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How to successfully immigrate to the USA

Immigrating to the US is a complex process and requires preparation weeks or even months in advance to be successful. Millions of people immigrate to the US every year, under both visitor visas and permanent visas. This article will help you gain an understanding of the process and make your experience a smooth and hassle-free one.

The article is divided into three sections: (1) the immigrant visa process, (2) the non-immigrant visa process, and (3) the ESTA and Visa Waiver Program.

(1) Steps and documents required for the immigrant visa:

Step 1- A petition is filed with the USCIS

The first step in the US immigrant visa process is the filing of the I-30 Form by the intending immigrant’s sponsor. This form is used for family-based immigration applications where the sponsor is sponsoring one of their relatives. However, for employment-based applications, the employer will act as the sponsor and will fill out the Form I-40. The sponsor must be a lawful permanent resident (LPR) or a US citizen. 

Step 2- Approval of the petition

On approval of the petition by the USCIS, you will need to begin your National Visa Center (NVC) process. The NVC is responsible for scheduling your interview. 

First, you will need to choose an agent. The agent will be contacted by the NVC and information regarding your case will be given to them. You will then need to pay the fees, which includes both the immigrant visa fee and the affidavit of support fee.

Once you have done that, you will need to fill out and submit the DS-260 immigrant visa form. This is the form that will formally execute your visa application.

Step 3- Collect financial and supporting documents to submit to the National Visa Center.

You will now need to collect the relevant financial and supporting documents to submit to the National Visa Center. 

First, your petitioner will need to submit an Affidavit of Support form (Form I-864) and evidence of their income. By completing the I-864 Form, the petitioner consents to financially support you if it becomes necessary.

Then, you will need to collect the supporting civil documents. You can use the US government’s document finder to see which supporting civil documents you will be required to submit.

After gathering both the financial and the supporting civil documents, you will send their photocopies to the NVC and bring the originals to your interview.

Step 3- The Interview

Once all required documents have been received, the National Visa Center will schedule an interview for you. You will receive a letter from the NVC indicating the date and time of the interview. 

After the interview, your case documents will be sent to the relevant US embassy or consulate situated in your country.

Essential documents that you must take to the interview include: 

  • A valid passport for at least six months
  • Appointment letter
  • Birth certificate
  • Two color passport photographs 
  • Required supporting civil documents

A comprehensive list of the required documents can be found here.

Step 4- Undergo the Medical Exam

On request of the National Visa Center or your US embassy, you will need to undergo a medical exam. An approved list of doctors will be provided to you to choose from who will then deliver the tests to the embassy in person.

Step 5- Interview day

On the day of the interview, you must bring all requested documents along with you to the embassy. This means the financial and supporting civil documents mentioned above. You must bring original documents only, not photocopies.

Unless you are a visitor with special needs, the only person allowed to accompany you to the interview is the petitioner. 

Step 6- Approval of Visa

You will be able to pick up your passport around 10 days after your interview. In addition to picking up your visa, you will need to pay the USCIS fee. This fee is charged for your resident card. It must be paid before traveling to the US.

However, if you are denied a visa, you will be informed of the reasons of denial via a letter.

Step 7- Picking up your visa and document packet

After your interview is completed and your visa application has been successful, you will be informed of when and where to pick up your visa, which will be attached to your passport, and your document packet. 

The document packet will be sealed and must not be opened by you. Instead, you will be required to take it along with you to the US and hand it over to the immigration officer at the point of entry.

(2) Steps and requirements for the visitor/non-immigrant visa

Before applying for a non-immigrant visa, you will need to know which one to apply for. There are many non-immigrant visa categories which include, for example, the student visa and business/tourist visas. You should also check to see whether you are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (see below), in which case you will not need to apply for a visa as long your visit is for no more than 90 days.

Listed below are the general steps you must follow regardless of your visa category:

Step 1- Fill out and submit the DS-160

The DS-160 form is the form which all non-immigrant visa applicants must fill out. It is an electronic form and is submitted online. Each visa applicant, including children, will require their own DS-160 form. The form is lengthy and so it is recommended that you take a reasonable time to fill it out in a careful manner.

Step 2- Pay your fee and schedule an interview

After completing the DS-160 form, you will be required to pay the visa fee and schedule an interview. The interview must be scheduled at the same embassy or consulate that you chose at the beginning of the DS-160 form.

Once your payment receipt has been activated, you can schedule an interview.

Remember, you must have submitted your DS-160 form online before scheduling an appointment for an interview.

Step 3- Gather the required supporting documents

You must bring the following supporting documents to the interview:

  • A valid passport. A valid passport is one which would be valid for at least six months beyond your intended length of stay in the US;
  • Your visa application (MRV) fee payment receipt;
  • Your DS-160 confirmation page;
  • Your email address.

Note that there may be additional documents required depending on your visa type as well as your country. You can check for them here.

Step 4- The Interview

Once you have gathered your supporting documents, you will appear at the interview at the chosen embassy or consulate. The interview will be a short one where you will be asked questions about yourself and about the purpose of your visit. 

Remember that US law assumes that everyone entering the US intends to stay there permanently. Hence, you must be able to show that you will return to your country after the purpose of your visit has been fulfilled.

Step 5- Final steps

You can check the status of your visa application online following the interview.

If the application has been approved, then you will be able to pick your passport and visa from the location you specified when scheduling the interview.

(3) The ESTA and Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

For citizens of a select group of countries, a visa is not required if the length of stay is no more than 90 days and the purpose of visit is tourism or business.

The list of eligible countries is as follows:

United Kingdom, Australia, Austria, Brunei, Spain, Chile, Germany, Czech Republic, Andorra, Denmark, Slovakia, Estonia, Belgium, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Sweden, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Slovenia, Switzerland and Taiwan.

If you are a citizen of one of the above countries, then you are eligible for the visa waiver program and can fill out the ESTA online instead of applying for a visa. The ESTA is an electronic form which needs to be filled in order to travel without a visa. It must be filled out by each traveler.

The ESTA takes 24 hours to process. However, it is still recommended to complete and submit the form at least 72 hours before departure for the US. Note that the ESTA is only valid for tourism, business or medical purposes. If your ESTA application is denied, then you will need to apply for a regular visit visa.

There are some additional points that you should take note of:

  • You must have a biometric passport. If you do not have one, you will need to obtain one before applying for the ESTA.
  • The passport must be valid for at least 6 months following your date of departure.
  • Remember that the ESTA does not guarantee your entry to the US. Rather, that is determined by officials at the point of entry. 
  • Your ESTA will remain valid for a period of 2 years, given that your passport does not expire earlier.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we hope that you have found this guide useful. Navigating US immigration rules can be a tricky process but with the right resources, it can be a smooth and hassle-free process. Make sure to check your list of documents and fill out any required forms carefully. Happy traveling!

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