FREQUENT QUESTIONS

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  1. What is the difference between an immigrant and a nonimmigrant visa?

  2. What is the difference between an immediate relative petition and a preference petition?

  3. What is the process for obtaining an immigrant visa if the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) approves the petition?

  4. What foreign service post handles approved immigrant visa petitions for persons who last resided in a country where there is no American consular representation?

  5. What is the waiting time for an immigrant visa after the National Visa Center or the foreign service post receives the approved petition?

  6. What is a priority date?

  7. How can I get the Visa Bulletin?

  8. What kind of police certificates are acceptable?

  9. What fees are involved in obtaining an immigrant visa?

  10. How long is an immigrant visa valid? What if the applicant must delay arrival in the U.S.?

  11. What documentation is required of a child born outside the U.S. of legal permanent residents?

  12. The legal permanent residents left the child abroad with family members and returned to the U.S. They now wish to bring the child to the U.S. What must they do?

  13. Can a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident petition be processed at any foreign service post for the immigration of a relative?

  14. What must be done to invite someone for a visit to the United States?

  15. What does an applicant need for a visitor visa?

  16. How does an alien obtain a student visa?

  17. Can an alien in the U.S. change visa status, or extend the period of time he/she is allowed to remain in the U.S.?

  18. Can the holder of an expired visa, such as an "H" or "L" visa, in the U.S. be issued another nonimmigrant visa before leaving the U.S. for a temporary absence?

  19. What is necessary for an alien to enter the U.S. to marry a U.S. citizen?

  20. Does the fiance(e) visa automatically change to an alien registration card (green card)?

  21. How can an applicant learn why he/she was denied a visa at a post overseas?

  22. What can an applicant do if he/she has been denied? Can he/she appeal?

  23. What is an advisory opinion?

  24. How can the applicant persuade the consul?

  25. How can I help my employee, friend or relative?

  26. How do I apply for citizenship if I am a "Green Card" holder?

  27. What are the employer and employee penalties under the law?

  28. How/Where do I contact my home country's embassy here in the United States -or- a United States' embassy abroad?

ANSWERS

  1. What is the difference between an immigrant and a nonimmigrant visa?

    An immigrant visa is the visa issued to persons wishing to live permanently in the United Sates. A nonimmigrant visa is the visa issued to persons with a permanent residence outside the U.S. but who wish to be in the U. S. on a temporary basis, for example, tourism, medical treatment, temporary business, work, or study.

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  2. What is the difference between an immediate relative petition and a preference petition?

    An immediate relative petition can be filed by a U.S. citizen on behalf of a spouse, parent, or child. A preference petition is filed by a U.S. citizen on behalf of a son or daughter, by a legal permanent resident on behalf of a spouse, son or daughter, or child, or by an employer on behalf of an employee.

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  3. What is the process for obtaining an immigrant visa if the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) approves the petition?

    It is then forwarded to the National Visa Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The National Visa Center then informs the beneficiary that an approved petition has been received. As soon as a visa number is available on a preference petition or as soon as INS approves an immediate relative petition, the National Visa Center sends notice that the beneficiary can begin the visa application process.

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  4. What foreign service post handles approved immigrant visa petitions for persons who last resided in a country where there is no American consular representation?

    Persons from countries that do not have an American embassy or consulate are considered "homeless" because they cannot return to their home country to be interviewed for the immigrant visa. When the National Visa Center receives and immigrant visa approved petition on a "homeless" case, it assigns the case to an embassy or consulate that has been determined is capable of handling the additional workload. The petitioner or beneficiary will be informed by the National Visa Center of the post that was chosen.

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  5. What is the waiting time for an immigrant visa after the National Visa Center or the foreign service post receives the approved petition?

    Several factors influence how long the process may take. Immediate relative visas are not numerically limited by statute, so workload permitting, the post may begin processing the approved petition upon receipt. Preference visas are numerically limited; therefore, the post must wait until the priority date on the petition is available before starting to process the case. The major reason for lengthy waits, ie. Priority dates that are months or several years earlier than your inquiry, is that fact that each year many more people apply for immigrant visas that can be satisfied under the annual numerical limit set by law for preference cases. Certain categories, such as the family fourth preference, are heavily oversubscribed.

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  6. What is a priority date?

    The priority date, in the case of a relative immigrant visa petition, is the date the petition was filed. In the case of an employer-sponsored petition, the priority date is usually the date the labor certification was filed with the Department of Labor. The Visa Bulletin is a monthly publication which gives the changes in availability of priority dates.

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  7. How can I get the Visa Bulletin?

    The Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs monthly Visa Bulletin can be accessed from our home page. Select the "Visa Bulletin".

    Individuals may also obtain the Visa Bulletin by fax from the U.S. Department of State. From a fax phone, dial (202) 647-3000. Follow the prompts and enter in the code 1038 to have the Visa Bulletin faxed to you. The Department of State also has available a recorded message with visa cut-off dates which can be heard at : (202) 663-1541. (The recording is updated in the middle of each month with information on cut-off dates for the following month.)

    To be placed on the Department of State's Visa Bulletin mailing list or to change an address, write to:

    Visa Bulletin
    Visa Office
    Department of State
    Washington, DC 20522-0106

    Only addresses within the U.S. postal system may be placed on the mailing list. (Obtaining the Visa Bulletin by mail is a much slower option than any of the alternatives mentioned above.) The Visa Bulletin is not distributed by E-mail.

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  8. What kind of police certificates are acceptable?

    Each country has its own requirements for obtaining police certificates or clearances. Specific information is available from the U.S. consulate processing the case.

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  9. What fees are involved in obtaining an immigrant visa?

    The cost of an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate is $170 (U.S.) for application and $30 (U.S.) for issuance per person, regardless of age. There may also be consular fees to obtain required documents, for certifying or notarizing documents, and for the medical examination. The cost of the immigrant visa itself remains constant, but other fees vary from post to post. The fees are payable in U.S. and equivalent local currency. Cash is acceptable at all posts; other methods of payment must be determined by the processing post.

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  10. How long is an immigrant visa valid? What if the applicant must delay arrival in the U.S.?

    The consul may issue an immigrant visa with a maximum validity of four months. If an applicant must delay travel to the U.S. beyond six months, the U.S. consulate should be contacted to request the interview be scheduled closer to his/her possible departure. If an immigrant visa has already been issued and circumstances force the alien to remain abroad longer, the applicant should contact the U.S. consulate and request an extension of the immigrant visa's validity. If the validity of an immigrant visa expires, a new one may be issued upon payment of the statutory application and issuance fees (U.S. $200).

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  11. What documentation is required of a child born outside the U.S. of legal permanent residents?

    A child born abroad of legal permanent resident parents may enter the U.S. without a visa provided the child is accompanied by a parent upon that parent's initial return to the U.S. within two years of the child's birth with documentation showing the parent-child relationship.

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  12. The legal permanent residents left the child abroad with family members and returned to the U.S. They now wish to bring the child to the U.S. What must they do?

    The child must have an immigrant visa to enter the U.S. The legal permanent resident parent(s) must file a preference petition with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

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  13. Can a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident petition be processed at any foreign service post for the immigration of a relative?

    Authority to accept a petition rests solely with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). INS has determined that petitions must be filed in the petitioner's place of residence. Therefore, if the petitioner resides in the U.S., the petitioner must file at his/her local INS office; if the petition resides abroad, the petitioner must file at the U.S. embassy or consulate that has jurisdiction.

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  14. What must be done to invite someone for a visit to the United States?

    A guest of a U.S. host can be helped by sending him/her a letter of invitation. The letter should include the invitee's name, reason for visit, period of stay in the U.S., and method of payment of expenses. If the guest is paying his/her own expenses, he/she must be prepared to show the consular officer that sufficient funds are available for the trip. If the American host is paying the expenses, an affidavit of support may be included.

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  15. What does an applicant need for a visitor visa?

    An applicant must have a passport, valid for six months beyond duration of the proposed visit, one passport-sized photograph, and proof of social, family, economic, professional or other compelling ties to a residence outside the United States to which he/she will be expected to return after the visit. It is helpful for an applicant to have a letter of invitation and support, if he/she is visiting someone in the U.S.

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  16. How does an alien obtain a student visa?

    The requirements are generally the same for a visitor visa. However, in addition to the passport, photo, and proof of ties abroad, the applicant must also have an I-20 form issued by the school he/she wishes to attend. The I-20 form is proof that the applicant has been accepted for a program of study at an accredited institution.

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  17. Can an alien in the U.S. change visa status, or extend the period of time he/she is allowed to remain in the U.S.?

    If the alien is otherwise eligible the Immigration and Naturalization Service must authorize any changes or extensions of current visa status when an alien is in the U.S. If denied the INS will direct the alien to depart from the U.S.

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  18. Can the holder of an expired visa, such as an "H" or "L" visa, in the U.S. be issued another nonimmigrant visa before leaving the U.S. for a temporary absence?

    In certain circumstances, yes. Applications can normally be made to the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. to reissue A, E, G, H, L, and I visas, so long as there is the same type visa stamp already in the passport, and the date of expiration is not more than one year earlier.

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  19. What is necessary for an alien to enter the U.S. to marry a U.S. citizen?

    The U. S. citizen must first file and receive approval of a fiancé(e) petition, from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The INS will forward the approved petition to a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. The post will then contact the alien with information and eventually schedule an interview for a fiancé(e) visa. The alien has 90 days from entry into the U.S. in which to marry the U.S. citizen.

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  20. Does the fiancé(e) visa automatically change to an alien registration card (green card)?

    No. After the marriage takes place, the Immigration and Naturalization Service must change the alien spouse's status to legal permanent resident.

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  21. How can an applicant learn why he/she was denied a visa at a post overseas?

    An applicant should always be told the reason for denial, orally or in writing by the U.S. consulate which denied the application. If an applicant wants to offer further evidence to try and overcome the denial, the applicant will have to comply with that post's reapplication policy.

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  22. What can an applicant do if he/she has been denied? Can he/she appeal?

    All denials are supposed to be reviewed by a senior consular officer. There is no "appeal" process per se on visa denials, but an applicant can reapply for a Nonimmigrant visa if he/she can present new evidence to overcome the previous grounds for refusal. Some high-volume posts require that a significant period of time (six months to one year) elapse before reapplication with new qualifying evidence. By law, the U.S. consul must be persuaded that the applicant has a permanent residence abroad to which he or she intends to return after a temporary stay in the U.S.; otherwise, the consul must presume that the applicant is planning to remain here permanently. Since a nonimmigrant visa is not intended for someone who plans to stay permanently, the consular officer must refuse the visa if the applicant cannot overcome the burden of this legal presumption.

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  23. What is an advisory opinion?

    It is an opinion rendered by Visa Services Office of the U.S. Department of State when a consular officer has a question about the interpretation of immigration law and needs the State Department to make a determination on a point of that law.

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  24. How can the applicant persuade the consul?

    This is generally done by showing evidence of family, social, employment, financial and other ties to the home country that will compel a return from the U.S. Having a permanent residence abroad is a requirement for tourist, business, student, exchange visitor and some temporary worker visas.

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  25. How can I help my employee, friend or relative?

    Unfortunately, there is little a U.S. sponsor can do to help an applicant qualify. The amount of money the U.S. sponsor has is not relevant; there is no way the U.S. sponsor can guarantee that the applicant will leave the U.S. at the end of his or her stay. It is up to the applicant to show that he or she meets the requirements.

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  26. How do I apply for citizenship if I am a "Green Card" holder?

    Normally, if you have a "Green Card", are at least 18 years of age, and have lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for five years; or if you have been a "Green Card" holder and have been married to and residing with a United States citizen for three years, you may apply to become a United States citizen.

    There are two educational requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen. First, you must show that you can read and write simple English. Second, you must show that you know basic facts about U.S. history and government, by answering questions before an immigration officer at the time of your interview with an immigration officer.

    There are ways in which the requirement to understand English can be waived. If, on the date of filing your application, you are fifty years of age or older, and you have been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for more than twenty years, you do not have to show that you can read and write simple English. This is also true if you are unable to comply with the English language requirement because of a disability or if you are a person who is fifty-five years of age or older who as resided in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least fifteen years. You must still show that you have a knowledge of U.S. history and government, and you may be tested in your native language.

    If you are applying for citizenship for a child who is under the age of eighteen, has a "Green Card", and has a least one U.S. citizen parent, but did not automatically became a United States citizen, the child may be eligible for a certificate of citizenship. However in most cases the child must be living with the U.S. citizen parent.

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  27. What are the employer and employee penalties under the law?
    Under the law there are two types of penalties:

    Civil and Criminal

    There are three employee and employer civil penalties under the law:
    1. Hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized aliens;
    2. Failing to comply with the employment verification form I-9 requirements; and
    3. Not requiring identification.
    There are two employee employer criminal penalties under the law:
    1. Engaging in a pattern or practice of knowingly hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized aliens; and
    2. Engaging in fraud or false statements, or otherwise misusing visas, immigration permits, and identity documents.

    For additional detail see "General Information Facts" (Employer Sanction Section) on our home page.

  28. How/Where do I contact my home country's embassy here in the United States -or- a United States' embassy abroad?

    You can link to the Electronic Embassy at http://www.embassy.org/. It contains links to both foreign embassies in the United States and U.S. embassies abroad.



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G. Wellington Smith, P.C.
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Austin, TX 78701

Phone: (512) 476-7163
Fax: (512) 476-3869