Getting a "visa" for immigration or travel to California

A visa is a passport endorsement that permits foreigners to enter the U.S. The majority of visa-holders in California are sponsored by U.S.-based relatives or employers.

The U.S. offers about 185 different classes of visas. Each has its own application requirements, costs, processing times, and expiration dates.

Immigrant visas are for foreigners seeking legal permanent residence and possibly citizenship. Non-immigrant visas are for foreigners seeking a temporary stay in the U.S.

In this article our Los Angeles California visa attorneys discuss how foreigners can lawfully travel or immigrate to the U.S. Click on a visa category to jump directly to that section:

Note that ports-of-entry are where Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officers make the final determination for admitting foreigners into the U.S. The port-of-entry for non-citizens flying into Los Angeles is LAX Airport. For a full list of ports-of-entry in California, click here.

1. Immigrant Visas in Los Angeles, California

Foreigners applying for an immigrant visa usually need a U.S.-based sponsor approved by the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). Depending on the type of visa sought, the sponsor has to be either a relative who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder, or a prospective employer in the U.S.

After the USCIS approves the visa petition, the Department of State's National Visa Center completes the visa processing. During this time, the visa applicant will probably have to do the following:

  • provide an affidavit of support;
  • submit such required documents as a birth certificate, marriage certificates, police reports, etc.;
  • submit to a medical exam; and
  • complete an interview and give fingerprints (biometrics)

The most common immigrant visa categories are (1) job-based and (2) family-based:

1.1. Employment-based

  • EB-1 visa: For non-citizens who are exceptional researchers or professors.
  • EB-2 visa: For non-citizen professionals with advanced degrees (or their equivalent) and who have an exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business that will benefit the U.S.'s economy, cultural or educational interests, or welfare.
  • EB-3 visa: For non-citizens who are skilled workers or professionals.
  • EB-4 visa: For non-citizens who are religious workers, broadcasters, armed force members, or Afghan and Iraqi translators, among others.
  • EB-5 visa: For non-citizens who are foreign entrepreneurs and investors.

1.2. Family-based

  • Spousal visa: For non-citizens with a spouse who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder.

2. Nonimmigrant Visas in Los Angeles, California

The process for getting a non-immigrant visa is similar to that of an immigrant visa: There is an application to the USCIS and usually an interview. But unlike immigrant visas, non-immigrant visas typically have an expiration date.

Most non-immigrant visas fall under either of the following classes:

2.1. Employment-based

  • H-1B visa: For non-citizens in specialty occupations mandating bachelor's degrees.
  • H-2B visa: For non-citizens who are skilled or unskilled non-agricultural temporary workers.
  • L-1 visa: For non-citizens who are managers, executives, and workers with specialized knowledge and intending to work at their employers' U.S-based offices.
  • L-2 visa: For spouses and unwed children under 21 of L-1 visa holders.
  • O-1 visa: For non-citizens with extraordinary ability in the arts, movies, TV, sciences, education, business or athletics, intending to engage in official activity in the U.S.

2.2. Family-based

  • K-1 (Fiancé(e)) visa: For non-citizens engaged to U.S. citizens.
  • K-2 visa: For children of non-citizens engaged to U.S. citizens.
  • K-3 visa: For the non-citizen spouse of a U.S. citizen (while an immigrant spousal visa is pending).
  • K-4 visa: The child of a non-citizen spouse of a U.S. citizen.

2.3. School-based

  • F-1 visa: For non-citizens attending an academic institution in the U.S.
  • M-1 visa: For non-citizens attending a vocational school in the U.S.

2.4. Humanitarian-based

  • U visa: For victims of trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence, or other abuse.

Call a California visa attorney...

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If you are seeking a visa in California, call our Los Angeles immigration attorneys at (855) LAWFIRM for a FREE consultation.

For information about immigration to Nevada, see our article on visas in Nevada.

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