A cornerstone of the holiday season for most people is spending time with friends and family. When a loved one lives across international borders, though, holiday celebrations will be more complicated than just a drive to the other side of the state. Immigration may pose a challenge for some non-citizen travelers.
If you live in a country that participates in the United States’ Visitor Waiver Program (VWP), then visiting for the holidays can be as easy as using your valid passport and completing an online application. If you want to visit for more than 90 days or live in a country that is not included in the VWP, then you will need to use a temporary tourism (B) visa.
Tourist Visas for the Holidays
Most people who want to travel into the United States for the holidays will only need a temporary visa, assuming that their passport is not enough to grant entrance. There are all sorts of temporary visas, but the one you will probably be able to use is the Tourism B-2 visa.
A B-2 visa allows you to travel for:
- Friend or family visits
- And more
Seeing your family for the holidays will probably check off all of these boxes. If you have a reason to travel into the country beyond just taking a holiday trip, then you might need a different type of visa. Foreign visitors are not permitted to participate in activities not included in a visa’s list of purposes. For example, most types of work are not permitted on a visitor’s visa, especially if you are traveling only for tourism on the B-2 visa. You should work with an immigration attorney to ensure that you have the right visa based on your intentions.
Other visitors, who may also be coming to work or study would need a separate type of visa, depending on the purpose and duration of their planned stay. There are numerous types of visas available for a range of activities and plans, and an attorney can help you determine which type of visa is best suited to your purpose.
Visa Application Process
Regardless of what type of visa you need, the sooner you can begin your visa application process, the better. Some Embassies and Consulates may not be able to process your visa and schedule your appointment for weeks or even months. Ideally, you will have already started the first steps months before your planned holiday vacation.
These are the main steps for getting a visa:
- Fill out an online form: Filing a temporary visa application has become an easier process in recent years as more and more steps can be done online. You should be able to fill out a Form DS-160 through a USCIS online portal to begin your application process. You will need to provide a valid photograph of yourself to complete this form.
- Interview at a local embassy: After filing your online application, you will need to schedule a visa interview at a local United States embassy or consulate in your home country. To prepare for your interview, you should know as many details about your intended trip as possible, such as who you will be visiting, where you will be staying, what you will be doing, and when you intend on leaving. You should also bring your passport, the Form DS-160 confirmation page printout, a copy of your photograph, and a method of payment for processing fees. Please note that some types of visas may require additional steps or documentation to support your application.
- Come to America: If your interview goes well and your temporary visa is approved, then you can come to the United States as planned by using an approved port-of-entry. Usually, you will have to enter through an airport. Be aware that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents can still detain you once arriving for further questioning. If they are dissatisfied with how you respond to their inquiries, then you can be denied entry into the country.
For Holidays That Last
You can never be sure what life will bring you, and sometimes that is a good thing. What happens if you decide you want to stay longer than the period of time allowed by your visa? Maybe you want to extend your stay to spend more time with loved ones you haven’t seen in a while? Or perhaps you found a great job opportunity while here?
Extending your stay is difficult but not impossible. You should work with an immigration attorney to discuss your options. For example, you could potentially extend your visitor visa for another few months, adjust your immigration status, or file for a new visa.
In any situation, overstaying your visa is not a good idea. It can cause you to be targeted for deportation and might even lead to a lifelong ban from traveling into the U.S., depending on your immigration history. Again, to make the most of your holidays and to avoid legal trouble, work with an immigration lawyer from the start.
Travel for Permanent Residents
Lawful permanent residents (or green card holders) may also want to travel abroad and return for the holidays. Lawful permanent residents are permitted to travel abroad and return to the United States using their green card and passport, barring certain limited issues.
Lawful permanent residents may not stay out of the U.S. for more than six months if they want to preserve their eligibility for citizenship. Lawful permanent residents may be able to stay abroad longer in some circumstances by getting an extended travel permit. Residents should also be aware that getting into trouble abroad or having been in trouble in the U.S. prior to their departure may also affect their ability to return. For example, a lawful permanent resident who has certain types of criminal history on their record may be ineligible to travel back to the U.S. It is important that green card holders talk to an experienced immigration attorney prior to any international travel, especially if they plan to be out for over six months or they have a criminal past.
Carlson & Burnett offers immigration law services in Omaha, Nebraska. Call (402) 810-8611 if you have a family member who wants to visit for the holidays but might need more than just a valid passport. We can also work with clients across borders who need immigration help.