frequently asked questions
U.S. Immigration & Visa Processing
What is a Visa?
A visa is written permission of the Department of State, stamped in your passport, normally issued by an authorized consular official at an American Consulate abroad, for an alien to apply for admission to the United States at an airport, pre-flight inspection post, or border crossing point in the United States. Having a visa, in many cases, is an essential step in coming to the U.S. But, it is not a guarantee that the Immigration Service Officer will allow you to enter. That is a decision that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) must make independent of the State Department.
Does my visa have to remain valid while I am in the U.S.?
No. Your visa must be valid at the moment that you enter into the U.S. After that it may expire without consequence to your stay, provided that your I-94, the admission card given to you by an Immigration Officer, remains unexpired.
If I have a “Green Card” do I need a visa?
No. A "Green Card" identifies somebody who was previously admitted as a lawful permanent resident, if it is presented by an alien, returning to the United States from a temporary visit abroad (one with a relatively fixed end point), to an unabandoned residence in the United States, within one year from exit. Whether an individual has abandoned his/her residence in the U.S. is a question of that person's intent and is determined by the facts of the individual case, even though the alien has been out of the United States for less than a year. The burden of proving abandonment is on the Immigration Service.
If I come to the United States on the Visa Waiver Pilot Program, can I be employed?
Visitors may not accept gainful employment in the United States. A business visitor (B-1) may consult, confer, negotiate and perform other similar tasks for his/her foreign employer, but may not undertake employment or receive wages in the U.S.
If I have an H-1B visa for company A, can I also work for company B?
Yes, you are NOT limited only to one employer. However, each employer must file and have approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) an H-1B petition on your behalf before you may start working for that employer. You may have multiple petitions in force for you at the same time.
And, no matter how many petitions exist, your six-year maximum stay is measured by how many days you are in the U.S. in H-1 status. Each day, no matter how many lawful employers you work for, is counted as only one day against the six-year cap.
If I have an H-1B visa, and wish to change employers, what must happen?
The new employer must obtain an approved petition on your behalf, and your status in the U.S. must be amended, before you may begin work. Even though your visa may be annotated with the name of your former employer, you may lawfully enter using that visa in order to work for the new employer. When you enter, an Immigration Officer will likely want to see, at a minimum, a copy of the petition approval obtained by the new employer. We usually advise that you have your passport visa amended to include the new employer's name simply to avoid any delays at the border or airport.
If I hold an E-2 Treaty Investor visa and entry, and my employer corporation is sold to an enterprise of a different nationality than mine, is my Treaty Investor visa and stay still valid?
No. While careful consideration should be given to the actual facts, generally when the employer loses its nationality because it becomes owned by a majority of ultimate owners of a different country, your right to a treaty visa ceases. Thus if you are from England, and your U.K. employer is bought by a Danish-owned business, you lose the right to be a treaty investor employee.
If I am scheduled to be interviewed at a Consulate regarding my visa application, may I be accompanied by my attorney?
This decision is made by the individual Consulate and/or consular officer involved. In recent years the privilege to be accompanied by your attorney at an interview has been stringently curtailed. In many locations, attorneys are not even allowed to enter the Consulate with you. However, active representative is still permitted and conducted effectively through other means of communication; by telephone, fax, e-mail, and/or letter; often both before and after your visa application is considered.
What U.S. taxes must I pay?
This is among the most complicated questions you may ask. The answer depends upon your intended status in the U.S., how long you are and have been present in America, whether there exists a tax treaty between your country and the U.S., and upon significant number of other facts and determinations that are too numerous to mention here. We do not counsel or advise on tax matters and strongly advise that you consult your accountant or tax attorney or other competent, experienced tax professional before seeking or changing US immigration as to the tax implications of your doing so.
If I enter the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Pilot Program, can I change or extend my status without leaving?
No, except in the case where you decide after you enter to marry a U.S. citizen.
Then, providing you did not intend to remain in the U.S. when you entered, you may apply for Adjustment of Status to that of Lawful Permanent Resident despite the nature of your entry.
If I am offered a professional position in the U.S. but I do not have a formal university degree, can I still be approved for H-1B status?
Yes. Your education can be evaluated by a professional credentials evaluator who may find that you have the academic equivalent to a U.S. degree in your field. Too, the combination of your education and your experience may be evaluated and found to equate favourably to such a degree.
What are some important characteristics to have if you wish to study at an American university?
While we cannot provide an exhaustive list, a Consul will look at whether it is likely that you will return to your country when you finish your studies, and whether you will need to work (unlawfully) during the time you are in the U.S. Financial backing from somebody who has a rational reason to support you through school is something to be considered. A distant family friend's promise to put you through college may not be given as much weight as would a bank account in your own name with a substantial balance accumulated over a period of time. Consuls are frequently impressed by strong academic results during your previous education, a solid and understandable reason why you want to study at the particular school you've picked, how much you know about your job opportunities when you return to your home country (or any reliable job offer you may have upon your return). If you have family members who have previously come to the United States, permanently or temporarily, their immigration histories will probably be counted for or against your application. When an applicant has been out of school for a considerable amount of time, a strong reason could be needed to explain why that person wants to give up whatever life he or she has established and return to the academic world in the United States.
Will registering for ESTA determine my eligibility to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program?
No. ESTA should not be used to determine if a person is qualified to travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Only qualfied VWP travelers should register under ESTA.
How far in advance am I required to submit an application?
It may be done at anytime, but no later than 72 hours before you are due to travel. You are not required to have any firm travel plans before registering and we recommend that you register as soon as you have made reservations or have purchased tickets.
If authorization to travel is granted it will be valid for travel for two years or until the date on which your passport expires, whichever comes first. It will be valid for multiple visits. Should your itinerary change (address, flight number) you may update the information through the ESTA Web site.
What should I do if I have obtained a new passport or have changed my name, date of birth, citizenship or gender, or my eligibility to travel visa free has changed
If you have obtained a new passport, changed your name, date of birth, citizenship, or gender you are required to apply for new travel authorization. You cannot amend your existing registration. If you are no longer eligible to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program, you will be required to apply for a visa.
How long will it take to process the travel authorization?
In most cases the traveler will be provided with an almost immediate determination as to whether or not travel authorization is granted.
Those applicants who receive an approval are then authorized to board an air or sea carrier under the Visa Waiver Program.
How much does it cost?
Initially there will be no fee for this service. Companies who are charging a fee for this service are NOT operating on behalf of the U.S. Government.
I am entering the U.S. by land from Canada or Mexico; do I require travel authorization under ESTA?
No. You will NOT be required to obtain travel authorization if entering the U.S. by land.
I am transiting the U.S.; do I require authorization under ESTA before traveling?
Yes, you will be required to obtain authorization to travel before boarding the aircraft.
I have been arrested and or convicted; can I register under ESTA?
Only those qualified to travel under the Visa Waiver Program are eligible to register. As you have been arrested and or convicted, you require a visa in order to travel.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply to U.S law. Please note that minor traffic offenses such as speeding, which did not result in an arrest or conviction, will not prevent a traveller from travelling under the VWP and therefore, will not prevent you from applying to register under ESTA
What information do I need in order to complete the application?
You are required to provide the same information as requested on the form I-94W; that is your biographical data including name, birth date, and passport information, as well as travel information such as the flight number and destination address in the United States. You are also required to answer Visa Waiver Program eligibility questions regarding communicable diseases, arrests and convictions for certain crimes, and past history of visa revocation or deportation, amongst others. The information must be provided in English. A third party may complete the form on your behalf.
Can I apply for travel authorization if I was previously denied entry into or deported from the U.S.?
Only those qualified to travel under the Visa Waiver Program are eligible to register. As you have been denied entry into or deported from the U.S., you require a visa in order to travel.
Am I required to print the authorization to travel and carry it with me?
No, the airlines and shipping companies will have received confirmation that you are authorized to travel. However, you should retain the application number so that you may update your information in the future; if necessary.
For how long is travel authorization granted?
Travel authorization is granted for two years or until the date on which your passport expires, whichever comes first. Once you have completed your registration on-line, you will be provided with the dates during which you may travel to the United States.
I have a valid visa; do I require travel authorization approval under ESTA before traveling?
No, this new system applies only to those traveling visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.
I applied for travel authorization under ESTA but it was denied; what do I do?
You are required to apply for a visa before traveling. Please call the Embassy's Operator Assisted Information Service on 09042 450 100 (Calls cost 1.20/min) to schedule an appointment to apply for a visa.
I have been denied authorization to travel. Is there any point in trying again at a later date?
You may reapply after 24 hours, but unless your circumstances have changed, you will not receive authorization to travel. It is important to note that applying with false information could make you permanently ineligible for travel to the U.S.
I believe that I was incorrectly denied authorization to travel under ESTA as I have travelled in the past
If you believe that you have been incorrectly denied authorization to travel, you should contact the Department of Homeland Security through their Travel Redress Inquiry Program. Further information is available from the Department of Homeland Security's website at www.dhs.gov Please note that there are no guarantees that a request for redress through DHS TRIP will resolve the issue and the Embassy is unable to provide information about ESTA denials or resolve the issue that caused the ESTA denial.
I have received a message "authorized pending"; what happens next?
You should receive a response within 72 hours of you submitting the information. You should check the website for updates. If you attempt to travel without authorization to do so, you may be denied boarding by the airline or shipping company or entry into the United States.
I made a mistake and submitted incorrect information; what can I do?
If the application was approved, you may submit amended information such as changes to your travel itinerary - change of address; flight number. If you provided incorrect passport or biographic information or information relating to your eligibility to travel under the Visa Waiver Program - arrests/convictions/deportation/medical ineligibility, you will be required to submit a new application. If the application was denied, it is recommended that you wait 24 hours before reapplying.
I need to travel to the US urgently and do not have time to request travel authorization; what do I do?
VWP travellers entering the United States by air or sea are required to obtain travel authorization under ESTA before boarding the carrier. It is recommended that you register no later than 72 hours before your travel. However, the system does accommodate last minute and emergency travellers. You should go on-line and register as soon as possible. If you do not receive authorization in time to travel, or authorization is denied, you will be required to apply for a visa.
I was denied approval to travel and I need to travel urgently; can I obtain an emergency appointment?
You should call the Operator Assisted Information Service on 09042 450 100(calls cost 1.20/min). They will advise you of the earliest available appointment to apply for a visa. No guarantees can be offered that an apointment will be available to accommodate travel, which is why we strongly recommend that travelers register for ESTA well in advance of your proposed date of travel.
If I receive authorization to travel, does that mean I can enter the country?
Approval only authorizes a traveler to board an air or sea carrier (plane or boat) to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program; it does not guarantee entry. That decision can only be made by the immigration official at the Port of Entry in the same way that travellers currently entering the U.S. with a visa are subject to inspection.
What are the advantages of doing this; isn't it easier to get a visa?
No. Obtaining travel authorization, for most travelers, will be simple and easy. Obtaining a visa, however, typically requires an appointment, travel to the Embassy/Consulate, an interview with a consular officer, processing time, and the payment of a fee (currently $131).
Will I still be required to complete the form I-94W?
Approval to travel under ESTA will eventually eliminate the requirement that the traveler complete the I-94W form.
I have a postdated passport. Can I register under ESTA?
ESTA will only recognise a valid passport. Therefore, you will not be able to register your details until the date on which the passport becomes valid for travel. It is recommended that a traveller submit a registration at least 72 hours before travelling. If there is insufficient time for you to do this between the wedding ceremony and date of travel, you may wish to delay applying for a post-dated passport and travel on your existing passport together with a copy of your marriage certificate.
I am travelling under NATO travel orders; am I required to register under ESTA before boarding the carrier?
ESTA applies only to those traveling to the United States visa free under the Visa Waiver Program. If you are travelling on NATO travel orders, you will not be required to register.