Country Summary: United States

The U.S. immigration system has two principal categories of foreign nationals: nonimmigrants who enter the United States temporarily, and immigrants who intend to obtain permanent residence. There are a number of distinct employment-based nonimmigrant categories.

Visa nationals require a B-1 visa for business visits. B-1 beneficiaries are generally admitted to the United States for a period of time necessary to conduct their intended activities, for up to 180 days. B-1 visas can be extended in six month increments without limitations as long as certain parameters are met. Certain citizens are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.

There are several employment-based visa categories in the United States. The most common are the H-1B (specialty occupation), J-1 (trainee), L-1 (intra-company transferee), O-1 (extraordinary ability), the TN (Canadian or Mexican professional worker), and the E-1/E-2 for treaty traders/investors. The visa's validity period usually corresponds to the period of authorized stay. An exception is the E visa for treaty traders/investors, which normally has a five-year validity period but a period of authorized stay of two years. Work visas may be extended if the underlying status is extended.

Note that consular officers have the discretion to require enhanced security checks of any visa or work permit applicant. Medical exams are generally only required of permanent residence applicants; however, business or work visa applicants who have been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol may be required to undergo a medical exam.


Foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States are subject to strict security procedures at U.S. consulates, embassies and ports of entry, which may have a significant effect on entry to the United States. After entry, they have numerous obligations and responsibilities they must fulfill to maintain their status. Our Know Your Obligations article provides guidance on procedures, including visa issuance at U.S. consulates and embassies, security screening, and the immigration obligations of foreign nationals traveling to and staying in the United States.

Though it is not possible to detail every immigration procedure and obligation, foreign nationals should be aware of some general guidelines for international travel, each of which is discussed in more detail here.

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