Apply for a U.S. Visa
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
On this page:
- FAQ - General Visa Information
- FAQ - Visa Refusals
- FAQ - Business/Tourist Visa
- FAQ - Work Visa
- FAQ - Student Visa
- FAQ - Exchange Visitor Visa
- FAQ - Retrieve My Passport/Visa
FAQ - General Visa Information
- How long does my passport have to be valid in order to apply for a U. S. visa?
- Do I qualify for the Visa Waiver Program?
- What is the fee for ESTA and who has to pay it?
- If I travel to the United States without ESTA, what happens?
- If I am a third-country national living in Australia, can I apply for a nonimmigrant visa at one of the Consulates
- Do all nonimmigrant visa applicants have to come to the Consulate for an interview?
- I have a nonimmigrant visa that will expire soon and I would like to renew it. Do I need to go through the whole visa application process again?
- My passport has expired, but the U.S. visa in it is still valid. Do I need to apply for a new visa?
- I have dual citizenship. Which passport should I use to travel to the United States?
- How can I extend my visa?
- Must I submit my visa application form electronically?
- What is "administrative processing?"
- How do I read and understand my visa?
- My visa will expire while I am in the United States. Is there a problem with that?
- What will happen when I enter the United States
- I did not turn in my I-94 when I left the United States. What should I do?
- I have questions on submitting my DS-160 and printing the confirmation page. Where can I go for more information?
Q.1 How long does my passport have to be valid in order to apply for a U. S. visa?
You must possess a passport valid for travel to the United States with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions).
Q.2 Do I qualify for the Visa Waiver Program?
You qualify for the Visa Waiver Program if you are a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program country, possess a machine-readable passport, are traveling for temporary business or a visit of less than 90 days, meet other program requirements, and have obtained an authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
You must be a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program-eligible country in order to use this program. Permanent residents of VWP-eligible countries do not qualify for the Visa Waiver Program unless they are also citizens of VWP-eligible countries. We recommend you visit the Visa Waiver Program website before any travel to the U.S. to determine if you are eligible for the VWP.
Q.3 What is the fee for ESTA and who has to pay it?
ESTA registration is required for all travelers to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. There is a US$14 fee for ESTA registration. The fee can be paid online using any of the following credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover. Third parties (travel agents, family members, etc.) can pay your ESTA fee for you if you do not have the correct type of credit card. If the ESTA registration is denied, the fee is only US$4.
Q.4 If I travel to the United States without ESTA, what happens?
Visa Waiver Program travelers who have not obtained approval through ESTA should expect to be denied boarding on any air carrier bound for the United States. If you are allowed to board, you can expect to encounter significant delays and possible denial of admission at the U.S. port of entry (i.e., arrival airport). ESTA registration usually only takes a few minutes to complete, authorization often arrives in seconds, and it is valid for two years.
Q.5 If I am a third-country national living in Australia, can I apply for a nonimmigrant visa at one of the Consulates?
Applicants are generally advised to apply in their country of permanent residence. Any person who is legally present in Australia may apply for a visa at one of the Consulates. However, applicants should decide where to apply based on more than just convenience or delay in getting an appointment in their home district. One thing to consider, for example, is in which consular district the applicant can demonstrate the strongest ties.
There is no guarantee that a visa will be issued, nor is there a guarantee of processing time. If refused, there is no refund of the application fee.
Q.6 Do all nonimmigrant visa applicants have to come to the Consulate for an interview?
Yes, for most applicants. There are only a few exceptions to the interview requirement. The following applicants generally do not have to appear in person:
- Applicants for A1, A2 (official travelers on central government business), C2, C3 (central government officials in transit on central government business) or G1, G2, G3, G4 (central government officials traveling in connection with an international organization, or employees of an international organization)
- Australian citizens and permanent residents under the age of 14 and over the age of 79 do not require an appointment or personal appearance at the Consulate and may mail their application. Click here for more information.
Q.7 I have a nonimmigrant visa that will expire soon and I would like to renew it. Do I need to go through the whole visa application process again?
Each nonimmigrant visa application is a separate process. You must apply in the normal manner, even if you had a visa before and even if your current nonimmigrant visa is still valid. Certain applicants may be eligible to mail their application. Vist the Consulate’s website for more information.
Q.8 My passport has expired, but the U.S. visa in it is still valid. Do I need to apply for a new visa?
No. If your visa is valid and unmarked or undamaged, you can travel with your two passports together (old and new), if the purpose of your travel matches your current nonimmigrant visa. Also, the name and other personal data must be the same in both passports (unless the name change was due to marriage), and both passports must be from the same country and of the same type (i.e., both tourist passports and both diplomatic passports).
If your name changed due to marriage, you can travel to the United States with both passports as well as your marriage certificate.
Q.9 I have dual citizenship. Which passport should I use to travel to the United States?
If one of your nationalities is not U.S., you can apply using whichever nationality you prefer, but you must disclose all nationalities to the Consulate on your application form. U.S. citizens, even dual citizens/nationals, must enter and depart the United States using a U.S. passport.
Q.10 How can I extend my visa?
The validity of a visa cannot be extended regardless of its type. You will need to apply for a new visa.
Q.11 Must I submit my visa application form electronically?
Yes, you must complete the DS-160 and bring a printed copy of the DS-160 confirmation page with you when you go for your interview at the U.S. Consulate.
Q.12 What is "administrative processing?"
Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after your interview with a consular officer. You are advised of this possibility when you apply. Most administrative processing is resolved within 60 days of the visa interview. This web page on the Consular Affairs website has more information about administrative processing.
Q.13 How do I read and understand my visa?
As soon as you receive your visa, check to make sure all your personal information printed on the visa is correct. If any of the information on your visa does not match the information in your passport or is otherwise incorrect, please contact the issuing authority (i.e. the U.S. Consulate) immediately.
The expiration date of your visa is the last day you may use the visa to enter the U.S. It does not indicate how long you may stay in the U.S. Your stay is determined by the Department of Homeland Security at your port of entry. As long as you comply with the Department of Homeland Security decision on the conditions of your stay, you should have no problem.
Further information about interpreting your visa can be found at the Department of State's Consular Affairs website.
Q.14 My visa will expire while I am in the United States. Is there a problem with that?
No. You may stay in the U.S. for the period of time and conditions authorized by the Department of Homeland Security officer when you arrived in the U.S., which will be noted on the I-94, even if your visa expires during your stay. You can find more information here.
Q.15 What will happen when I enter the United States
Your airline should give you a blank I-94 (or I-94W for Visa Waiver Program travelers) and a Customs Declaration form 6059B. Each traveler must complete the I-94; only one Customs Declaration is required for a family traveling together.
A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States, but allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad to travel to a U.S. port of entry and request permission to enter the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States, and determine how long a traveler may stay. At the port of entry, upon granting entry to the United States, the Customs and Border Protection officer will put a small card, Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record in your passport. Visa Waiver Program travelers receive Form 1-94W. On this form, the officer records either a date or "D/S" (duration of status). If your I-94 contains a specific date, then that is the date by which you must leave the United States. Your Form I-94 or I-94W is a very important document to keep in your passport, since it shows your permission to be in the United States. You can review information about admission on the CBP Website. The Department of State's Consular Affairs website has more information about duration of stay.
Q.16 I did not turn in my I-94 when I left the United States. What should I do?
If you returned home with your Form I-94 (white) or Form I-94W (green) Departure Record in your passport, it is possible that your departure was not recorded properly. Do not give your I-94 or I-94W to the U.S. Consulate or any other office.
If you departed by a commercial air or sea carrier (airlines or cruise ships), your departure from the U.S. can be independently verified, and it is not necessary to take any further action, although holding on to your outbound (from the U.S.) boarding pass can help facilitate your reentry next time you come back to the United States.
If you departed by land, private vessel or private plane, visit the Customs and Border Protection web site for further instructions.
Q.17 I have questions on submitting my DS-160 and printing the confirmation page. Where can I go for more information?
Our call center is unable to provide assistance on the application form. Any inquiries on completing the DS-160 can be addressed on the following website, http://travel.state.gov/visa/forms/forms_4401.html.
FAQ - Visa Refusals
- What is Section 214(b)?
- How can an applicant prove "strong ties?"
- Is a denial under Section 214(B) permanent?
- Who can influence the consular officer to reverse a decision?
The United States is an open society. Unlike many other countries, the United States does not impose internal controls on most visitors, such as registration with local authorities. Our immigration law requires consular officers to view every visa applicant as an intending immigrant until the applicant proves otherwise. In order to enjoy the privilege of unencumbered travel in the United States, you have a responsibility to prove you are going to return abroad before a visitor or student visa is issued.
Q.1 What Is Section 214(b)?
Section 214(b) is part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). It states:
Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status...
Our consular officers have a difficult job. They must decide in a very short time if someone is qualified to receive a temporary visa. Most cases are decided after a brief interview and review of whatever evidence of ties an applicant presents. To qualify for a visitor or student visa, an applicant must meet the requirements of sections 101(a)(15)(B) or (F) of the INA respectively. Failure to do so will result in a refusal of a visa under INA 214(b). The most frequent basis for such a refusal concerns the requirement that the prospective visitor or student possess a residence abroad he/she has no intention of abandoning. Applicants prove the existence of such residence by demonstrating that they have ties abroad that would compel them to leave the U.S. at the end of the temporary stay. The law places this burden of proof on the applicant.
Q.2 How can an applicant prove "strong ties?"
Strong ties differ from country to country, city to city, and individual to individual. Some examples of ties can be a job, a house, a family, a bank account. "Ties" are the various aspects of your life that bind you to your country of residence: your possessions, employment, social and family relationships.
Imagine your own ties in the country where you live. Would a consular office of another country consider that you have a residence there that you do not intend to abandon? It is likely that the answer would be "yes" if you have a job, a family, if you own or rent a house or apartment, or if you have other commitments that would require you to return to your country at the conclusion of a visit abroad. Each person's situation is different.
U.S. consular officers are aware of this diversity. During the visa interview they look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors. In cases of younger applicants who may not have had an opportunity to form many ties, consular officers may look at the applicants specific intentions, family situations, and long-range plans and prospects within his or her country of residence. Each case is examined individually and is accorded every consideration under the law.
Q.3 Is a denial under Section 214(B) permanent?
No. The consular officer will reconsider a case if an applicant can show further convincing evidence of ties outside the United States. Unfortunately, some applicants will not qualify for a nonimmigrant visa, regardless of how many times they reapply, until their personal, professional, and financial circumstances change considerably.
An applicant refused under Section 214(b) should review carefully their situation and realistically evaluate their ties. They may write down on paper what qualifying ties they think they have which may not have been evaluated at the time of their interview with the consular officer. Also, if they have been refused, they should review what documents were submitted for the consul to consider. Applicants refused visas under section 214(b) may reapply for a visa. When they do, they will have to show further evidence of their ties or how their circumstances have changed since the time of the original application. It may help to answer the following questions before reapplying: (1) Did I explain my situation accurately? (2) Did the consular officer overlook something? (3) Is there any additional information I can present to establish my residence and strong ties abroad?
Applicants should also bear in mind that they will be charged a nonrefundable application fee each time they apply for a visa, regardless of whether a visa is issued.
Q.4 Who can influence the consular officer to reverse a decision?
Immigration law delegates the responsibility for issuance or refusal of visas to consular officers overseas. They have the final say on all visa cases. By regulation, the U.S. Department of State has authority to review consular decisions, but this authority is limited to the interpretation of law, as contrasted to determinations of facts. The question at issue in such denials, whether an applicant possesses the required residence abroad, is a factual one. Therefore, it falls exclusively within the authority of consular officers at our Foreign Service posts to resolve. An applicant can influence the post to change a prior visa denial only through the presentation of new convincing evidence of strong ties.
For information about visa ineligibilities other than 214(b), please visit the Department of State's Consular Affairs website.
FAQ - Business/Tourist Visa
- How long can I stay in the U.S. on a tourist or business visa?
- My visitor visa (B-1/B-2) expires after my intended date of arrival in the U.S. Do I need to get a new visa before departure?
- My U.S. visa will expire in the next 6 months. Do I need to apply for a new visa after my current visa expires or can I apply in advance?
- I currently hold a valid B-1/B-2 visa, which is in my maiden name, in my old passport. I wish to transfer this visa to my new passport, which is in my married name. What is the procedure?
- My current U.S. visa was issued to me when I was working in my previous job. Now I have changed to a new job at a new company and my new employer wants me to attend a conference in the United States, scheduled for next month. Can I use the same visa or do I have to apply for a new visa?
- My child is studying in the United States. Can I go live with him?
Q.1 How long can I stay in the U.S. on a tourist or business visa?
A U.S. nonimmigrant visa grants you permission to travel to a Port of Entry (airport/seaport) in the United States. When you arrive at your destination Port of Entry, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer who processes your entry will determine the length of time that you may remain in the country. You may travel to the Port of Entry during the validity of your nonimmigrant visa up to and including the last day the visa is valid. The visa duration does not determine the length of time that you may legally remain in the United States; only the Customs and Border Protection officer can decide this upon your arrival in the United States.
Q.2 My visitor visa (B-1/B-2) expires after my intended date of arrival in the U.S. Do I need to get a new visa before departure?
You can arrive in the U.S. right up to the last date of validity indicated on the visa. The Customs and Border Protection officer on arrival determines the duration of your stay in the U.S. Your visa can expire while you are still in the U.S. – just be sure that you do not overstay the period of time the officer grants.
Q.3 My U.S. visa will expire in the next 6 months. Do I need to apply for a new visa after my current visa expires or can I apply in advance?
You do not have to wait until your current visa expires. You can apply for a new visa even if your current visa is valid.
Q.4 I currently hold a valid B-1/B-2 visa, which is in my maiden name, in my old passport. I wish to transfer this visa to my new passport, which is in my married name. What is the procedure?
U.S. visas cannot be transferred from one passport to another. You can travel to the United States with both passports as well as your marriage certificate, or you can apply for a new visa.
Q.5 My current U.S. visa was issued to me when I was working in my previous job. Now I have changed to a new job at a new company and my new employer wants me to attend a conference in the United States, scheduled for next month. Can I use the same visa or do I have to apply for a new visa?
You can travel to the United States on the same visa as long as your visa is valid for business or pleasure.
Q.6 My child is studying in the United States. Can I go live with him?
While you can use your own B-1/B-2 visa (or travel under the Visa Waiver Program, if eligible) to visit your child, you may not live with your child unless you have your own immigrant, work, or student visa.
FAQ - Work Visa
- What is a petition?
- Can I get a visa to do casual work?
- Is there an age limit for applying for a temporary work visa?
- Can my U.S.-based relative sponsor me for a work visa?
- When can I enter the United States?
- Who pays the Fraud Prevention and Detection fee and when do they pay it?
Q.1 What is a petition?
Before applying for a temporary worker visa at the U.S. Consulate, you may need an approvedForm I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, from USCIS. This petition must be submitted by your prospective employer no earlier than 6 months prior to your proposed employment start date. Your employer should file the petition as soon as possible within the 6-month period to allow adequate time for processing. Once approved, your employer will be sent Form I-797, Notice of Action. For more information, visit the USCIS Temporary Workers webpage.
Q.2 Can I get a visa to do casual work?
No. There is no visa that covers casual work. All applicants who plan to work in the United States must have a sponsoring employer prior to their visa appointment.
One exception to this is the Student Work and Travel Pilot Program, which is available to eligible Australian university students and recent graduates. Click here to learn more.
Q.3 Is there an age limit for applying for a temporary work visa?
Q.4 Can my U.S.-based relative sponsor me for a work visa?
No. Only your employer can sponsor you.
Q.5 When can I enter the United States?
You may not enter the United States until 10 days prior to your employment start date, as noted on your Form I-797 or on your offer of employment letter.
Q.6 Who pays the Fraud Prevention and Detection fee and when do they pay it?
Only applicants for an L-1 visa traveling on a blanket petition must pay the Fraud Prevention and Detection fee. On individual L, H-1B and H-2B petitions, the U.S. petitioner pays the Fraud Prevention and Detection fee to USCIS when the petition is filed.
FAQ - Student Visa
- What is an I-20 and how do I get it?
- How early should I apply for my student visa?
- I received my visa, when should I travel?
- Can a person on a visitor visa change his/her status to student while in the United States if he or she gains admission to a school and gets a Form I-20?
- What if I receive an I-20 to a different school?
- I was working as an H-1B and have now been admitted to a university as an F-1. Do I need to return to my country to apply for a student visa?
- Can an F-1 student work in the United States?
- What is the SEVIS system and how does it affect me?
Q.1 What is an I-20 and how do I get it?
The Form I-20 is an official U.S. Government form, issued by a certified school, which a prospective nonimmigrant student must have in order to get an F-1 or M-1 visa. Form I-20 acts as proof-of-acceptance and contains the information necessary to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee, apply for a visa or change visa status, and be admitted into the United States. The Form I-20 has the student's SEVIS identification number, which starts with the letter N and is followed by nine digits, on the upper right side directly above the barcode.
Q.2 How early should I apply for my student visa?
You are encouraged to apply for your nonimmigrant student visa as soon as you have your I-20. To ensure you get an early and timely date you may apply at anytime. However, a student visa may be issued no more than 120 days prior to the start date mentioned on your I-20.
Q.3 I received my visa, when should I travel?
You may only enter the United States within 30 days of the beginning of the course of study stated on your I-20, regardless of when your visa was issued.
Q.4 Can a person on a visitor visa change his/her status to student while in the United States if he or she gains admission to a school and gets a Form I-20?
Yes. In general, you may apply to change your nonimmigrant visa status if you were lawfully admitted to the United States with a nonimmigrant visa, if your nonimmigrant status remains valid, if you have not violated the conditions of your status, and you have not committed any actions that would make you ineligible. For more details, please visit the USCIS website.
Q.5 What if I receive an I-20 to a different school?
If you received an I-20 after scheduling your appointment, then you can inform the U.S. consular officer of the new I-20 at the time of the interview.
Q.6 I was working as an H-1B and have now been admitted to a university as an F-1. Do I need to return to my country to apply for a student visa?
No. Once you are in the United States, you do not need to apply for a new visa because the visa is only for entry into the United States. Check with USCIS to determine if you need to adjust status. If you leave the country, however, you'll need to apply for the student visa in order to re-enter the United States.
Q.7 Can an F-1 student work in the United States?
Full-time students on F visas may seek on-campus employment not to exceed 20 hours per week. After the first year in student status, an applicant may apply for employment off campus with authorization from USCIS. Please contact your student advisor for further information.
Q.8 What is the SEVIS system and how does it affect me?
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) program requires schools and exchange programs to verify the enrollment status of all new and continuing foreign students and exchange visitors. Student visa applicants are required to pay a SEVIS fee before a visa can be issued. Applicants are then required to provide the SEVIS I-901 fee receipt as proof of payment. The SEVIS website has more details.
FAQ - Exchange Visitor Visa
- I received my visa, when should I travel?
- What is the SEVIS system and how does it affect me?
- What is the "two-year rule?"
- Can the two-year rule be waived?
Q.1 I received my visa, when should I travel?
Exchange visitors may only enter the United States within 30 days of the beginning of the program, as stated on your Form DS-2019, regardless of when your visa was issued.
Q.2 What is the SEVIS system and how does it affect me?
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) program requires schools and exchange programs to verify the enrollment status of all new and continuing foreign students and exchange visitors. Exchange visitor visa applicants are required to pay a SEVIS feebefore a visa can be issued. Applicants are required to provide the SEVIS I-901 fee receipt as proof of payment. The SEVIS website has more details.
Q.3 What is the "two-year rule?"
The "two-year rule" is the common term used for a section of U.S. immigration law which requires many exchange visitors to return to their home countries and be physically present there for at least two years after the conclusion of their exchange visit before they can return to the U.S. under certain types of visas, specifically H-1, L-1, K-1 and immigrant visas. It is important to note that only a preliminary finding of whether the two-year rule applies to you is made on your DS-2019 when your J-1 visa is issued. The final decision will be made only if you later choose to apply for an H-1, L-1, K-1, or immigrant visa.
J-1 visa holders subject to the two-year rule are not permitted to remain in the United States and apply for an adjustment/change of status to a prohibited nonimmigrant status (for example, from a J-1 visa to an H-1 visa) or to apply for legal permanent resident status (Green Card) without first returning home for two years or obtaining an approved waiver. Whether you are subject to the two-year rule is determined by a number of factors, including your source of funding and your country's "Skills List." It is not determined by the amount of time you spend in the United States.
Q.4 Can the two-year rule be waived?
Possibly. Only the Department of State's Visa Office can grant waivers of the two-year rule. The Visa Office is also the final authority on whether you are subject to the rule, regardless of what is annotated in your passport. If you are subject to the two-year rule, you may be able to obtain a waiver. Even if you are subject to the two-year rule, you may still qualify for a tourist visa or any other nonimmigrant visa except those noted above.
FAQ - Track My Passport
- Why only one passport per envelope? Why no family discounts?
- How will I get my passport back after the interview?
- What happens to my passport if I'm not at home when the courier arrives?
- Does my passport have to be delivered to my house?
- What do I need to show to the courier when they deliver my passport?
- What types of ID are acceptable as proof-of-identity?
- Can someone besides me pick up or receive delivery of my passport?
- Do I have to pay any fees for courier services?
Q.1 Why only one passport per envelope? Why no family discounts?
There is no additional charge for the courier to return your passport to you. All costs are included in your visa application fee. The courier's security and safety rules require separate tracking of every passport.
Q.2 How will I get my passport back after the interview?
You will receive your passport at the location you selected at the time you scheduled your interview. If you want to change this location you may do so until midnight two days before your appointment. The cost of the courier service is included in the visa application fee.
Q.3 What happens to my passport if I'm not at home when the courier arrives?
The courier will attempt to deliver your passport only at the address you selected or provided when you scheduled your interview. If the courier is unable to deliver, for example, because no one is home, the courier will leave a notice indicating the attempted delivery. If you receive a notice like this, contact Toll Priority on 131 531 immediately. If your passport is not delivered to you within seven business days, it will be returned to the Consulate. If this happens, contact the call center for assistance.
Q.4 Does my passport have to be delivered to my house?
No. Your passport can be delivered to your office or to a member of your family. If your passport is delivered to someone other than yourself, the recipient must present a government-issued photo ID for identification in order to accept delivery of your passport.
Q.5 What do I need to show to the courier when they deliver my passport?
In order to ensure that your passport and visa are not given to an unauthorized person, you must present a government-issued photo ID for identification when you collect your passport. You must also sign for all documents handed over to you by the courier.
Q.6 What types of ID are acceptable as proof-of-identity?
You must present an original government-issued photo ID.
Q.7 Can someone besides me receive delivery of my passport?
Yes. However, your representative - even in case of family members - must present the following in order to collect your passport:
If a representative is collecting your passport on your behalf - even in case of family members - the representative must present:
- Their own original government-issued photo ID for identification
- A photocopy of your government-issued photo ID
- A letter of authority, signed by you, authorizing your representative to collect your passport. The letter of authority must contain the following information:
- Your representative's full name as shown on their government-issued photo ID
- Your name
If the applicant is under the age of 16, the following documents are required:
- An original, signed letter of authority from either of the applicant's parents
- A clear photocopy of the government-issued photo ID belonging to the parent who signed the applicant's letter of authority
- The representative's original government-issued photo ID
Note: In case of a group/family, a single letter of authority with the required information for each of the applicants will be accepted.
Q.8 Do I have to pay any fees for courier services?
No. The cost of courier services is included in your visa application or immigrant visa fee.