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Applying for a Visitor’s Visa to the United States

To be eligible for a visitor’s visa to the United States, you must demonstrate to the U.S. State Department that you are not going to rely on American government funding to support yourself. You must also demonstrate that you will leave the U.S. at the conclusion of your authorized stay. Visitors are not usually allowed to stay in the U.S. for more than six months, although many visitors are given much less time to visit. While each visa application is decided on a case-by-case basis, you will find some general advice below that may help your chances of obtaining a visitor’s visa.

  1. You must demonstrate that you have enough money to pay for your flight, for your room and board, and for other expenses you might accrue during your visit.
  2. It sometimes helps to know exactly where you would stay if you were given a visa. Knowing a precise address would be best. If you are staying with friends or family for free, that may also help you to demonstrate that you are able to pay for your trip.
  3. Having a specific reason to be temporarily in the United States is helpful. For example, if you are attending a conference or visiting a college, you should indicate that in your visa application.
  4. Sometimes, a letter of invitation to visit from a person, a church, an academic institution, or other reputable group may demonstrate a good reason for your trip and also designate a place you intend to stay while you are here.
  5. You must demonstrate that you do not intend to stay permanently in the United States.
    1. To prove that you do not have immigrant intent you should demonstrate strong ties to your current country of residence. Such ties may include:
      1. A deed proving home ownership, a lease for a home, or other proof of property investment;
      2. assets such as a car, bank account, or savings account;
      3. strong family ties, such as close family members who depend on you;
      4. a letter from an employer confirming your employment and including a date specific you are expected back at work after your trip;
      5. enrollment in an academic program in which you still have course work to complete; and
      6. any other evidence that anchors you to a nation that is not the United States.

B. *warning* Conversely, if you indicate that you are looking to stay permanently in the US, it is very likely that your visa will be denied. As such, it may hurt your chances of obtaining a visitor’s visa if you disclose to the State Department:

  • that you have a long-term, committed relationship with a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner in the U.S.;
  • that you want to apply for a green card or asylum in the U.S.; or
  • that you need to flee persecution in your country of origin.
  1. Note that if a particular consulate of the US denies your visa application, that same consulate will likely deny any other visa applications you file for at least the next 3-6 months. In addition, if you file more than one visa application in a short period of time, it may make you look desperate to leave your country of origin. This may also hurt your chances of obtaining a visa. Some visa applicants report that they have had a visa denied at one consulate, but then granted a short time later at a consulate in another country.

Arriving in the US with a Temporary Visa

If you obtain a visa to the U.S., that document will allow you to present yourself at an American port-of-entry (such as a border town, a seaport or an airport) and ask the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for admission. However, a visa does not guarantee that you will be allowed to enter the U.S. Customs and Border Protection will make the final decision about whether you may enter, what visa or other status you will be given, and when you must leave. Here are some important things to know about when you are interacting with Customs and Border Protection agents:

  1. Many of the same questions that you were asked by the State Department may be asked again by Customs and Border Protection. It is quite possible that the agent at the port-of-entry will have access to your visa application on their computer screen. The agent may compare your statements to make sure they are consistent.
  2. If you are entering the U.S. on a visitor’s visa, you cannot intend to remain here permanently at the time you enter.
  3. Many foreign nationals who are only considering a long-term commitment in the U.S., but who have no immediate or set plans to engage that commitment at the time they enter, may still enter the U.S. as a visitor. For example, if you’re dating someone in the U.S., but you have not decided whether or not you want to live permanently with that person, you may enter the United States as a visitor.
  4. Similarly, if you are admitted to the U.S. as a visitor and leave the border (or airport) and sometime later decide to file for asylum, you have up to one year from your date of entry to do so. If you arrive in the U.S. and later decide to file for asylum, you should probably do so before your valid visa status expires.
  5. *warningIt is important to know that while you may apply for asylum at the border, doing so will have serious consequences. Even if you have a very strong asylum claim, the US government will detain you for weeks or months while it makes a decision on your case. Please note that this rule is extended to the entire port of entry (e.g., the entire seaport or entire airport).