1, L, K-3 and K-4 non-immigrant categories are allowed to enter and remain nonimmigrants while simultaneously pursuing permanent resident status.

Are You Qualified to apply for a Visa to the U.S? Contact an Immigration Lawyer for Help

We can schedule an evaluation or attorney consultation to answer your immigration questions. Consulting an immigration attorney can help determine which option is best and guide your throughout the process. For more information on how we can assist you, please visit our website at or email us at

Patricia Elizee is the managing partner of the Elizee Law Firm, an immigration law firm located at 1110 Brickell Avenue, Suite 315, Miami, Florida 33131. Phone 305-371-8846

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