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Applying for a U.S. visa (nonimmigrant visa)

1. Nonimmigrant visas

Visas, which allow citizens of other countries to enter a country, are issued through screening of applicants in advance. The issuance of a visa is not a guarantee of admittance to the country. The final decision is made in screening by immigration officials. Citizens of other countries planning to enter the U.S. must obtain either an immigrant visa or a nonimmigrant visa, depending on whether they plan to become permanent residents or temporary visitors. A nonimmigrant visa is for those staying in the U.S. for a specific period of time, as students or for purposes of business (including special-purpose workers) or for tourism. If planning to visit the U.S. for no longer than 90 days for sightseeing or short-term business travel, apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).

2. Types of nonimmigrant visas

1. Diplomat visa For government officials entering the U.S. on official business and their families
2. Temporary business or tourist visa For applicants desiring to enter the U.S. for purposes of medical treatment, tourism, or business
3. Transit visa For applicants desiring to enter the U.S. to transit to other countries
4. Commercial resident visa For applicants desiring to invest or engage in trade
5. Student visa For applicants intending to study in the U.S. as students
6. Employee of an international organization visa For applicants desiring to attend conferences or other events conducted by international agencies
7. Temporary worker visa For applicants intending to work temporarily in the U.S. as specialists in fields that require special skills
8. Training visa For applicants who require specialized knowledge or special skills
9. Media visa For reporters from TV networks and other media organizations, camera staff, editorial staff, or freelance journalists
10. International cultural exchange visitor visa For academics, researchers, research students, and others participating in cultural exchange programs and other activities.
11. Fiancé visa For applicants intending to marry American nationals and reside permanently in the U.S. after marriage
12. Intra-company transferee visa For applicants intending to work for a limited time at a parent company, subsidiary, or other affiliate company in the U.S.
13. Work-training student visa For applicants intending to take part in work-related training at a school or other institution in the U.S.
14. Specialty occupations in fields requiring highly specialized knowledge visa For those with highly specialized abilities or achievements in fields such as business, sports, education, science, and the arts. Also those with outstanding achievements in TV, film, etc.
15. Religious worker visa For applicants intending to participate in religious activities in the U.S. (such as teachers, physicians, evangelists, and translators)

3. Applying for a nonimmigrant visa

As shown above, there are many different types of nonimmigrant visas. Since the necessary documents and conditions vary by type of visa, be sure to choose one that suits your situation. Choose whether to apply in person or by post. Most applicants for nonimmigrant visas need to be interviewed at their nearest U.S. consulate or embassy. However, in some cases only the following persons might not be required an interview: those planning to renew nonimmigrant visas, those applying for diplomat or foreign government official, and those aged 13 or younger or 80 or older.

Once you have decided on your visa type and means of applying, fill out the visa application, form DS-160. Answer all questions on the form. Once submitting form DS-160 online, you cannot revise it later. Therefore, pay attention to the details so as not to make any mistakes.

After submitting the visa application, form DS-160, payment for the visa application fee will follow. The amount of the application fee varies by the type of visa you requested. Also note that since the fee is denominated in U.S. dollars, its amount may vary with exchange rates. Available payment methods are by credit card, Internet banking, or Pay Easy ATM. Be careful not to make duplicate payments, since the visa application fee is nonrefundable.

After you have completed your payment for the application fee, you will be issued a 12-digit receipt number. The receipt number will be valid within four hours after payment is complete. You can use the 12-digit receipt number to make an appointment for an interview.

4. The visa interview

The applicant for a nonimmigrant visa must go in person to the U.S. consulate or embassy where he or she made an appointment. For security reasons, there are some items that may not be brought into, or may not be placed with staff for safe keeping at, consulates or embassies. If you are concerned about whether or not you may bring something, we recommend checking with the consulate or embassy in advance.

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You might be surprised by how long it takes to issue a visa

In general, for the period of time from when the visa was applied for until it is issued, it is expected to take about one month from the day after the application has been received. This period may be shortened depending on the purpose of your visit and/or on the judgment of the embassy or consulate. However, close screening may be required if there are any doubts about the content of the visa application. In such a case, it could take even longer than one month after application until the visa is issued. If you need a visa, we recommend applying for it well in advance.

Detailed application procedures for a nonimmigrant visa

Each of the steps in applying for a nonimmigrant visa is described below. The steps below apply in cases when a visa application fee and an interview are required. (Procedures will differ for those completing all application procedures by post and those applying for diplomat or foreign government official visas.)

Step 1: Check the type of visa

The types and conditions of visa to apply for will vary depending on your purpose of vising the United States. Start by selecting the type of visa for your case and check the necessary conditions to apply for each visa.

Step 2: Prepare the online application form DS-160

All applicants for nonimmigrant visas must submit the online application form DS-160.

Step 3: Prepare a profile, make payment for the application fee, and make an appointment for the interview

Next, though you will need to complete the payment for the visa application fee and make an appointment for the interview, beforehand you need to create an online profile. After you have completed payment of the application fee and the receipt no. is reflected in your profile, proceed to making an appointment for your interview. After choosing your desired interview date and time, print out the confirmation page and bring it with you to the interview.

Note: Applicants for student or cultural exchange visas (F/M/J) will need to make payment for the SEVIS fee in addition to the visa application fee. Complete this payment before applying for your visa. However, there are cases which this payment may be waived under certain conditions of individuals. Check in advance with the school you plan to attend or the exchange program in which you intend to participate.

Step 4: Prepare the documents needed for the application

The documents below are required for all applicants. Check for any other documents required for the type of visa you are applying for, to be sure you prepare all necessary documents.

  1. A valid passport
  2. Passports issued within the past 10 years
  3. The DS-160 confirmation page (print this page after filling out form DS-160 online)
  4. The interview appointment confirmation page (bring a page showing the date and time of the interview appointment)
  5. One ID photograph (50 × 50 mm)

Note: The photo must be in color with a white background, taken within the past six months. Also note that photos in which the subjects wearing glasses are no longer acceptable since November 1, 2016.

Step 5: Go to the interview

Please go to your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for the interview.

【Embassies and consulates in the U.K.】
U.S. Embassy London
U.S. Consulate General Edinburgh
U.S. Consulate General Belfast
U.S. Consulate General in Hamilton (British overseas territory of Bermuda)

【Embassies and consulates in Australia】
U.S. Embassy Canberra
U.S. Consulate General Melbourne
U.S. Consulate General Sydney
U.S. Consulate General Perth

【Embassies and consulates in New Zealand】
U.S. Embassy Wellington
U.S. Consulate General Auckland

Interview appointments: U.S. embassies and consulates strive to complete interview procedures as efficiently as possible in order to shorten the waiting time for the interview. Please apply for your interview as early as possible, since the sooner you try to make an appointment the more likely you are to be able to get an appointment on your desired date. As a general rule, when applying for a nonimmigrant visa we recommend applying three months in advance of when you plan to go to the United States.

Step 6: Receive your passport with the visa stamped in it

Visas are never issued on the date of the interview. Your passport with the visa stamped will be delivered to your registered address later by post. After you receive your passport, carefully check the content of the visa to make sure there are no errors.

Notes on applying for a visa

Visa issuance

No applicant for a visa is approved automatically for issuance of the visa. Also, issuance of visa can not be guaranteed in advance either. Accordingly, it would be a good idea not to purchase any nonrefundable airfares or to make other travel arrangements until your passport with the visa stamped in it has been delivered. We recommend making your final travel plans after your visa has been delivered.

Period of time to complete the visa process

If the issuance of your visa has been authorized in the interview, your passport with the visa stamped in it should arrive within about one month from the date of the interview. However, screening may take longer in some cases. Some examples of reasons it might take longer are listed below:

  1. When the documents are missing
  2. When the consulate has determined that additional documents must be submitted
  3. When additional procedures are necessary for some reason

Please refrain from making inquiries regarding the state of screening of your visa application within one week to 10 days after you applied. Sometimes it takes time for a visa to be issued due to incomplete documents or lengthy public holidays. Try to apply for your visa well in advance of the date you need to be in the United States.

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Answers to questions about visa applications

Q.01 How much time should there be remaining before my passport expires when I apply for a visa?

For the average visit, your passport must be valid for at least another six months in addition to the period of your stay in the United States.

Q.02 What would happen if I arrived in the U.S. without using ESTA?

If you have not obtained authorization to enter the U.S. through ESTA and you are a national of a country eligible for the visa waiver program, the airline will not allow you to board the flight to the United States. Even if the airline does let you board, once you reach the airport in the U.S. you will be subjected to considerable delays at immigration screening and, in the worst-case scenario, you may be refused for entry. You must apply for ESTA in advance for traveling to the U.S. without a visa. Note that while an ESTA is valid for two years, if your passport will expire within two years your ESTA will expire on the same date as your passport.

Q.03 I am a foreign national living in the U.K. Can I apply for a nonimmigrant visa in the U.K.?

Foreign nationals living in the U.K. may apply for nonimmigrant visas in their home countries or in the U.K. where they currently live. Basically, it is preferable to apply at the consulate with jurisdiction for the area where they live currently. Regardless of nationality, there is no guarantee that any applicant will be issued a visa. Think it over carefully before applying for a nonimmigrant visa, since no guarantee is provided regarding the time it takes to complete procedures and the application fee cannot be refunded even if your nonimmigrant visa application is rejected.

Q.04 Do all applicants for nonimmigrant visas necessarily have to go to the embassy or consulate for an interview?

While ordinary applicants do need to go to the embassy or consulate, those meeting the following descriptions might not need to do so in person.

  • Those traveling on official business of a central government (A1, A2)
  • Central government employees transiting on official business of the central government (C2, C3)
  • Employees of a central government or international agency traveling in connection with an international agency (G1, G2, G3, G4)
  • Applicants who satisfy all of the conditions for renewal by post
  • Those who are aged 13 or younger or 80 or older on the interview date

Q.05 Since my nonimmigrant visa will expire soon I would like to renew it. Do I need to complete all of the visa application procedures again?

Nonimmigrant visa application procedures must be conducted individually for each visa. Accordingly, you will need to apply again through the normal method, even if you had a visa before or your current nonimmigrant visa has not yet expired. However, there are possibilities for travelers who visit the U.S. frequently may be able to be authorized for a new visa without going through another interview. Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate for your area. If you are eligible, you may apply for a nonimmigrant visa by post.

Q.06 My passport has expired but my U.S. visa still is valid. Do I need to apply for a new visa?

As long as your U.S. visa is valid, you do not need to apply for a new visa even if your passport has expired. You may travel carrying both your new and old passports with you. However, the nationality shown on your new passport must be the same as on your old passport in which the visa was stamped. If your name has been changed legally due to international marriage, divorce, or a court order, you may need to obtain a new passport. If you have obtained a new passport in such a case, applying for a new U.S. visa is recommended to ensure for your smooth entry and exit in the U.S.

Q.07 What should I do to extend my visa?

Visas may not be extended, regardless of their type. All visa holders need to apply for new visas when their previous ones expire.

Q.08 Must I submit the visa application form DS-160 online?

Yes. All applicants need to access the DS-160 online form, fill it out, and submit it online. Take the printed DS-160 confirmation page with you to the interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate.

Q.09 Does the expiration date of a visa indicate how long I may stay in the United States?

The expiration date indicated on a visa is the last date that the visa may be used to enter the United States. Accordingly, it does not indicate how long you may stay in the United States. The period of stay is determined ultimately by immigration officers when entering the country. You must comply with the length of stay authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigration officers. After your visa has been delivered, check to make sure that all of the information printed on it is correct. If the information shown on the visa does not match with what is on your passport, or if the information is incorrect, promptly notify the U.S. embassy or consulate that issued it.

Q.10 Is it a problem if my visa expires while I am in the United States?

No, it is not a problem. Even if your visa has expired while in the U.S., as long as you comply with the conditions and period authorized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staff when you arrived in the U.S., you may stay in the United States. (In this case, the information shown on form I-94 applies.)

Q.11 Do I need to submit customs declaration forms for all members of the family when traveling with my family?

Customs declaration forms are handed out by the airlines. When traveling with your family, you may submit just one form for the whole family. After you are allowed entry to the U.S. at the airport where the plane landed, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staff will decide on your period of stay. Usually, if there is no problem you should be able to be permitted your requested length of your stay.

Q12. The passport with my U.S. visa was lost/stolen. Whom should I contact?

If a valid passport with a valid U.S. visa is lost or stolen, promptly report the loss or theft to the U.S. embassy or consulate that issued the visa. Also report it to your nearest police station. In case it is not found, it may be suggested that you apply for reissue of the passport and then apply for the visa again. Promptly take the necessary procedures as instructed by embassy or consulate staff.

U.S. embassies and consulates in major countries

The following U.S. embassies and consulates accept applications for the visas required to travel to the United States. When applying for an ordinary visa, it is recommended to apply at the consulate or embassy nearest your home address, so check for the location of the one nearest you.

Embassies and consulates in the U.K.

U.S. Embassy London Address: 33 Nine Elms Ln, London SW11 7US, U.K.
Tel.:+44 20 7499 9000
U.S. Consulate General Edinburgh Address: 3 Regent Terrace, Edinburgh EH7 5BW, U.K.
Tel.: +44 131 556 8315
U.S. Consulate General Belfast Address: 223 Stranmillis Rd, Belfast BT9 5GR, U.K.
Tel.: +44 28 9038 6100
U.S. Consulate General in Hamilton Address: Crown Hill, 16 Middle Rd, DV 03, Hamilton (British overseas territory of Bermuda)
Tel.: +1 441-295-1342

Embassies and consulates in Australia

U.S. Embassy Canberra Address:Moonah Pl, Yarralumla ACT 2600, Australia
Tel.:+61 2 6214 5600
U.S. Consulate General Melbourne Address:553 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC 3004, Australia
Tel.:+61 3 9526 5900
U.S. Consulate General Sydney Address:MLC Centre, 19-29 Martin Pl, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Tel.:+61 2 9373 9200
U.S. Consulate General Perth Address:16 St Georges Terrace, Perth WA 6000, Australia
Tel.:+61 8 6144 5100

Embassies and consulates in New Zealand

U.S. Embassy Wellington Address:29 Fitzherbert Terrace, Thorndon, Wellington 6011, N.Z.
Tel.:+64 4-462 6000
U.S. Consulate General Auckland Address:23 Customs St E, Auckland, 1010, N.Z.
Tel.:+64 9-303 2724
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updated:2018/7/10