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A visa is a document allowing a person to come to the U.S. temporarily, and for a specific purpose. There are dozens of different types of visas, and this article will discuss some of the most common.
Visa for business or pleasure visitors (B-1)
This visa is issued to people from other countries who intend to come to the U.S. for a short period of time, either for the purpose of doing business, or as tourists.
A B-1 visa allows a person to stay in the country for 90 days. Typically, getting one of these visas is a simple matter of going to a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country, and filling out the required paperwork.
However, some people may not even need to get one of these visas. Certain countries are part of the "visa waiver program" – meaning that most nationals of those countries don't need a visa to come to the U.S. All of these countries are close allies of the U.S., and include almost all of Western Europe, Japan, and Australia.
Work Visa (H-1B)
An H-1B visa allows an employer in the U.S. to sponsor a worker from another country who has an essential skill that the employer needs, and cannot fill with an American worker. The worker must have highly specialized knowledge in a particular field of human endeavor, and they must possess at least a bachelor's degree (or equivalent) in their relevant field.
There is an annual limit on the number of these visas which may be issued, currently set to 65,000 individuals. When the application process begins (at the start of the fiscal year), the maximum number of visas are typically issued within a day or two. Needless to say, they go quick.
The maximum duration for this visa is 6 years, unless the worker is on a project which is related to the Department of Defense, in which case the limit is 10 years.
The employer must make a good faith effort to find an American worker who can fill the position before hiring a foreign worker, and must attest that the foreign worker will not displace an American worker, or adversely affect the wages or working conditions of American workers.
The immediate family members (spouse, children) of people holding most types of non-immigrant visas can be admitted to the U.S. These family visas have the same time limits of whatever visa the applying family member is admitted under. They also have the same travel restrictions, if there are any.
There are many, many other types of visas. You should speak with an immigration lawyer or consult with a U.S. consulate to see if there is a visa available for the purpose for which you intend to visit the U.S.