By Allen E. Kaye
What is a visa? A visa is a document, placed in a passport, which is permission to apply to enter the United States. It is not permission to enter. This can only be given by U.S. immigration authorities at the airport, port or border crossing where someone arrives in this country.Visas can be obtained at U.S. embassies or consulates in the person's country. They are granted for specified reasons and indicate how long the bearers can use them to come to the United States.Warning: If someone does not have a valid visa, and one is required, he or she may be immediately returned to their place of origin when arriving in the U.S. What types of visas are there?There are two main categories of visas: immigrant and non-immigrant. The difference, as the names imply, is that the immigrant visa is issued to a person with permission to live in the United States indefinitely. The non-immigrant visa is issued to someone to travel to and remain in the U.S. only temporarily. What is an immigration visa?Immigration visas can be obtained through a family relationship with a United States citizen, employment or the Diversity Visa Lottery which is conducted periodically. They also allow people to become Legal Permanent Residents of the U.S. and live here indefinitely. These are usually the result of a petition from a relative in the U.S. and can be very quick, or take years, depending on the relationship between the U.S. citizen, permanent resident or the employer filing the petition, and the foreigner seeking the visa. What is a non-immigrant visa?A non-immigration visa allows the bearer to go to the U.S. for a limited period of time and for a specific reason. For example, the person can come as a tourist, for a short business stay, to study or for temporary employment. How do you apply for a tourist visa?People wishing to come to the U.S. can go to their nearest U.S. consulate or embassy and pay a $100, non-refundable application fee. Two copies of the receipt will be issued and both must be turned in with the application. All instructions and forms dealing with interviews, fingerprinting and other matters will be provided, and also can be obtained on the internet. Can a travel agency be used?Yes, a travel agency can be used under certain circumstances for all or part of the application procedure.If the person is over 60, under 16 or had a visa good for two years that has expired within the last year, he or she can go to a travel agency to process a visa and need not necessarily have to be interviewed.If the person is between 14 and 79, he or she can go to a travel agency for parts of the processing, including the interview, but a digital fingerprint must be taken at the U.S. Consulate. Instructions will be provided by the travel agent or the consulate.What if a travel agency is not used? Otherwise, all applicants must be physically present for the interview. Instructions for making an appointment will be issued with the application. Applicants should make sure to be on time. It is a good idea to arrive at least 30 minutes ahead of time. For the visa interview, the application will need: A valid passport in good condition. If the application is for a child, both parents' passports are required. The two receipts for the application fee. Form DS-156, which can be obtained when the application is made or downloaded from www.uscis.gov on the internet. This form must be filled out completely. If a question does not apply, write n/a for not applicable. The DS-156 form must include a photo of the applicant's head, on a white background, with the applicant looking forward. Males 16 to 45 also must obtain and fill out Form DS-175 which also can be downloaded from the internet. Applicants should bring whatever documentation they think will help prove their ties to their country. This can include family connections, ownership of property, proof of employment, savings account and previous travel.It is extremely important to point out to potential visitors and other visa applicants that falsification or alteration of any documents may be considered fraud and may result in the denial of a visa, possibly permanently.Mr. Kaye is co-chairman of the Queens County Bar Association's Immigration and Naturalization Committee. This is part of a series of articles arranged by the QCBA as a public service to assist our readers.