Temporary/ short-term visas are required for travel to the USA for foreign nationals from almost all countries. Nationals of Canada and Mexico can apply for entry under the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA). 27 countries are exempt under the Visa Waiver Permanent Program.* However, the 90-day Visa Waiver status has major disadvantages

- - no extension of stay past the 90 days and no change of status to another visa classification while inside the USA. One exception exists and that is to seek Permanent Residency/ green card status in the USA based upon a real marriage to a U.S. citizen. Otherwise, a business or pleasure visitor wanting to extend the stay or to change to a work visa must depart the USA, obtain a work-authorized visa on the passport page at a U.S. Consular Section or U.S. Embassy and then return to the USA.

Temporary visas to the USA are designated by letters of the alphabet 'A' to 'V'. Visas are issued to the passport only by U.S. Consular Sections outside the USA. Changes of visa status inside the USA must be approved by the Citizenship and Immigration Services/ USCIS, formerly known as the INS/ U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

To conduct business in the USA, 'B', 'E', 'H' or 'L' visas are appropriate. 'B-1' business Visitor visas are available for short business trips to the USA, if the persons maintain employment abroad, are paid abroad, and their services benefit the company abroad.

The 'E' visas relate to the nationality of the person and the nationality of the employer company in the USA. There must be a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation or Bilateral Investment Treaty between the USA and that country to permit 'E' visa status for investment in the USA or for trade primarily between the two countries. The 'E' visa can be renewed forever as long as the investment or trade continues under the treaty nationality. Processing time is generally 1 or 2 months at a U.S. Consular Section or 5 months in the USA . The E spouse may obtain work authority in the USA.

The 'H1B' visa reflects preference for 4-year or greater college degree professionals.

H1B is also available to persons holding a degree equivalent, gained through a combination of academic education and work experience. The H1B visa can be issued for up to 3 years initially with a 3-year extension available. Processing time is 4 months. If a premium processing fee is paid, processing time is 15 days. The job must require that degree. The 'H1B' person can work part-time or full-time and may attend school as well.

‘J’ visas are available for training, research and scholars under an Exchange Visitor category, frequently 18-month or 3-year programs. If there is government financing or if the home country requires its nationals to return home with the U.S.-enhanced skills, then the J visa requires the person to return to the home country for 2 years at the end of the 'J' program, no matter how short the J program itself - - a major disadvantage. The 'J' visa is useful to bring scholars and researchers and non-degree trainee-workers [camp counselors, nanny, etc.] to the USA. The J 2 visa spouse may apply for work authority.

The 'L' visa does not relate to education but relies entirely upon the prior work history outside the USA for a parent, subsidiary or company affiliated with the prospective employer entity in the USA. This visa facilitates the admission of multinational company executives, managers and employees with specialized knowledge below the managerial level. For a start-up operation in the USA, a one-year work visa is authorized. If the company expands sales or personnel or otherwise grows into a viable business in that year, then work authority for up to 7 years is available. Processing time is often 3 months. The L2 dependent spouse may obtain work authority in the USA. This visa has the desirable feature to allow certain L1 executive and managerial visa holders to immigrate without having to prove a shortage of qualified U.S. workers. This is a valuable option since long-term executives and managers are often accompanied by family members who could benefit from in-state tuition for college and work authority for the entire family. That provision reads:

"if the alien, in the 3 years preceding the time of the alien's application for classification and admission in to the United States under this subparagraph, has been employed for at least 1 year by a firm or corporation or other legal entity or an affiliate or subsidiary thereof and the alien seeks to enter the United States in order to continue to render services to the same employer or to a subsidiary or affiliate thereof in a capacity that is managerial or executive."

Other letter of the alphabet visas exist for specific groups of people --'R1' religious workers, 'O1' extraordinary ability with documented sustained national or international recognition, 'P1' performance groups, ‘Q’ Cultural Exchange Visitors, ‘TN’ for Canadians and Mexicans on a specific list of professions, 'A' and 'G' diplomatic and governmental entity representatives, etc. Processing times vary by region of the country and by optional $1000 filing for 15-day Premium Processing.

Beryl Bergquist Farris

Warning: Since April 1, 1997, people who remain in the USA in 'unlawful presence' for 181 days or more incur a 3-year bar to immigration and to any return to the USA even in nonimmigrant status. If such unlawful presence accumulates to 12 months or more, a 10-year bar applies. RARE exceptions exist to this bar to immigration.