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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who can I call for information on visa cases and what can they do about specific visa cases?

    You can call the Visa Services Telephone Inquiries Branch. The number is (202) 663-1225. This contains recorded information for visa applicants. After listening to one message, there is an option to speak to an officer between 8:30 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. They can usually explain what aspects of immigration law and regulation are applicable in certain cases. They can also check if a case has been returned to the State Department for an advisory opinion.

  • When should I call the Immigration and Naturalization Service?

    Once an individual is in the United States, they come under Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) jurisdiction. You can call the INS toll free at 1-800-755-0777 or here in Washington at 202-307-1501 or 514-4330.

  • What is an advisory opinion?

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

  • What about visa denials? What can Visa Services in Washington do?

    Visa Services does not exercise authority to change consular officers' decision on visa applications, but they can assist in finding out the status of an application. They can also suggest several different methods for getting the information addresses for letters, telexes, faxes, and, in emergency situations, cables. If you have some facts on an individual case, they can frequently explain the legal grounds for refusal and any possible avenues of relief, for example.

  • What if I have sent correspondence to a foreign service post and have not received a response?

    Visa Services may be able to suggest other channels.

  • 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 States. A nonimmigrant visa is the visa issued to persons with permanent residence outside the U.S. but who wish to be in the U.S. on a temporary basis, for example, tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, or study.

  • How can an alien become a legal permanent resident or green card holder?

    To become a legal permanent resident, an alien must first be admitted as an immigrant. There are two basic methods for obtaining an immigrant visa: 1) through family relationship with a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, or 2) through employment. Specific information is available from the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the U.S. by calling 202-514-4330.

  • 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.

  • What is the process for obtaining an immigrant visa?

    An alien must be sponsored by a relative or employer who files the appropriate petition with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). INS approves the petition, it is 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 and provides instructions on next steps. 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 the beneficiary a packet which includes, among other things: OF-l69 (the cover letter listing the documentation necessary for the immigrant visa interview), OF-l79 (Biographic Data for Visa Purposes), and OF-l67 (Evidence Which May Be Presented to Overcome the Public Charge Provisions of the Law). The packets are available only from the National Visa Center or posts that process immigrant visas.

  • What documents are required for the immigrant visa interview?

    Requirements may differ slightly from post to post, but the basic requirements include: a passport, three photographs, birth and police certificates, marriage, divorce, or death certificates, proof of financial support, and medical examination. More detailed information would have to come from the National Visa Center or the processing post.

  • 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 an 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.

  • 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, i.e. priority dates that are months or several years earlier than your inquiry, is the fact that each year many more people apply for immigrant visas than 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.

  • 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 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. (See question below for more information.) Visa Services also has a twenty-four hour recording which gives the monthly priority dates. Dial (202) 663-1541.

  • How can I get the Visa Bulletin?

    The Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs offers the monthly Visa Bulletin on the Internet's World Wide Web. The Internet Web address to access the Bulletin is:

    From the home page, select the Visa section which contains the Visa Bulletin.

    In addition to the Internet, the Visa Bulletin can be accessed and downloaded from the Consular Affairs electronic bulletin board. Those with a computer and modem should dial (301) 946-4400. The login is travel and the password is info.

    Individuals may also obtain the Visa Bulletin by fax. 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, please write to:

    Visa Bulletin
    Visa Office
    Department of State
    Washington, D.C. 20522-0106

    Only addresses within the U.S. postal system may be placed on the mailing list. Please include a recent mailing label when reporting changes or corrections of address; the Postal Service does NOT automatically notify the Visa Office of address changes. (Obtaining the Visa Bulletin by mail is a much slower option than any of the alternatives mentioned above.)

    The Visa Bulletin can also be contacted by E-mail at the following address:


    (The Visa Bulletin is not distributed by E-mail, however.)

  • How does an applicant obtain police certificates?

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

  • What fees are involved in obtaining an immigrant visa?

    The cost of an immigrant visa is $260 (U.S.) for application and $65 (U.S.) for issuance per person, regardless of age. There may also be 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 applicant will be informed of fees by the processing 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.

  • 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 six months. If an applicant must delay travel to the U.S. beyond six months, he/she should contact the U.S. consulate and arrange to have the interview 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. $260).

  • 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.

  • The legal permanent resident parents 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.

  • Can a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident file apetition 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 petitioner resides abroad, the petitioner must file at the U.S. embassy or consulate that has jurisdiction.

  • 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.

  • 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-size 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.

  • How does an alien obtain a student visa?

    The requirements are generally the same as 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.

  • How does an alien in the U.S. change visa status?

    Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) authorizes changes of visa status when an alien is in the U.S. The local INS office should be contacted.

  • How does an alien extend the period of time allowed to remain in the U.S.?

    They should apply at the local Immigration and Naturalization Service office.

  • Can the holder of an expired nonimmigrant visa, such as an "I" journalist visa, in the U.S. be issued another nonimmigrant visa before leaving the U.S. for a temporary absence?

    In certain circumstances, yes. VO does 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. Journalists needing to renew their I visas may call 202-663-1213 between 2:00 P.M. and 4:00 P.M. eastern time daily.

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

    The U.S. citizen must file a fiance(e) petition, Form I-129F, with the local 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 fiance(e) visa. The alien has 90 days from entry into the U.S. in which to marry the U.S. citizen.

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

    No. After the marriage takes place, the U.S. citizen must contact Immigration and Naturalization Service to change the alien spouse's status to legal permanent resident. This information is given to the alien fiance(e) upon his/her entry to the U.S.

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

    An applicant is always told the reason for denial, orally or in writing. If an applicant does not understand the reason for denial, or wishes to offer further evidence to overcome the denial, he/she should contact the post where the application was made to determine that post's reapplication policy.

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

    You should know that all denials are 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • How do I get forms?

    If the form begins with the letter "I," it is an Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) form and you will need to call them. The number to call to get forms from the INS is 1-800-870-FORM or 1-800-3676. If you are looking for a form OF-156 (Nonimmigrant Visa Application), the visa applicant should get it at a U.S. embassy or consulate overseas. If you have questions about a Packet 3 or Packet 4, you need to call the National Visa Center at 603-334-0700.

  • How can I enter the visa or green card lottery?

    The mail-in period for the 1999 Diversity Visa Lottery is over. Winners will be notified by the National Visa Center. Those who are not notified can assume they were not selected and can re-enter next year.

  • How do I become a U.S. citizen?

    You need to call the INS about the examination and the naturalization process.

  • I lost my "green card." What should I do?

    You need to call the INS who issues green cards to legal permanent residents.

  • I'm an American citizen traveling to another country. Where do I get my visa?

    From the embassy or consulate of the country you are planning to visit. The booklet, Foreign Entry Requirements has information on visa/entry requirements, embassy and consulate addresses, and telephone numbers for all foreign missions in the United States. (See the FAQ entitled "Other Subjects" for information on how to obtain a copy of Foreign Entry Requirements.)

    Source: The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs.