When evaluating if you want to live or work in the U.S., you may enter temporarily on a visitor visa or if you are from one of the countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) you may be able to apply for ESTA, or the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. There are a few critical differences between the two programs. Visitor’s visas typically allow an individual to enter the country for up to 6 months at a time and another 6-month extension may be possible. The Visa Waiver Program or ESTA only allows approved travelers to enter the U.S. for up to 90 days for tourism, conferences, or business meetings. Individuals traveling under ESTA are also not eligible to adjust or change status. The strategies below would require ESTA travelers to depart the country and apply for the appropriate visa type. Some visitor’s visa holders may be able to change their status to participate in the below activities.
Enroll in School
When considering your immigration pathway in the U.S., an immigration attorney can help you craft an actionable plan even before you apply for a visa. The United States is attractive to those looking to further their education, but a student visa is typically required. When you consider higher education, you must demonstrate that you have enough funds to cover your tuition and living expenses for the duration of the program listed on your I-20, a document provided by the school to utilize when you apply for a student visa.
Individuals can typically study under three visa programs:
- F-1 student visa – academic studies
- University or college
- High school
- Private elementary school
- Another academic institution, including a language training program
- M-1 student visa – vocational studies
- Vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution
- Does not include language training programs
- J-1 exchange visitor – approved exchange programs
- Au pair and EduCare
- Camp Counselor
- Government Visitor
- International Visitor (Dept. of State use)
- Professor and Research Scholar
- Short-term Scholar
- Student, college/university
- Student, secondary
- Summer Work Travel
Certain short-term recreational courses that are not for credit toward a degree or academic certificate may be undertaken utilizing a visitor visa. You should check with your immigration attorney and Designated School Official to determine which visa is appropriate.
Secure a Job
If you have a job waiting for you in the U.S., your chances of qualifying for a visa increase exponentially. Whether you apply for a job at a new company or the current company you work for offers you a transfer to an American location, you may be eligible for a temporary visa (such as H-1B, L-1A, L-1B, O-1, or P-1) or the employer may sponsor you for permanent residence, or a “green card” (EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3). Employment-based categories are based on your experience and education levels. If you have special knowledge or expertise, you may be able to self-petition for a green card without an official job offer in hand. Contact an immigration attorney to explore how your background may qualify.
Start a Business
The United States values economic contributions, so opening a business on American soil that can provide jobs for U.S. workers is another way to enter the U.S. on a temporary or permanent visa. Some countries may be eligible by treaty for a temporary visa (E-1 or E-2) to start up and direct a business. Individuals from all countries may apply for an EB-5 investor visa by making a minimum investment in a new U.S. entity and can sufficiently demonstrate plans to hire at least 10 U.S. workers. Your spouse and children under the age of 21 can also earn permanent residence through the primary investor’s application.
Contact us to discuss how to increase your chances of earning a U.S. visa.