Immigrant vs. Nonimmigrant Visa: What’s the Difference?

Navigating the immigration system is a challenge—not just because of ever-tightening restrictions but because of complex terminology. It can be difficult to learn what you need to know without a solid understanding of the basics.

Because our goal is to arm our clients with as much knowledge as possible, we have provided an explanation of a commonly misunderstood concept: immigrant vs. nonimmigrant visas.

Essentially, an immigrant visa what you use to move permanently to the U.S., while a nonimmigrant visa is for a temporary stay. Both immigrant and nonimmigrant visas are obtained abroad through Consular Processing. Here is a little more information about each of these two main categories.

Immigrant Visas

Most immigrant visa applicants are sponsored by family members or employers in the U.S., although some can sponsor themselves (e.g. investors, certain special immigrants, and some individuals with extraordinary abilities).

Family sponsors must be U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (green card holders). U.S. citizens have a greater ability to sponsor relatives, and their beneficiaries typically wait less time before obtaining their green cards.

Employer sponsors generally must demonstrate that American workers are neither willing nor qualified to fill the positions they need.

If you have a sponsor, they will file the initial application with USCIS, which then forwards it to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy. If the Consulate or Embassy finds that you are eligible after additional processing and an interview, they will issue you the immigrant visa, which you will present at a U.S. port of entry. If the CBP officer approves your paperwork, you can finally enter the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident.

Here is a complete list of immigrant visas, each with unique requirements and qualifications. If you are already in the United States, you do not need to apply for an immigrant visa. Instead, you will need to adjust your status.

Nonimmigrant Visas

Some of the most common reasons to obtain a nonimmigrant visa include business, tourism, medical treatment, and temporary employment. In total, there are more than 40 different types of nonimmigrant visas, each with their own length of stay, intended applicant, and restrictions. If you are coming to the U.S. for work, you will need to acquire work authorization as well.

Once you obtain your nonimmigrant visa, do not assume you will automatically be able to enter the U.S. You will need to be approved by the CBP officer at the port of entry after an inspection.

Here is a complete list of all nonimmigrant visa categories. Citizens of certain countries may qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, which allows you to visit the U.S. for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Find the current list of eligible countries here.

Personalized Information & Recommendations

Looking for additional support and guidance? Come to Gambacorta Law, where your goals are our priority. Our attorneys in Skokie have personally been through the immigration process, which is why we have dedicated our careers to helping individuals like you access invaluable opportunities in the United States. No matter what stage of the immigration journey you are experiencing, we can step in and maximize your likelihood of success.

Ready to learn more about our services? Call (847) 443-9303 or contact us online today.