A friend of mine recently asked if I could share information on what the legal process entails for immigrating to the USA, as she is trying to gain a better understanding. I am not a lawyer and any information I provide on this topic should never be substituted for competent legal advice from a lawyer. However, I have personally been through the process of legal immigration, as I married a man born and raised in El Salvador, I have many friends and family members who have also been through the process, and I have worked professionally in therapy with individuals who have dealt with the system as well. So, I’m not an expert on the subject, but I do have quite a bit of experience with it.
One of the arguments many people give for opposing “illegal immigration” is that they believe people should follow our laws and regulations and “do it the right and legal way.” But what does that process entail, exactly?
I decided I wanted to tackle this topic in parts, as it’s quite a complicated process. Though I’m known for being long-winded in my writing, even I will admit that most people aren’t going to sit through one, big post on this topic. Ha! While I won’t be able to address every single facet of legal immigration, the plan is to write several posts on the topic addressing some of the key elements. Each original post will avoid my personal opinion on the topic and will simply be a resource to educate and inform, providing information from both government websites and personal examples.
Let’s Get Started. First topic: Tourist Visas.
Whenever any citizen of a foreign country wants to visit the United States, not only must they have a passport, but they must also apply and be approved for what is known as a tourist visa or B-2 visa. According to the U.S. Department of State website, appropriate uses of this visa include tourism, vacation, visiting friends/family, medical treatment, participation in social events, participation in amateur events as a musician, athlete, or something similar as long as the individual is not being paid for participation, and enrollment in a short course of study that does not count as credit towards a degree.
In order to apply for this visa, in most cases, one would adhere to the following process:
- Complete Form DS-160, the application form for a tourist visa, which can be found at the U.S. Department of State website.
- Schedule a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate of the country in which one lives. Wait times for these interviews vary by country. You can find approximate wait times for the city in which you live at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/tourism-visit/visitor.html. Current wait times for this visa interview as of today’s date, for example, are approximately 9 days for Tokyo, 16 for Baghdad, and 20 for San Salvador.
- Pay a processing fee of $160. This fee will NOT be refunded whether the visa is granted or not.
- Gather any required documents for the visa interview, which will vary depending on the country of origin and purpose of visit.
- Attend the visa interview appointment.
After the visa interview, the applicant will find out whether they are approved for a B-2 visa or not. I recently polled a small, anonymous audience on Facebook regarding this topic. I asked the following question:
True or False: Pending there is no serious criminal history or known ties to terrorists, the individual should be approved for the visa.
The results of my poll, found that approximately 67% of the individuals who answered the poll, believed this to be a true statement, while 33% of the individuals who answered the poll, believed this to be a false statement. So, what’s the answer?
While this criteria will certainly play a role in determining whether or not an applicant is approved for a B-2 tourist visa, there is actually quite a bit more criteria that must be met for approval. You can read the extensive list of reasons why an individual may be denied a tourist visit, by copying and pasting this link in your browser: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/waivers.html.
An example of a reason one may be denied a visitor’s visa is that the interviewing officer believes the applicant may become a public charge while in the United States. To determine this, the officer will consider the applicant’s age, health, family status (single, married, etc), assets and financial status, and education and skills.
When my husband and I were getting married in 2008, we really wanted his family in El Salvador to be here. The family members who applied for a B-2 visa, brought an invitation to our wedding with them to their visa interviews. Of those who applied, his mother, one sister, and his brother were all, thankfully, granted a tourist visa and were able to attend our wedding. However, one sister who applied at the same time for the same reasons, was denied the visa and unable to attend. She had no criminal history and no health issues, but was most likely denied due to lack of financial assets at the time. According to the U.S. Department of State’s website, “The sole authority to approve or deny (called adjudicate) visa applications, under U.S. immigration law section 104(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, is given to consular officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates.”
If a B-2 visa is granted, it can be awarded for various time frames. Some individuals are approved for a 5-year visa, some a 10-year visa, and others a visa that expires after a few days after entry into the United States. This does not mean, however, that an individual awarded a 10-year, B-2 visa can enter the United States and legally stay for 10 consecutive years; it just means that their visa is good for a total of 10 years and they will not have to re-apply for a visitor’s visa each time they travel to the United States within that 10-year period. Once an individual enters the U.S., the officer who reviews the individual’s documents at customs, determines how long the individual can stay during the particular visit, with the longest stay allowed on this specific type of visa being 6 months.
This is a brief synopsis of the typical process required for a tourist visa to the United States. What do you think? Any of the information surprise you? I would encourage you to spend more time on the websites provided throughout this post to gain an even better understanding of B-2 visas.
And as always, thank you for trying to educate yourself on the process of legal immigration into the United States so that you can form your own informed opinion on the topic.