Immigrant Visas Vs. Nonimmigrant Visas


Most foreign nationals require a visa to the enter the U.S. It is the purpose of your intended visit to the US that determines what visa options are available to you.

The visa 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.

Note: 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). The Customs & Border Protection officer at the port of entry must determine whether to admit you, in what classification to admit you and how long you can stay.

There are two main categories of visas: immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas.

Purpose of Visit – How does it determine the best visa category for me?

Nonimmigrant visas are issued to those who intend to enter the U.S. for a temporary purpose. There are more than 30 types of visas available within the nonimmigrant classification, covering a broad variety of reasons why someone may come to the U.S. for a short time. These reasons run the gamut from tourism to business to employment in the U.S.

Immigrant visas are granted to those who intend to live and work permanently in the U.S. and are generally on a path to US citizenship.

In this article we look at the immigrant and nonimmigrant visa categories in more detail.

Check My Eligibility

Immigrant Visas:

Immigrant visas are for people who want to move to the U.S. permanently.  Those who are granted an immigrant visa come to the U.S. and become Lawful Permanent Residents or “green card holders” and are put on a path to US citizenship. Most immigrant visa applicants fall into one of three main categories- family sponsored, employment sponsored or special immigrants. Almost all immigrant visa applicants, except Diversity Visa Lottery winners, must be a direct beneficiary or derivative beneficiary of an immigrant 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 may 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)

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
  4. Alien entrepreneurs investing $1 million (or $500,000) in the U.S.

Special Immigrants (includes)

  1. Employment: Iraqi or Afghan Translators/Interpreters
  2. Employment: Iraqis – Worked for/on behalf of US Government
  3. Employment: Religious Workers
  4. Employment: Physician National Interest Waiver
  5. Non-employment: Juvenile Court Dependents

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.

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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.  There are, however, several categories of nonimmigrant visas that do allow the nonimmigrant visa applicant to have dual-intent, i.e., s/he has the intent to come to come to the U.S. on a temporary basis while also having the intent to immigrant permanently.

As mentioned above, there are over 20 nonimmigrant visa categories. Some of them are:

  • A (Diplomatic and Other Government Officials, Immediate Family members, and Employees).
  • B-1and B-2 (Visitors for Business or Pleasure)
  • C (Aliens in Transit)
  • D (Crewmen)
  • E-1,  E-2 (Treaty Traders and Investors) or E-3 (Australian Specialty Occupation Workers)
  • F (Academic Students and dependents)
  • G (Foreign Government Officials and Certain Immediate Family members)
  • H-1BH-1B1, H-2AH-2B or H-3 (Temporary Workers)
  • J-1(but only Exchange Visitors subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement, with certain exceptions)
  • K-1 or K-2 (Fiancé(e) or Dependent of Fiancé(e))
  • K-3 and K-4 (Spouse of U.S. Citizen and Minor Child Accompanying/Following to Join)
  • L-1(Intra-company Transferees)
  • M-1 (Vocational student changing to F-1 or H-1B if the M training helped him or her qualify for the H classification)
  • NATO (NATO Representatives, Officials, Employees, and Immediate Family members)
  • O-1 or O-2 (Aliens with Extraordinary Ability)
  • P-1P-2, or P-3 (Athletes and Entertainers and their essential support personnel)
  • Q-1(International Cultural Exchange)
  • R-1 (Religious Workers)
  • S (Witness or Informant)
  • TN  (NAFTA Professionals)

An Applicant for a nonimmigrant visa category must be able to prove eligibility in that visa category. Some visa categories (e.g. H-1, L-1, O/P, etc.) require prior approval of the proper petition or application from U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. Other visa categories (F, M, J, diplomatic visas) require very specific forms of documentation/forms to prove their eligibility for that specific visa category. Ultimately, the consular officer makes the final decision on whether to issue the appropriate visa after assessing eligibility and admissibility. Prior approval from the relevant authorities does not guarantee issuance of the visa.

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.


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

Though both the immigrant and nonimmigrant visa categories have their own pros and cons, individuals need to decide the category most suitable for them based on the immediate purpose of the travel to the US and other qualifying factors.

If you have questions about immigrant or nonimmigrant visa or which visa is right for you, please Consult a VisaPro immigration Attorney. We will be happy to guide you through the process.

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