Immigrant Visas Vs. Nonimmigrant Visas


If you are a citizen of a foreign country, in most cases you will need a visa to enter the United States. It is the purpose of your intended visit to the US that determines what visa options are available to you.

A visa, however, does not automatically permit entry to the US; it simply indicates that your application has been reviewed by a US consular officer at an American embassy or consulate, and that the consular officer has determined that you are eligible for the visa classification for the specific purpose you sought. Consular affairs are the responsibility of the US Department of State.

While the visa allows you to travel to the United States, it only gets you as far as the port of entry (airport or land border crossing) and allows you to ask an immigration officer to allow you to enter the country. Only an immigration officer has the authority to permit you to enter the US. He or she decides in what status to admit you and how long you can stay for any particular visit. Immigration matters are the responsibility of the US Department of Homeland Security.

As we noted above, it is the purpose of your travel to the United States that determines the appropriate visa category for you. There are two main categories of visas, immigrant and nonimmigrant, that you can apply for, and it is the nature of your intended visit that determines what visa category you will fall into.

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Purpose of Visit – How Does It Determine The Best Visa Category For Me?

It is the nature of your intended visit that determines what visa category you will fall into. If your stay will be temporary, you will want to make an application for a nonimmigrant visa. There are more than 20 types of visas available within the nonimmigrant classification, covering a broad variety of reasons why someone may visit for a short time. These reasons run the gamut from tourism to business to medical treatment to certain types of temporary work.

On the other hand immigrant visas are granted to those who intend to live and work permanently in the U.S. There are 3 major categories within the immigrant visa classification: family-sponsored, including immediate relatives, special immigrants, and employer-sponsored.

Let us now look at both the immigrant and nonimmigrant visa categories in more detail.

Immigrant Visas:

Some foreign nationals are eligible for immigrant status. To qualify for immigrant status you must fall into one of the three broad categories. You must be sponsored by certain US citizen or permanent resident relative(s), by a prospective US employer, or fit within one of the special immigrant categories, and you must be the beneficiary of an approved petition.

Immigrant visas are subject to numerical limitations. That means that each of the immigrant visa categories has a certain number of allotted visas. Once the quota is filled, a “waiting list” is created that will delay your arrival into the U.S.

Immigrant visa categories:

Immediate Relative And Family Sponsored

1. Immediate Relatives

a. Spouse of a US citizen

b. Parents of a US citizen

c. Child of a US citizen (unmarried and under the age of 21)

i. Includes adopted children

d. Unmarried adult son or daughter of a US citizen (over the age of 21)

e. Spouse and children of a Lawful Permanent Resident of the US

f. Married son or daughter of a US citizen

g. Brother or sister of a US citizen

Employer Sponsored

  1. Aliens of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational executives and managers
  2. Professionals holding advanced degrees and persons of exceptional ability
  3. Skilled workers and professionals, and other workers

Special Immigrants (includes)

  1. Employment: Iraqi or Afghan Translators/Interpreters
  2. Employment: Iraqis – Worked for/on behalf of US Government
  3. Employment: Religious Workers

Employment Creation

Alien entrepreneurs investing $1 million or $500,000 in the US.

Diversity Visa Program

Visas provided are drawn from countries with low rates of immigration to the US. Unlike other types of immigrant visas, Diversity Visas (DV) do not require a US sponsor, and therefore a petition is not needed.

Nonimmigrant Visas:

Nonimmigrant visas are for people with a permanent residence outside the US who wish to come to the US on a temporary basis. US law requires that people who apply for most nonimmigrant visas provide evidence that they do not intend to immigrate to the United States. However, simply providing the requested documents does not guarantee that you will receive a visa. There is no entitlement to a visa.

If you are coming to the US as a temporary visitor for pleasure, under US law you would apply for a “B-2 Visa”. If granted, you may come to the US for a temporary period of time and you may only engage in activities consistent with being a visitor, such as sightseeing, visiting friends and relatives. You would not be permitted to enroll in school and study, nor would you be allowed to work, as those activities are not consistent with a B-2 visa. If you are in the US on a Tourist Visa, it is possible to change status to a different category, such as student, assuming you meet all the qualifications. Thus, every nonimmigrant visa has its own pros and cons, which you are bound to follow.

Because each foreign national’s personal situation is different, individuals applying for the same visa may be asked different questions and asked to submit different documents. Under US law, the authority to issue or refuse a visa is vested solely in discretion of consular offices abroad. Consular officers have the authority to decide whether the evidence submitted in support of an application is sufficient to establish an applicant’s eligibility for the requested visa. Consular officers may also request additional information or documentation depending on their assessment of each person’s situation.

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My Case Scenario

Julianne, a national of Armenia, wants to come to the US to visit her cousin in Boston. She would like to come to the US permanently but is in university and wants to finish her degree before trying immigrate. She has an appointment with the consulate next week and thinks she has all the documentation she needs to get a visitor visa. Will she be denied a visitor visa because she wants to eventually immigrate to the US?

A desire to immigrate by itself is not a sufficient reason to deny a visa. Julianne must show that she at this point in time she has a residence in Armenia that she will return to, and that she has compelling reasons to return (i.e., family, university, property). Since she has not taken any affirmative steps to seek an immigrant visa her future desire should not be enough to keep her from getting a visitor visa now.

Immigrant Visas Vs Nonimmigrant Visas

  • An immigrant visa is required for a foreign national who wishes to enter the United States to reside permanently whereas a nonimmigrant visa is issued to foreign nationals intending to visit the US temporarily.
  • In order to be eligible to apply for an immigrant visa, a foreign national must be sponsored by a US citizen or permanent resident relative or by a prospective employer, qualify as a special immigrant or as an alien entrepreneur, except for winners in the Diversity Visa Lottery Program whereas the nonimmigrant visa does not require sponsorship (except in a few rare cases).
  • An immigrant visa gives the right to accept employment in the US, whereas not all nonimmigrant visas authorize the holder accept employment in the U.S.


The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and its numerous amendments are the basis for most immigration laws in effect today.

Immigrant Visa: US law gives priority for immigrant status to foreign nationals who have a close family relationship with a U S citizen or LPR (family based immigration). Second priority goes to foreign nationals who have needed job skills (employment based immigration); and finally to those who are from countries with relatively low levels of immigration to the United States (the DV program). Not motioned above in this article, but still of importance, are the visas granted to those who have refugee or Asylee status.

Nonimmigrant Visa: To qualify for admission in a nonimmigrant visa status, a for¬eign national must meet all of the criteria for the specific category: as well as provide evi¬dence that the visit will be temporary, agree to depart at the end of the authorized stay, possess a valid passport, maintain a foreign residence (in most cases), be able to provide proof of financial support, be admissible to the U.S. or have obtained a waiver for any grounds of inadmissibility, and abide by the terms and conditions of admission.

Though both the immigrant and nonimmigrant visa categories have their own pros and cons, an individual needs to decide the category most suitable to him or her based on the purpose of the travel to the US and other qualifying factors.

If you have questions about any immigrant or nonimmigrant visa or which visa suits your requirements better, please consult a VisaPro immigration attorney. We will be happy to guide you through the process.

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