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A visa is a conditional authorization granted by a country (typically to a foreigner) to enter and temporarily remain within, or to leave that country. Visas typically include limits on the duration of the foreigner’s stay, territory within the country they may enter, the dates they may enter, or the number of permitted visits. Visas are associated with the request for permission to enter a country and thus are, in some countries, distinct from actual formal permission for an alien to enter and remain in the country. In each instance, a visa is subject to entry permission by an immigration official at the time of actual entry and can be revoked at any time.

A visa is commonly a stamp endorsed in the applicant’s passport or other travel document. The visa, when required, was historically granted by an immigration official on a visitor’s arrival at the frontiers of a country, but increasingly today a traveller wishing to enter another country must apply in advance for a visa, sometimes in person at a consular office, by mail or over the internet. The actual visa may still be an endorsement in the passport or may take the form of a separate document or an electronic record of the authorisation, which the applicant can print before leaving home and produce on entry to the host country. Some countries do not require visas for short visits.

Overview

Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Citizens of qualified countries may be able to visit the U.S. without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. All travelers coming to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program must obtain authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) system prior to initiating travel to the United States.

Nonimmigrant Visas

A nonimmigrant visa is used by tourists, business people, students, or specialty workers who wish to stay for a particular period of time in the United States to accomplish specific purposes. According to U.S. visa laws and regulations, most nonimmigrant visa applicants must demonstrate to the consular officer that they have strong ties to their country of residence and must show that they intend to depart the United States after their temporary stay.