A citizen or national of a foreign country who wants to visit the United States generally must first obtain a “non-immigrant” visa. Citizens of qualified countries may be also able to visit the United States without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. If you do not qualify for the Visa Waiver Program or are traveling to study, work, or participate in an exchange program, you must learn how to apply for a U.S. visa.
On the other hand, individuals who want to live and work permanently in the U.S. should obtain an immigrant visa (green card). To apply for a green card, applicants must generally be available through family, employment, asylum or some other means.
The focus of this article is how to apply for a U.S. visa that is temporary in nature.
Determine Your Non-Immigrant Visa Type
The majority of temporary visitors to the United States come for leisure (B-2 visa) or short-term business (B-1 visa). However, many other types of visas are available for work, study and exchange programs.
After determining to the type of visa you need, you will probably need to prepare and submit an online non-immigrant visa application, also known as DS-160. Remember, each applicant, including children, must have their own DS-160 visa application. The DS-160 must be completed and submitted online prior to your interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate.
DS-160 Online Non-Immigrant Visa Application
The only way to apply for a U.S. visa is by using the U.S. State Department’s DS-160 online non-immigrant visa application. You can access on the Consular Electronic Application Center website.
Documents Needed to Apply for a U.S. Visa (DS-160)
You should have the following documents available while you complete your DS-160:
- Travel itinerary, if you have already made travel arrangements.
- Dates of your last five visits or trips to the United States, if you have previously traveled to the United States. You may also be asked for your international travel history for the past five years.
- Résumé or Curriculum Vitae – You may be required to provide information about your current and previous education and work history.
- Other Information – Some applicants, depending on the intended purpose of travel, will be asked to provide additional information when completing the DS-160.
- You are required to upload a photograph taken within the last six months as a part of the DS-160 process. Detailed guidelines for taking and submitting a quality photograph are on the U.S. Department of State website.
Some applicants will need to have additional information and documents handy while completing the DS-160:
- Students and Exchange Visitors (F, J, and M): You will be asked to provide your SEVIS ID, which is printed on your I-20 or DS-2019, so you should have this form available when completing your DS-160. You also will be asked to provide the address of the school/program at which you intend to study. This information should also be on your I-20 or DS-2019 form.
- Petition-based Temporary Workers (H-1B, H-2, H-3, CW1, L, O, P, R, E2C): You should have a copy of your I-129 available when completing your DS-160.
- Other Temporary Workers: You will be asked for information about your employer, including the employer’s address, while completing your DS-160.
Questions on the Application to Apply for a U.S. Visa
The DS-160 online nonimmigrant visa application includes a variety of questions to get personal information, travel details, family contacts, as well as security-related information. It takes most people about an hour to apply for a U.S. visa. You may save your progress and continue later if necessary.
Take your time and answer the questions honestly. Intentionally leaving out important information and lying will lead to a denial. If you believe your answer may create a problem, consult with an immigration attorney.
Sample DS-160 Security and Background Questions
When you apply for a U.S. visa, there are several security-related questions that cover health, public safety, immigration violations and past criminal offenses. You should expect to answer the following questions:
- Do you have a communicable disease of public health significance? Communicable diseases of public significance include: chancroid, gonorrhea, granuloma inguinale, infectious leprosy, lymphogranuloma venereum, infectious stage syphilis, active tuberculosis, and others diseases as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Do you have a mental or physical disorder that poses or is likely to pose a threat to the safety or welfare of yourself or others?
- Are you or have you ever been a drug abuser or addict?
- Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offense or crime, even though you are subject to a pardon, amnesty, or other similar action? This includes all arrests or detentions, including those at the border and by Customs and Border Patrol.
- Have you ever violated, or engaged in a conspiracy to violate, any law relating to controlled substances?
- Are you coming to the United States to engage in prostitution or unlawful commercialized vice, or have you been engaged in prostitution or procuring prostitutes within the past 10 years?
- Have you ever been involved in, or do you seek to engage in, money laundering?
- Have you ever committed or conspired to commit a human trafficking offense in the United States or outside the United States?
- Have you ever knowingly aided, abetted, assisted, or colluded with an individual who has committed or conspired to commit a severe human trafficking offense in the United States or outside the United States?
- Are you the spouse, son, or daughter of an individual who has committed or conspired to commit a human trafficking offense in the United States or outside the United States, and have you, within the last five years, knowingly benefited from the trafficking activities?
- Are you the spouse, son, or daughter of an individual who has been identified by the President of the United States as person who plays a significant role in a severe form of trafficking in persons, and have you, within the last five years, knowingly benefited from the trafficking activities?
- Are you the spouse, son, or daughter of an individual who has violated any controlled substance trafficking law, and have knowingly benefited from the trafficking activities in the past five years?
- Do you seek to engage in espionage, sabotage, export control violations, or any other illegal activity while in the United States?
- Do you seek to engage in terrorist activities while in the United States, or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities?
- Have you ever, or do you intend, to provide financial assistance or other support to terrorists or terrorist organizations?
- Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization?
- Have you ever ordered, incited, committed, assisted, or otherwise participated in genocide?
- Have you ever committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in torture?
- Have you committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings, political killings, or other acts of violence?
- Have you ever engaged in the recruitment or the use of child soldiers?
- Have you, while serving as a government official, been responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom?
- Have you ever been directly involved in the establishment or enforcement of population controls: forcing a woman to undergo an abortion against her free choice or a man or a woman to undergo sterilization against his or her free will?
- Have you ever been directly involved in the coercive transplantation of human organs or bodily tissue?
- Have you ever sought to obtain or assist others to obtain a visa, entry into the United States, or any other United States immigration benefit by fraud, willful misrepresentation, or other unlawful means?
- Have you ever withheld custody of a U.S. citizen child outside the United States from a person granted legal custody by a US court?
- Have you voted in the United States in violation of any law or regulation?
- Have you ever renounced United States citizenship for the purpose of avoiding taxation?
Again, if you have had past visa denials, overstays, or problems with the questions above, ask an immigration attorney how this may affect your situation.
Print Confirmation DS-160 Page
You may save the entire DS-160 online nonimmigrant visa application. However, you don’t need to print everything. Print a copy of your confirmation page. Keep it for your records and take a copy to your interview.
The DS-160 confirmation page also contains a confirmation number. The number serves as a proof that you have completed this step and can also be used to identify your application. The consulate will use the barcode to open your application.
Pay the Visa Fee
The DS-160 fee may also be called a Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee. This MRV fee is non-refundable and non-transferable, and applicants must pay before scheduling an interview. The current MRV fee is $160.
Payment options may vary by country. Therefore, please contact the U.S. embassy or consulate where you anticipate doing your interview.
Scheduling an Interview
Electronically submitting your DS-160 online non-immigrant visa application is the first step in the visa application process. After submitting your visa application, you must contact the U.S. embassy or consulate at which you wish to apply,
The U.S. embassy or consulate can tell you if you will need to be interviewed by a consular officer. If an interview is required, you will need to schedule it. The visa application process cannot be completed until you appear for an interview with a consular officer.
Items to Take to Your Interview
Refer to the appointment instructions from your specific embassy or consulate. They can vary from location to the other. Your visa type will also affect these directions. Generally, you will need to take the following items to your consular interview:
- Appointment confirmation
- DS-160 confirmation page
- $160 MRV fee receipt
- Passport-style (2″ x 2″) photos
- Current passport and any previously passports and visas
If you plan to visit the United States, you’ll typically need to know how to apply for a U.S. visa.