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Moving to the USA: A Visas & Paperwork Guide

Moving to the USA Visas & Paperwork

The USA is often known as ‘The Land of Opportunity’, or those that immigrate here do so to ‘achieve the American Dream’. Most people achieve this by legal immigration, but there is an essential path to follow before you can finally call the United States ‘home’.

For starters, the USA has a lot to offer travellers, so if you are visiting the country prior to taking the steps to immigrate, you may need a US ESTA pass (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation), which acts as a visa waiver. The ESTA is a system that the authorities use to streamline the entry process for eligible nationalities.

Alternatively, if you’re ineligible for the ESTA, then you’ll require a B1/B2 visa to visit.

Of course, if you’ve already visited the United States, you’ve fallen in love and you’ve decided to move here, then read on to find out all about the visas and documents you’ll need to immigrate!

How to Get a Visa to Move to America

There are 2 core types of visa available to people looking to enter the USA – Immigrant and Non-Immigrant. A Non-Immigrant version is exclusively for travellers that will only be in America for a short time, such as those travelling for business or taking a holiday. On the other hand, if you want to live in the USA, you will need an Immigrant one.

Ensure you have appropriate sponsorship to live in America. The best way to achieve this is based on a job. If you are moving to the USA for work, your employer will petition the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to explain that your unique skills and experience are required.

If you are moving to live with an American family, these family members will also need to write to USCIS and prove that you are indeed related.

Once this is in order, make an appointment with the US embassy in your country. The embassy will help you fill in the relevant paperwork and make sure you apply for the correct document. This will then be filed with the National Visa Centre (NVC) in the USA, and you will hear whether your request has been approved or declined in due course.

Do I Need a Visa to Move to America?

Moving to the country is a whole different matter than visiting. If you plan to live in the USA, but are not a permanent resident of the country, it is almost certain that you will need a visa.

Your first 90 days in the country will be permitted under the ESTA or Visa Waiver Program (VWP), or under the B1/B2 visa, depending on your nationality. After this, however, you will need the appropriate paperwork to remain in the USA.

What US Immigration Visa Types Are There?

The USA has an array of options. The most prominent types of immigration visas are as follows:

  • Family Immigration – for spouses and children of American citizens.
  • Fiancé(e) – for those due to marry in the USA (typically time-limited, usually 3 months).
  • Employment – for individuals moving to the USA to work for a particular employer, as per a pre-agreed contract.
  • Special Immigrants – typically reserved for religious workers, media broadcasters or overseas employees of the US government.
  • Returning Resident – for permanent residents of the USA that left the country and are now returning.
  • Diversity – immigration visas for residents of countries with a limited population in the USA.

What Is the Difference Between a Visa and a Green Card?

A Green Card is also known as a Permanent Resident Card. This document means that you can live and work in America without any restrictions. Most Green Cards are valid for 10 years and will need to be renewed at this point, though some are conditional and only last 2 years. Whatever you do, always remember to renew it.

You can typically apply for a Green Card if:

  • You are married to an American citizen and you want to live together in the USA.
  • One of your parents is a US citizen, living in America, and you are aged below 21.
  • You have been offered a job in the USA based on particular skills and experience.
  • You are fleeing abuse or seeking asylum from a recognised country.

Your circumstances will be reviewed before a Green Card is offered, and these investigations can be very thorough. If your circumstances change, such as losing a job or dissolving a marriage, your Green Card may be revoked. In such instances, you may be asked to leave the country – a Green Card does not equate to citizenship.

You must also ensure that your information logged with the USCIS is always up to date and includes details of any change of address you might make. This must be done within 10 days of moving. The same applies to any contact numbers or email addresses.

If you forget to inform the authorities, any mail sent to you regarding your application may not be received. Whilst the US Mail service will deliver mail to your new address, they do not inform the USCIS, so you will need to do this yourself.

If you want to check on the progress of your Green Card, you can do so by looking on the USCIS website with your correct case number. Please be aware that if you leave the country whilst the process is underway but not approved, you must notify the relevant departments. To do this, use the online form, in order for your application not to be voided. A form of exit permission must be issued in advance.

What Is on the US Immigration Visa Application Form?

You will be provided with a range of reference numbers by USCIS before you start the process of applying. These will need to be included in your form, so make sure you have them to hand.

In terms of more general information, the application form asks for the following:

  • Your full name, address, telephone contact details, and previous addresses.
  • Any previous names or aliases.
  • Your date and place of birth.
  • Your religion (if applicable).
  • Information from your passport and pertaining to any other citizenships.
  • Social media information (optional).
  • Your proposed address in the USA.
  • Family information, including names, addresses and nationalities of your parents, spouse (and previous spouses) and children.
  • Details of any previous visits to the USA or visa applications.
  • Occupational and educational history.
  • Information pertaining to your petitioner/sponsor upon arrival in the USA.
  • Medical and health history.
  • Background check, including disclosure of any criminal record or deportation from other nations.

As you will see, it’s a very detailed form. This is why it is best to complete it with the aid of the US embassy.

Is There a US Immigration Visa Online Application?

We will stress again that we strongly recommend that you complete your form through the US embassy. This will ensure that all essential information is included, and the application is correctly filed with the appropriate authorities in the USA.

However, if you are adamant that you prefer to complete the form for yourself and wish to download it from the internet, you can still do so, although it is not advisable. Any rejections will take a while to work out, which can be somewhat of a task.

What Is the US Immigration Visa Processing Time?

If you are lucky enough to be declared eligible for an immigrant visa on the day of your interview, you will receive it in the post within around 10 days.

The USCIS is very busy, so complicated applications can take months or even years. If you have a compelling reason to apply, though, such as American relatives or a solid job offer, you should avoid such a prolonged wait.

What Is the US Immigration Visa Fee?

Different types have different processing fees. All of these charges are non-refundable, so do not apply unless you are confident you will be accepted.

If you are going to apply, this table outlines the estimated costs.


Family 325 USD
Fiancé(e) 265 USD
Employment 345 USD
Special Immigrants 205 USD
Returning Resident 180 USD
Diversity 330 USD

There may be additional fees accrued during processing, especially if the application requires additional supporting documentation, so be prepared for this.

What Are the US Immigration Visa Photo Requirements?

You will need to supply 2 passport-sized photographs along with your application. The rules of these photos dictate that they must be:

  • Taken within the last 6 months.
  • Measure 50mm2, with the head in the middle of the frame.
  • In full colour, taken against a white background.
  • Devoid of anything that covers your features, such as sunglasses or headwear, unless worn for religious reasons.

If in doubt, arrange for a professional photograph to be taken. It is very important that the images are clear and recognisable as a true portrait of the applicant. If they are not, or they are the wrong size, your application may be voided.

How to Check Your US Immigration Visa Status

The US embassy in your country should be able to keep you updated on the progress of your application. Alternatively, you can call the NVC on +1 603 334 0700. Ensure you have any reference numbers to hand if you choose the latter approach.

Is There a US Immigration Work Visa?

You will not be issued a visa for casual work in the USA. If you are planning a prolonged vacation and want to earn money working zero-hour contracts, this is not an option.

If you’re eligible for the ESTA waiver, you can enter without a visa for up to 90 days and not work or find a job with an employer that will sponsor you. Just remember that, in the latter case, this will likely tie you to this employer for a set period.

What Is the US Immigration H1B Visa?

The H1B is a Non-Immigration visa granted to people that need to work in the USA for a set period. An H1B will be granted to somebody with particular and specialist skills that comes to America to help their employer. This lasts for 3 years at a time and can only be renewed once. Nobody can stay in the USA for longer than 6 years on a H1B.

What Is the US Immigration Visa Waiver?

The US Immigration Visa Waiver program is also known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, or ESTA. This allows eligible nationalities to enter the USA for up to 90 days without needing to apply for a visa.

You can apply for an ESTA online on Byevisa’s website, and should do so before you plan to fly to the USA. An ESTA application costs 14 USD, plus our processing fee.

Once you have been approved for an ESTA, you can use it multiple times within a 2-year period. You will need to allow a ‘reasonable period of time’ to elapse between visits. To assuage any fears that you are planning to move to the USA with an ESTA, ensure you have a return flight already booked when you enter the country.

What Documents Should Be on Your ‘Moving to the USA’ Checklist?

Before making an appointment to apply for an immigration visa, ensure that you have all the documents that confirm your eligibility. These will typically be issued by the USCIS, based on a family member or employer sponsoring your application. You will also need your passport.

What US Immigration Visa Interview Questions Might I Be Asked?

The interview can be quite intense, especially if you are applying as the spouse of an American.

To avoid so-called “sham marriages”, in which people marry US nationals to bolster their chances of gaining a Green Card despite not being a real couple, expect to be asked some quite personal questions. These could include questions about your wedding, home arrangements, and relationships with each other’s parents, plus something such as a photographic record of your time together.

If you are not applying for a family entry pass, the interview will be much more generic. You will primarily be asked questions about your personal information, including your name, date and place of birth, ethnic origin, and physical condition. You may also be asked a range of questions about your work and financial solvency. This is to assert that you will be able to support yourself in the USA.

I am Married to an American – Do I Still Need a Visa to Live in the USA?

Yes. Marrying a US citizen does not automatically bestow citizenship on a spouse. At best, you will enjoy a little more leeway on how long you can stay in the country, but this is far from certain. You will still need at least an immigrant visa if you plan to live in America, but you also will be entitled to apply for a Green Card.

Introduction to the US Immigration Visa Lottery

The US Immigration Visa Lottery is part of the Diversity Visa Program. Each year, 50,000 visas are made available to residents of countries that are considered underrepresented in the American population. This means nations that admitted less than 50,000 individuals over the last 5 years. This will rule out many larger countries, with African nations most commonly represented.

To enter the program, applicants must be educated to high school level or higher and have been in work for at least 2 years. Applications are made online when a brief window opens (usually between May and October), and if selected at random, a “winner” is notified by email. They will then be screened accordingly and informed if they will be granted entry to the USA. At the last census, China topped the list of most immigrants living in the US.

What Is the US Immigration Visa Contact Number?

If you want to speak to somebody about your application, call the National Visa Centre on +1 603 334 0700. Alternatively, go through the US embassy in your country. They will be willing to act on your behalf.

Is There a US Immigration Visa Renewal Process?

All visas are finite and need to be renewed periodically. To do this, you will need to make an appointment with the embassy or complete an online form. The process is virtually identical to your initial application, though you will need to pay the processing fee again.

If your circumstances have not changed since you arrived in the USA, there is no reason why your application would be denied. You may want to consider applying for a Green Card if you are considering permanent residency in America, though.

Just a head’s up – it is very important that when applying for any type of visa for the USA, that you fill in the form accurately with no fabrications or exaggerations of your status.

When checking your submission, the immigration services are very hot on any ‘sketchy’ information, or the truth being distorted in any form or fashion. This could result in your application being rejected. Depending on what, if anything, they find untoward, your application could be rejected and may result in you becoming permanently ‘persona non grata’.

Common reasons for rejection are:

  • Incomplete or misinformation on your application, or missing paperwork.
  • Public charges, particularly involving any criminal activity.
  • Fraud or misrepresentation.
  • Unlawful presence in the USA either currently or in the past.

Hopefully, your application to immigrate will always come to a positive, satisfying conclusion. Learn more with our articles about the Green Card Photo Check and the Sponsor Invitation Letter for the US Visa.

Good luck with your move to the USA – if you have followed the rules, it should all be fine, and you can soon get on with living your American dream!

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