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An official endorsement on a passport or other document required to secure an alien's admission to a country.

Under U.S. immigration law, an alien is any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States. Two types of visas exist: nonimmigrant and immigrant. The immigration laws delineate specific categories of persons who may be eligible for an immigrant visa, which generally allows a person to live in the United States permanently and perhaps eventually seek citizenship. Persons visiting the United States on a temporary basis to engage in an activity delineated under the nonimmigrant classifications of the federal immigration laws must generally possess a nonimmigrant visa. A visit under a nonimmigrant visa may be of very short duration or may validly last for years, depending on the classification of nonimmigrant visa used.

Immigrant visa classifications include family-sponsored immigrants, employment-based immigrants, diversity immigrants, and immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (8 U.S.C.A. § 1101(a)(15) et seq.). Immediate relatives are the children, spouse, and parents of a U.S. citizen. Only a specified number of visas may be issued in each of the first three categories each year. Demand often exceeds supply for these visas, creating a backlog. The immediate relative classification, along with certain other categories, is not subject to numerical limitation (8 U.S.C.A. § 1151).

A variety of nonimmigrant visa categories exist, including visitors coming to the United States for business or pleasure; ambassadors and certain diplomatic officers; a crew member on board a vessel or aircraft; certain kinds of workers; the fiancée or fiancé of a U.S. citizen; persons with "extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics"; artists and entertainers; participants in approved international cultural exchange programs; and religious workers. Some nonimmigrant visa classifications permit family members or servants to accompany the principal alien.

Most immigrant visa categories require a U.S. citizen or entity to first file a visa petition on behalf of the alien. Once the visa petition is approved, the alien typically submits a visa application to the appropriate U.S. consulate. Immigrant visa applications may include a questionnaire, fingerprints, an oath and signature before the consular officer, photographs, and results of a medical examination. A visa applicant might also be required to provide police or prison records, military records, and a birth certificate. The alien has the burden to establish eligibility to receive the visa.Documentation and other information needed for nonimmigrant visas vary with the type of visa sought but are generally less extensive than those required for an immigrant visa. A few categories require an approved visa petition; certain classifications require a medical exam. A nonimmigrant visa specifies the nonimmigrant classification, such as B-2 for a visitor for pleasure, and the length of time the visa is valid. Typically a nonimmigrant visa is evidenced by documentation placed in an alien's passport. On the other hand, an arriving immigrant usually surrenders the visa to the immigration officer at the port of entry, who notes the date, port of entry, identity of vessel or other means of transportation, and any other information that is required under federal regulations.

Possession of a valid visa does not ensure admission to the United States; an alien must still be admissible under all immigration laws at the time of arrival.

Following the september 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, officials within the federal government expressed concerns about the methods terrorists used to conduct their operations within the United States. As a result, Congress altered a number of provisions regarding visas under the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-56, 115 Stat. 272. The act includes restrictions on the issuance of student visas, and adds conditions designed to crack down on noncitizens who have overstayed the terms of their visas. The act also mandates improvements in the use of technology to identify persons who apply for U.S. visas. Congress further increased the ability of the federal government to issue and track visas within the United States by passing the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-173, 116 Stat. 543. The act allocated funds and personnel to develop systems and carry out policies to improve visa operations. Finally, the Immigration and Naturalizations (INS) Service was moved from the Justice Department to the Homeland Security Department because of concerns about the INS's ability to monitor those in the United States on visas who might have connections to terrorist organizations.

Further readings

Carrion, Ramon. 2004. U.S.A. Immigration Guide. Naperville, Ill.: Sphinx.

Otto, Catherine Ethridge. 2002. "Tracking Immigrants in the United States: Proposed and Perceived Needs to Protect the Borders of the United States." North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation 28 (winter).




a form of certificate of entrance that is taken as evidence of a person's eligibility (other than as a British citizen) to enter the UK. A visa does not guarantee entry but refusal may only be given on specific grounds.

VISA, civ. law. The formula put upon an act; a register; a commercial book, in order to approve of it and authenticate it.

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