Millions of people visit the United States of America (USA) each year. It is one of the most popular immigration and tourism destinations in the world. However, if you’re not a resident of the USA, you most probably need to go through a USA visa application process to obtain a visa to be allowed entry into the country.
If you’re someone who’s thinking of traveling to the USA shortly and want to know everything about the different types of visas and how to apply for them, then you’re in luck! This post was written with people like you in mind.
Keep on reading to find out everything you need to know about the USA visa application process and what type of visa would be best suited for your needs. Let’s get started!
How Long Does It Take To Get A USA Visa?
The entire USA visa application process can take a long time and therefore it is always better to start the process well before your intended date of travel.
It can take anywhere from 3 to 5 weeks for a USA visa application to be processed. If everything goes smoothly, you can expect a positive reply and will have the visa approved and delivered in up to 2 to 3 workdays after processing.
It’s important to note that every visa case is different and the time it takes to obtain your USA visa may vary. Especially if the USA Embassy you’re applying from is under a heavy workload. The greater the number of applications, the longer it will take for your visa to get processed.
How Much Does Getting A USA Visa Cost?
How much an American visa costs also depends on the type of visa you’re going for and the country you’re applying from.
For the more common nonimmigrant visas, the application fee is $160. This includes student, business and tourism visas.
Most petition-based visas (visas that require a petition from someone living in the USA) such as religious work visas and work visas, cost roughly around $190.
More information about processing fees for different visas is available here.
USA Visa Types
Generally, every non-USA citizen that wishes to enter the USA must first gain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for a short-term stay or an immigrant visa for a permanent stay.
The only exception is that citizens of a few qualified countries may be granted visa-free access to the USA under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens or nationals of these qualified countries to travel to the USA for tourism or business, for up to 90 days without a visa.
However, if you don’t qualify for the VWP and are visiting for a short-term stay, you will most probably require a nonimmigrant visa.
Here’s a list of the main types of USA visas:
Business or Tourist Visas are nonimmigrant visas. They can be classified into B-1 or B-2 visitor visas that are for people that wish to travel temporarily to the USA for business purposes (B-1), or pleasure/medical treatments (B-2).
In general, the B-1 visa is useful for travelers who aim to negotiate contracts, settle estates, or wish to attend professional, business, educational or scientific conventions/conferences.
The B-2 visa on the other hand is mostly for recreational travel, such as for tourism, visiting family and friends, for medical purposes, etc.
Often, both the B-1 and B-2 visas are combined and handed out as one visa: the B-1/B-2.
The cost for applying for the B-1/B-2 business and tourist visa starts from $160.
If you wish to work or seek employment in the USA temporarily, the USA immigration law requires you to obtain a specific visa based on the kind of work you are planning on doing. Temporary worker visas are for those working in the USA for a fixed period of time and are not considered permanent.
Most temporary work visas are nonimmigrant visas that require your prospective employers or agents to file a petition. This petition is called the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129 and must gain approval from the USA Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in the USA before you can start the process of your USA visa application.
There are different temporary visa categories with different conditions. Some of the most common temporary work visas issued by the USA are the H, L, O, P, and Q visas and each needs approval from the USCIS after submitting the I-129 Form petition.
After successful approval of the petition, your employer or agent will receive Form I-797, which is not a form to be filled out but acts as your petition’s approval notification.
Be sure to always bring your I-129 receipt number to your visa interview to prove the approval of your petition.
The cost of petition-based work visas is usually around $190.
Student visas are nonimmigrant visas that can be either an F or M visa, which is determined by your type of school and subject. Before starting the application process for student visas, applicants must be accepted by their educational institute or program. After acceptance, their institute will give you all the necessary documentation that will be required when applying for student visas.
The F-1 visa is the most common type of student visa and is required if you wish to partake in academic studies in USA schools, colleges, or universities. It is also needed if your course is more than 18 hours a week.
On the other hand, if you’re someone that wishes to indulge in non-academics, vocational study, or training in the USA, then you’ll require an M-1 visa.
Another thing to note is although students might be travelling for temporary stay or treat it as vacation, students cannot study in the USA with just the Visa Waiver Program. For more information about student visas and other important details about studying in the USA, please visit the Education USA website. The F-1/M-1 student visas cost roughly $160.
Exchange Program Visas
Like student visas, exchange visitor visas are nonimmigrant visas that require applicants to be accepted by exchange programs and approved by the designated program sponsors beforehand. After acceptance, the applicant receives the required approval documentation that will need to be submitted when applying for a visa.
Some examples of exchange visitor categories include Au pairs, interns, summer work travel, short term scholars, physicians and more. The exchange visitor’s J visa is made to encourage the interchange of knowledge, skill, and individuals in the educational fields of arts and sciences. Students at every academic level are included.
The cost of J visas is the same as for other non-petition visas at $160.
If you’re a citizen of a foreign country and have to travel in immediate and continuous transit through the USA on the way to another foreign destination, you will require a valid transit (C) visa.
If however, you wish to have layover privileges during your transit through the USA such as sightseeing or visiting friends, you will still have to obtain the visa needed for that purpose, like the B-2 tourist visa.
Only travelers that fall under the Visa Waiver Program are exempted from this rule and can travel in transit to the USA without needing a visa.
Crew members serving in aircraft or ships need a different type of visa called the crew (D) visa. Generally, crew members transiting through the USA use a combination transit/crew visa (C-1/D). But, in some cases, only the crew (D) visa may be required.
Crew members that wish to experience the USA during their time-off in between flights or cruises should also consider getting a B-2 tourist visa to use during their days off.
Fortunately, you must only pay for one USA visa application fee to apply for both the C-1/D and the B-1/B-2 visa.
The cost of processing these transit fees is roughly about $160.
Religious Workers Visa
If you’re looking to travel to the USA to temporarily work in a religious capacity, you will most probably require the Religious Workers (R) visa type.
Religious workers include people authorized by recognized entities to lead religious worship and handle other duties that are often performed by authorized clergy of that religion, and workers that wish to engage in religious occupations or vocation. Religious workers must work at least part-time, with an average of at least 20 hours per week. Employers must also file the petition I-129 on behalf of the religious worker before being able to apply for a religious worker visa.
For certain religious activities such as private worship, prayer, meditation, informal religious study, and attendance at religious, a B-1 visitor visa may be used.
The religious workers (R) visa is a petition-based visa and starts at $190.
Personal/Domestic Employee Visas
Domestic or personal servants such as cooks, housemaids, nannies, etc that want to follow or accompany employers to the USA may be eligible for a B-1 business visa and will cost around $160. Those that are accompanying employers that are foreign diplomats or government officials may also be eligible for a G-5 or A-3 visa, depending on their employer’s visa status.
If you’re a representative of foreign media, such as members of the press, radio, film, and print industries, and seek to travel to the USA temporarily to engage in your profession you will most probably require the journalist and media “I” visa. Activities in the USA must be for an organisation that has its home office in a foreign country.
The application processing fee for the media visa is the same as for other non-petition visas, at $160.
The E-1 (Treaty Trader) and E-2 visas (Treaty Investor) are nonimmigrant visas that allow holders of E visas to temporarily reside in the USA to manage investments or trades of a USA business, or in some cases, to provide expertise to it as well.
Holders of E visas are required to leave the USA after the termination of their E status. The applicant’s spouse and unmarried children (up to 21 years of age) can also receive dependent E visas to join you in the US.
The cost of E visas for traders and investors (E-1, E-2) is $205 and is a petition-based visa.
Immigrant visas are for those who permanently wish to stay in the USA and make it their new home. There are different categories of immigrant visas, such as Immediate Relative & Family Sponsored visas or Employer Sponsored visas.
Under Family Sponsored visas, you can apply for the immigrant visa if you have a spouse who is a USA citizen. This means you and your spouse have to be legally married, and your USA spouse has to petition for an Alien relative by filling out the form I-130 with the USCIS.
If you have an immediate family who is a USA citizen, you can apply for family-based immigration. These visas are for closely related, immediate family members and not extended relatives. Start here to begin your family-based immigration.
However, if you’re looking to immigrate based on employment, you should know that there are five different employment visa categories, E1, E2, E3, E4 and E5. Each category has different immigration forms. After USCIS approves your petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) where upon receival, the NVC will assign a case number for the petition. The NVC will then provide instructions to submit the appropriate fees and documents.
If you’re looking to find out more about the different immigration visas to the USA, head over here.
The Nonimmigrant USA Visa Application Process: What you need to know
Before getting started with the visa application process, it’s best to confirm whether you need to apply for a USA visa in the first place.
If you are a citizen of a country that comes under the Visa Waiver Program or if you already hold a valid USA visa, then you don’t need to apply for a new visa.
However, if you do need to apply for a nonimmigrant visa, follow the steps given below.
Step 1: DS-160 form
To apply for a nonimmigrant USA visa, you will first need to complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application form, DS-160 for temporary travel.
Access the DS-160 form here to get started. Remember to print and keep the DS-160 barcode page.
Be sure to correctly enter all relevant information as once this form is submitted, you can’t make further changes. If you require assistance, be sure to consult a qualified immigration lawyer.
Note: If you’ve been denied a visa previously, you will have to submit another new DS-160 form.
Step 2: Fee payments
Once you have completed the first step of filling the DS-160, you will then have to pay a visa application fee and provide some supporting documents before your scheduled interview.
If you’re applying for the first time for a USA visa in Australia, you will first need to make a New User. For existing users, login here. Then simply follow the steps till you reach the payment page. There are many ways to pay your visa fee so head to this page to find out more about the various payment options.
Keep in mind that every applicant must also have a medical examination for USA visa performed by a physician accredited at your local USA Embassy before going for their interview.
Step 3: Schedule an appointment
After successful payment of your visa fees, you are almost done and ready to schedule an appointment. Since the USA Embassy or Consulate does not schedule an appointment for you, check the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you will be interviewed for country-specific instructions.
For Australians, simply login with the same profile you used to pay your visa fees with and click on the “Schedule Appointment” option in the side menu on the left. This will begin the process for the scheduling of your visa appointment. Then fill in your personal details to complete the process and have your appointment fixed.
Keep these three vital pieces of information ready when scheduling your appointment:
- Your passport.
- Your receipt number (if you paid with your credit card) or the “Unique Seq No” on your Australia post receipt.
- The 10-digit barcode from your DS-160 confirmation form.
Step 4: Interview with the USA Consulate
Finally, it’s time to visit the USA Consulate on the date of your appointment. Ensure you bring along all necessary documentation such as your appointment letter, DS-160 form, recent photographs, passport, fee payment receipt, and a self-addressed plastic envelope from Australia Post.
Applications without sufficient supporting documents may not be accepted, therefore be sure to check all the application document requirements for your specific visa category page.
It’s also important to realize that the USA visa application process can slightly vary depending on the USA Embassy you apply to, the country you’re in, and the type of visa you’re applying for.
Note: Although the USA visa application process is simple, successfully getting a visa is often much harder. The USA State Department denies a significant amount of USA visa applications each year and also makes it difficult for residents of certain countries that have high levels of visa misuse to obtain a USA visa.
So, now that we have gone through a fair share of USA visa types and the process of applying for them, getting your visa might not feel like such a daunting task after all. With that being said, you’re ready to embark on a new exciting journey!