How to Obtain a Visa to Enter the USA

By Gwen Wark

The United States provides many opportunities for foreign nationals to live and work in the country. However, a visa must be obtained first.

How to Apply

Decide what category of visa you are going to apply for. Are you looking to visit, work, study or join family in the U.S.? Each of these categories have multiple visas pertaining to it. Eligibility is determined by the type of visa that you are applying for.

Work Visas--Individuals cannot apply for work-based visas; the potential employer must apply on their behalf. You will need a job offer from a U.S. employer willing to sponsor you.

Student Visas--From your school, obtain the Form I-20A-B Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status for Academic or Language Students, or I-20M-N, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status form. Complete application form DS-156 (available at, contact information form DS-158, and supplemental information form DS-157. Then call the United States Consulate to schedule an interview.

Family Based Visas--A U.S. citizen must submit a Petition to Apply and supporting documents (I-129F for fiance, I-130 for spouse and other family) to the service center listed on the form's instructions. Forms can be found at

Visitor Visas--Check to see if your country participates in the Visa Waiver Program. If they do and you meet the requirements found at, then you do not need a visa to enter the U.S., only a machine passport with at least six months validity.

If you require a visitor visa, fill out application form DS-156 ( and, if required, form DS-157. Submit these forms to your United States Consulate for processing.

After you apply, you will be asked to interview at the U.S. Consulate in your country of residence. Bring copies of your paperwork, passport photos, passport and any visa fees.

Once your visa is approved, enter the United States through a recognized port of entry such as an international airport or recognized border crossing. The immigration officer on duty will activate your visa.

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