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Types of Visas

To enter the United States you need either a temporary or immigrant visa. You can apply for either one at an American consulate or embassy outside the United States. The temporary visa allows you to visit the United States for a limited period of time, while the immigrant visa allows you to live in the U.S.A. permanently. Holders of temporary visas can apply for an “adjustment of status” when in the United States to convert their visas into immigrant visas, but the process is complicated.

Temporary visas are given for a number of reasons, most commonly for tourists, students, businesspeople or people seeking medical care in the United States. Most visitor visas are valid for six months. There is no limit to the number of temporary visas issued. People applying for temporary visas may often have to prove that they intend to return to their countries (rather than live in the U.S. as undocumented aliens) before the visa will be granted. A person with a temporary visa may also be denied entry into the country at the border if the INS believes the person is politically subversive, a disease carrier, or is likely to attempt to stay in the country permanently.

Immigrant visas (permanent residence visas) are limited to a certain number per year and per country for most preference categories. Refugees and certain relatives of U.S. citizens are not subject to numerical limitation. The emphasis of the system is on keeping families together.

Next Section:The Preference System

Immigration: Chapter Home

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